An interview with Sebastian Zimmermann, 53, who has been working as a psychiatrist in New York City since 2001. For his photobook "Fifty Shrinks" (http://www.fiftyshrinks.com), which he has worked on for the past 13 years, Zimmermann has done portraits of his colleagues from all over the city in their respective workplaces.
Mr. Zimmermann, how did you come up with the idea of taking pictures of your fellow NYC shrinks?
In 2001, when I started building my own private psychiatric practice in New York City, I took up photography as a creative outlet from my daily clinical work. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, the work I do mostly revolves around language. I listen and I take in a lot. As a photographer, I am creating something non-verbal, an image which I put out into the world. My auditory channels may be full after a long day, but my visual capacities are still fresh and beckon for expression.
The idea to photograph psychotherapists at work came to me while riding in a taxi heading from my psychiatric practice to attend a presentation at the International Center of Photography. So in some sense, I had the idea quite literally while being "on the move", in a limbo state in between my two passions.
I researched the idea, and I found photo books on artists in their studios, writers in their offices, scientists in their labs. But when I looked for a photography book featuring psychotherapists, I came up virtually empty-handed. At the same time, I noticed that psychotherapists were often portrayed in the movies and in TV shows, and most often in a stereotypical, inaccurate way.
There is this fascination, this mystique surrounding the persona of the psychoanalyst. With my book, I decided to go on a quest to draw back the curtain and, for a moment, transport the reader into the lives and offices of these mysterious professionals. I wanted to show in an authentic way who these people are, and who is out there doing the work of psychotherapy today.
You have worked on "Fifty Shrinks" for 13 years. How hard was it to get your colleagues in front of a camera?
I am convinced that I would not have been able to get this project off the ground without being a psychiatrist myself. Being a peer, I had the access, I was met with a lot of good will from the get-go. My subjects trusted me, they knew that I understood them, that I could appreciate what it was like to be sitting in that chair and be in their shoes.