“In contrast to other medical specialists’ offices with their practical equipment of examining tables and rolling tools, the therapist’s work space has few obvious demands beyond seating for clinician and patient,” psychiatrist and photographer Sebastian Zimmermann writes in an introduction to Fifty Shrinks. The recently self-published monograph has 50 portraits of New York City therapists in these offices usually only seen by patients, where each detail of the space was specially chosen to support their personal practice.
In her essay for the book, architect Elizabeth Danze calls these offices “floating vessels, places of sanctuary and protection, healing, and reconciliation.” She writes that 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.” While in the portraits there are the repeating quiet details — the clock, the couch, the low light, the framed diplomas — there is also an incredible variety of tones. Dr. Marsha Rosenberg poses in an office with an attached greenhouse; Kate Bar-Tur stands by plush furniture and damask wallpaper; Dr. Michael Eigen is positioned between two folding chairs in a sparse room. Alongside the photographs are textual portraits from the therapists’ own words, sometimes touching on these environments. Samera Nasereddin states: “I wanted to create an open and expansive space where patients feel free to experience and express an unrestricted range of emotions. Every object and furnishing is here for a reason.”
That’s not to overlook the people themselves, as Zimmermann was obviously as much interested in them as their interior design habits. The strongest portrait (shown at the top of this post) graces the cover: a meditative image of the late psychoanalyst Dr. Martin Bergmann pensively situated on his couch by a handsome and neat bookshelf while Central Park rolls out from view in two windows. Zimmermann writes in the book that he had the idea for the project back in 2001, when he was starting his own psychiatric practice, and became “aware of the paradox that I spent most of my time interacting with many people yet feeling that I worked in isolation.” Through photography he spent 12 years reaching beyond his own space, documenting the hidden settings where dramas of the psyche play out each day.
Fifty Shrinks by Sebastian Zimmermann is now available self-published from the author.