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!


Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment One – Taking the Photos

With the new direction for the assignment, replicating the Rorschach ink blots and fear of the Witches Fingers I started shooting. Below are all the photos I took at each location.

Carlingwark Loch – Castle Douglas – Scotland 

The trees hung over the lake like witches fingers, I loved the reflections in the still dark waters.

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A Lay-by – North Wales 

While Dad was double checking the map I wandered around the lay by gazing up at the trees that surrounded me. The forest felt so dense, unpenetretable, the barbed wire seemed to reinforce it. I experimented swirling the camera to create the efffect that they were moving.

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Lytham Hall – Lancashire  Boasting many acres of forested land, a wildflower garden and many woodland paths bedecked with snowdrops and bluebells there was an abundance of unusual trees, twisted, strange trunks, interesting formations. I’ve included all the image I shot there (hence the appearence of several duck photos)  When I glanced up I saw the Rorschach ink blots in the canopy.

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Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment One – Peer Review

Below are the photos that have made the shortlist. I have several in my mind which I believe are the stronger images but I want to hear an honest opinion as to which should complete the final set.

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 an actual landscape.

Focusing on Freuds theory of the Uncanny where a familiar object, paradoxically, appears unfamiliar and unsettling, I want to depict my childhood fear landscape. As a very young child, I  was scared of the trees which reached out like witches fingers. Part of the assignment will depict the feeling of the trees looming over me, thrashing, reaching out to grab me whilst the others replicate ink blots (used in Psychoanalysis to determine character traits, thoughts, fear. I want my images to use the uncanny, to allow the imagination to possess the subconscious to see shapes, faces, monsters or dreams. I have to include 6-12 images.

I have never submitted an assignment in black and white but felt the monochrome would work well with the theme.

Slide show- Witches Fingers

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Posted in Assignment 6 ~ Transitions, Coursework

Assignment Six – Placing the House

What will happen when we are gone?
It is perhaps a macabre, daunting or fantastical thought to contemplate yet is the basis for my Assignment Six Transitions. There is no saying when the human race will die out or indeed if, but only a quick look at the figures show that the world is growing at an expeditious rate, babies are born every second, an average of 350,000 a day according to a UNICEF report. There is no comprehensible way that the planet can sustain such life for long. In an interview with the Big Think, Stephen Hawking discussed his fears for the future of the human race.
“It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.
A hundred years is not within my lifetime but it certainly may be possible for children I know, my own future children or grandchildren. Will people continue to have many children or will they stop and think of the future they are creating. The world they are preparing for their children?
Steven Hawking argues that we need to look beyond planet earth to sustain this planet, to inhabit other planets in the solar system.
With this in mind, this is why my Assignment will take on a dark note. What will happen when we are gone?
I have placed my Playmobil chalet house in the garden. I ran through possibilities of a plot of land to place the house. It was important that once placed there was to be no intrusion, no controlling the plants that grow, moving anything to make it more aesthetically pleasing. It is to be dealt in a scientific way and indeed, Amber, my science loving sister is working alongside me and we are treating it as a true scientific experiment.
I chose the corner of the garden where there was little vegetation, that way I could start with a blank canvas to be sure. I relocated a crocus or two to place the house, set up the scene and took my first photo.
This house, surroundings and plants will not be moved, edited or in any way interfered with.
The house is a Playmobil chalet and I’ve placed a table and chair in it. There is a plate on the table as though the owners were going to sit down and eat before something happened. I wanted it to have a Mary Celeste air. The only thing that says something is amiss is the mug knocked over and the doors wide open. I’ve also placed a patio table outside of the house with a radio and bowl.
Obviously, it is a miniature house so there is a certain amount of imagination required when the scale of plants will reveal the true size of the house (I did go down the route of miniature people living in the house but decided to leave it ambiguous instead)
However I was interested in the photo novella, ““Once Upon A Time In Kazimierz” depicting the life of a Jewish family, staged inside a dolls house using photography. I will review this in the next blog post. IMG_7601
As well as the transitions of the landscape and how nature reclaims the house, I am putting a literary narration on it. I’ve created a separate blog here written in the first person, it’s set in the future where everyone is gone but just the protagonist (an artist) and her sister (a scientist) are the only ones left and they come across the abandoned house. I will update the blog fortnightly and create a story through that with photos and drawings to make it as real as possible. It’s hard not to be excited about this. My expectations are
  • That the house will slowly be choked with vegetation reminiscent of Chernobyl.
  • The furniture in the house will either be swept away, trapped inside or will become homes
  • Insects and perhaps even mammals will use the place as a safe harbour. Maggots may thrive, spiders will decorate the walls and windows with their deadly art.
  • I may have to get a restraining order if Mum discovers mice are living inside the house….

