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Deslonde Parkinson

Becoming Visible:
The Exploration of Self and Identity through Self-Portraiture

       “Who am I?” is a complicated question and one that is almost impossible to answer. This is the question that drove me to explore the many layers of my identity through the creation of self-portraits. Through photographic images I was able to make visible complex layers of myself previously unexplored. When I recognized the therapeutic potential of this process, I was driven to investigate these ideas further in a clinical context.

            This study chronicles the examination of self and identity through self-portraiture with a group of men and women at a day treatment facility for adults with chronic mental illness. Making the self visible through images was particularly significant for this specific group of people who often feel invisible due to their culturally marginalized status. During an eight-month period, the participants and I used photography as a vehicle to navigate multiple aspects of self. A literature review on topics relating the self and identity, visibility, self-portraits, phototherapy, art therapy, and the use of computer technology in the art room inspired and informed the structure of this group.

Downloading photographs from a digital camera into a computer allowed each group member to alter his or her own self-image. The printed photograph provided new documents of identity that moved the group to new levels of awareness of the ever-evolving notion of self.  I used a heuristic approach as the central method of this study. Intrinsic to this method of inquiry is the involvement of the researcher as a participant in the research. I made self-portraits alongside the other participants and we completed structured interviews to document and reflect on the process. Together we engaged in a process of self-exploration with the goal of gaining new meanings and insight into the self and identity.


          Deslonde Parkinson received her BFA in photography from the Memphis College of Art. She taught art for ten years in the Mississippi Delta, one of the most economically depressed school systems in the country. While in the MAAT program, Deslonde gained clinical experience at the Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, working with adults with chronic mental illness and with children, and at Little City Foundation, working with adults with developmental disabilities.


Thesis Advisor: Randy M. Vick, Associate Professor, Chair, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Barbara Fish, Assistant Professor, Art Therapy





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