Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Assignments, Coursework

Assignment One – Beware the Witches Fingers

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 witches fingers echoed ominously in the dark still waters of Scotland. This is my favourite of the set, it has a sinister feel, you don’t feel like wandering too close to the water’s edge.
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Reminiscent of the walking trees in Lord of the Rings and a Monster Calls the low viewpoint is quite evocative of my childhood fear. Arms hurled outwards, a distorted face, it’s the epitome of my nightmares. It also feels like the fearsome Wickerman.
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I wrote on my learning log here about the terrorizing images of Joshua Hoffine in his series ‘Basement’ (the word itself capable of producing such images) and said “ I notice that whilst he uses graphic images that leave nothing for the imagination, these images are shocking but the ones are that are more permeable are those that are suggestions. The silhouette of a clown against the sheet in the garden with the disillusioning bright balloons just visible. The arms creeping out from the back of the couch.” With this in mind I shot the photo below, the trees reflect like the ink blots in the still water yet a hand reaches out, just like the witches my childhood imagination generated from the trees did. This is possibly my favourite image of the set as it is so dark and intensely different to my usual standard of images.
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With horrific hairstyles the trees stare down. Shooting in vertical extended the tree trunk. As you look up the trunk you suddenly realise it’s not just you who is looking closely.
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The trees look almost serpentine, thrashing and writhing; emulating the Rorschach ink blots, I introduced deliberate camera movement during the exposure. It feels evocative of Caspar Friedrichs ‘Tree of Crows’ I couldn’t decide whether the image had too much motion blur but it was the image that started the assignment for me.
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Glancing up at the canopy I saw forms and shapes! Just like the ink blots the imagination uses the negative space to unviel the unseen. Does what you see depict your thoughts and characters. I see a wolf, my mother saw a witch, my sister saw a grotesque face and my father saw a nose!
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A wolf ‘s head seems very clear to me here. Jikta Hanzlová’ used negative space in her woodland images yet focusing on the land whereas mine features the canopy shapes. I’m aware it’s similar to the above image but couldn’t decide on which, I thought I would ask my tutor for advice.

IMG_7884 3The trees get closer and closer swirling and writhing creating shapes out of their flailing limbs.

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The thick black silhouettes emulate the ink blots.


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This time the tree branches are photographed in the pond, the water distorts the defined image.
This image was added at the last moment when I was searching for an image that was different. This looks like a sylph plunging into the depths, but why they are diving in such dark waters are unknown and distinctly eerie!  There are all sorts of mysterious forms in the water (an eye here or panda face there) but I will leave the rest to be discovered by the viewer’s  imagination!




Hi, I'm ChloeClik, artist, writer, photographer, musician, day dreamer and all round lover of life. I love so much in life and equally love to blog about it. I hope you enjoy sharing some of my adventures with me :)

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