It’s an experiment in what your life might be like if you speak freely to another person—speak and allow that person to show you the ways in which you stop yourself thinking and speaking freely. I don’t mean by that that it doesn’t change symptoms. I know by my own experience that it does. But I think the most interesting thing about it is its unpredictability. If you buy a fridge, there are certain things you will be guaranteed. If you buy a psychoanalysis, you won’t be. It’s a real risk, and that also is the point of it. Patients come because they are suffering from something. They want that suffering to be alleviated. Ideally, in the process of doing the analysis, they might find their suffering is alleviated or modified, but also they might discover there are more important things than to alleviate one’s suffering.
—Adam Phillips, The Art of Nonfiction No. 7
Sebastian Zimmermann’s new monograph, Fifty Shrinks, does exactly what it says on the tin: it features photographs of fifty therapists and analysts in their offices, which are, according to an essay in the book by the architect Elizabeth Danze, “floating vessels, places of sanctuary … [when] a patient reflects on the trajectory of his or her therapy, an indelible part of that recollection involves the space in which it took place.”
The concept should be twee or ponderous, and at its most obvious it can be—the tropes of analysis are all here, the long couches, solemn shelves of leatherbound books, thick curtains and dark woodgrain, prominently hung diplomas, all the shorthand for erudition—but most of Zimmermann’s portraits are surprisingly lively. The offices (and the people in them) are far from clinical. In fact, Fifty Shrinks is more or less an object lesson in eccentricity: there are offices furnished only with folding chairs or decorated with terrifyingly vibrant floral wallpaper, a therapist whose desk is consumed by Rolodexes, and a therapist holding ominous court at his chess set.
You can see more of the photographs here.