Assignment One – The Witches Fingers
Chloe Halstead –
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” Albert Einstein
Through imitation of Rorschach inkblots and fear I have portrayed my interpretation of the sublime through an alternate landscape, my fear landscape focusing on Freud’s theory of the Uncanny. A fear landscape in a physical landscape.
Choosing a theme
Like the growth of a tree reaching branches into new possibilities, Assignment One has grown with each topic I read. Psychoanalysis and Freud’s theory of the Uncanny, ‘Das Unheimliche’ was briefly mentioned in the course, I was curious and investigated in detail.
Heimliche, a German word, means ‘familiar’, ‘homely’ a place of ‘comfort or ‘reassurance.’ The antonym, Das Unheimliche is eerie or unsettling. The uncanny is a feeling of unease or fear when an object that is familiar appears at the same time, paradoxically, frightening and unsettling. Like seeing your home at night without the lights, it is both familiar yet the dark generates fear.
As a small child the branches of trees reached out like gnarled witches fingers, I felt they would pluck me from the world. I have a great love of trees, yet even now they create faces or shapes igniting that childhood fear once more, something that is unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. Heimliche can mean secret or hidden and Unheimliche is ‘revealed’ or ‘exposed’ a new level is revealed to us of great discomfort. There is fear in the unknown.
Relating to the unconscious mind Psychoanalysis enters an almost fantasy world, nightmares, dreams and other tools recover deeply hidden roots from childhood which I wrote about here. The Rorschach test uses inkblots to discover a patient’s character, thoughts and fears depending on what they see.
I was disposing of a blurred photo when I felt the trees emulated inkblots. I showed a family member who seemed to feel the uncanny. I was surprised at how unnerved they felt as they saw monsters in the innocent branches.
I decided to challenge myself to replicate the inkblots through the trees, yet so as not to be one-dimensional I included other images, manifesting the trees as they appeared in my imagination. Monochrome lent itself to the darker workings of a fear landscape. Shooting B&W in camera I saw the world differently, new possibilities opened up, like following a rabbit into Wonderland. The trees were different, foreboding, taking me back to my childhood fear landscape I was depicting. The uncanny was around me.
I experimented with a variety of techniques
Intentional camera movement at slow shutter to create the effect the trees were moving, thrashing!
- Swirling the camera during exposure. A twisted Hitchcock style image.
- Using negative space of the canopy to form the blots
- Different angles to increase drama
- Use of water, ripples to distort and confuse.
While risky, I feel this has worked. Paul Fry a Professor of English described in a lecture how to encounter the sublime, was to be ‘possessed by experience…to become aware of the imagination.” My images use the uncanny, to allow the imagination to possess the subconscious to see shapes, faces, monsters or dreams. It fills in gaps as it does when people view the Marsyas Installation, a gigantic sculpture filling an entire gallery space, so huge one can not see it in its entirety so are forced to create their own interpretation in their mind. The unseen becomes seen in the negative space.
I didn’t want to emulate the inkblots exactly or I’d have created them from ink myself. I feel I have set out and conveyed my interpretation of the sublime, the images are dark, the black and white images complement each other, and they depict something familiar in an unfamiliar way. They are portholes to areas of the subconscious drawing them out from hiding. I want the viewer to see my fear yet find their own depictions of their lives. Everyone has something that scares us and when faced with something unsettling it has an inherent and inevitable way of being incarnated into the real world. Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon where people see faces in ordinary objects. A study found that the mind is constantly searching for faces and will generate them in any object or situation and I believe you can see such faces in my photos.
I had planned on including several fears but I feel it has worked better to depict just the one. I had to choose between focusing on the trees as ink blots or the trees themselves as witches fingers coming out of the ground and decided to merge both of them into the series which worked with the uncanny and my study into psychoanalysis.
Fear is something everyone shares. I asked others their fears and was fascinated to see the mixture of fears both rational such as the fear of being attacked by dogs after such an encounter or the way the imagination creates scenarios out of the most innocent of objects such as the fear of doorknobs. How something that once inspired fear now inspires happiness is an interesting phenomenon, from an agreeable horror to an appreciation of the sublime as something awesome and to be respected, it shows how life changes, thoughts differ and everything is in continuous movement.
Here is a diagram (from my physical learning log) showing the direction the assignment took. All the rest of the pages are in my last post End of Part One +Physical Learning Log
The trees get closer and closer swirling and writhing creating shapes out of their flailing limbs.