So perhaps not the last one but I think it will still stay true to its purpose and become a home for all sorts of wildlife and vegetation.

Posted in Assignment 6 ~ Transitions, Coursework, Part One ~ Beauty and the sublime

Exercise – 1.5 Visualising Assignment Six: Transitions

For this exercise, you’ll begin working on Assignment SixL Transitions.

To get started you’ll need to choose a location or specific view that you’ll revisit through the duration of this course

If you decide to revisit a very particular view, then this activity will test your skills of pre visualisation. You’ll need to try to imagine how the view might look throughout the year under different weather and lighting conditions, and whether there are any other factors that will affect your camera’s view. You may, of course, try a few different angles or vantage points but in any case, pay very close attention to how you compose the frame as you’ll need to commit to this for the duration of the course.

You’re strongly recommended to consider shooting a backup location so that you have a plan B in case anything hinders the development of your project.

Document your work within your learning log. You may wish to ask your tutor for feedback; do this when you submit your other assignments for feedback.

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better” Albert Einstein 

I feel it important to label a project with a title so for the moment I shall be calling it ‘After‘  In the book ‘Behind the Image’ by Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana they stressed the importance of a title and how it defines the viewer’s response to an image.  The example given has always stood out in my mind, a photographic series of abandoned and boarded-up terrace houses was entitled, Nummianus. Without background knowledge, the name seems obscure however we learn it is taken from a Latin inscription discovered in a house destroyed by Pompeii. With this it takes on new meaning, we compare the people who lost their homes in the past to the present housing market decline.


Numianus – by Steffi Klenz 


There have been several factors that have caused the inspiration and brainchild for this assignment, the majority of those factors stemmed from Steve Backshall’s wild world show, which I will be reviewing, though the main inspiration came from a Christmas Present. Shark Seas,  by Steve Backshall which I will include a review ofIn the story, the main character Saker needed to hide from the enemy and hid out in the abandoned city of Chenobyl. As Saker explored the city the imagery and descriptive writing was so vivid I was transfixed. Transported to this haunting world, perhaps an echo of what we may expect the future to reflect, what really held me was that now in the heart of such a tragic disaster nature was thriving.


A sapling had sprung up through the floorboards and was sprouting spring leaves out through the windows, growing from inside the building to outside. The wooden windowsill had rotted away and shoots and flowers had sprung through the mulch making bizzare natural window boxes.”

He entered a space where the ceiling had fallen through a room above that had clearly been a library. The floor was littered with tumble books, their paper pages yellowing and curling. A child doll stared blankly at Saker from its blue plastic eyes.”

How much better the world is without us…Chernobyl was perhaps our greatest mistake, our most destructive moment but nature bounced back…even here in this scorched, violated place, without man and his ceaseless desire to take take take…nature had found a way to return.”


Photography by Gerd Ludwig

We take over nature but nature will take over us. It doesn’t need us to survive though we can not live without it. This is my thinking for the assignment.


The Plan

  • Purchase model house or dolls house (I ran the idea past a fellow course mate and he said a dolls house may work better to show more change. I looked at some of my old toys and found a Playmobil house)
  • Monitor the house over the year to see the changes it undergoes. I don’t want to focus on the changing of the seasons but the change physically happening to the house
  • Will it disappear into the undergrowth? Will flowers sprout inside or insects inhabit the empty rooms?
  • Perhaps I could go one step further and include furniture instead of composing from the outside of the house.
  • I could incorporate a deeper meaning.


  • Photographers focusing on change, decay, the environment, abandonment.
  • Read poetry, books, explore the history of hidden places, photography employing model houses




Behind the Image – Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana