British design studio Hipgnosis was founded in London in 1968 by two photo artists, Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson.
Hipgnosis created some of the most innovative and surreal record cover art of the 1960s, 70s and 80s for many of the big name rock bands of the era including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Yes, Genesis, 10cc, Peter Gabriel, Bad Company, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Scorpions, Styx, Syd Barrett and Black Sabbath. Hipgnosis were nominated five times for Grammy Awards.
I like their use of bold, saturated colours and considered compositions. The subjects, their stances and split second outtakes reminds me of the idea of the uncanny. I want to use Photoshop and post production techniques to my advantage to duplicate subjects and manipulate the colours.
Madame Yevonde by Madame Yevonde colour dye transfer print, 1940 14 7/8 in. x 12 in. (378 mm x 305 mm) Purchased, 1995
This self-portrait combines many aspects of Yevonde’s picture making. It was also one of her last pictures made using the Vivex colour process. At the left is a still life composition made up of her photographic chemicals and camera lens. Yevonde sits within a gold old master frame which she often used in her photographs as a framing device. At the top of the picture is a version of one of her ‘Goddesses series’ portraits, namely The Duchess of Wellington as Hecate. In Greek mythology Hecate was a Goddess of the Underworld, Earth and Moon with powers in sorcery and black magic.
“Like the emotive expression of a silent screen star in a film still, the woman’s plaintive upward glance and mascara-encrusted lashes seem intended to invoke wonder at the cause of her distress. The face belongs to a fashion model who cries tears of glistening, round glass beads; the effect is to aestheticize the sentiment her tears would normally express. Man Ray made this photograph in Paris around the time of his breakup with his lover Lee Miller, and the woman’s false tears may relate to that event in the artist’s life” (source).
This week, we created dioramas inspired from a childhood memory as a starting point. It was a fun task; exploring creativity with found objects and recycled materials such as cereal boxes, bin bags, glass jam jars and mini led lights.
It was exciting to realise the artistic potential a few low-cost items can create and opened ideas to develop further with more time and resources. Photoshop helped take these dream-like images to another level. I like the idea of attempting to create as much of the raw data in the frame as possible and using post-production to emphasise elements of the composition.
Raw image – Using a glass jam jar in front of the camera lens distorted and reflected the light, creating a dreamy, hazy effect.
Edited – I used multiple Photoshop layers to emphasise lighting and tones. I experimented with the ‘perspective’ tool for a lower camera angle.
When I was younger, around 5 years old, I saw a ‘ghost’ through the window of my bedroom. At the time, I lived in Canterbury with my family until we moved house when I was around 6. I remember the layout of my bedroom which I shared with my older sister quite vividly. It felt cosy and just enough room to fit in a small bunkbed. The bunkbed was pushed up against the left hand wall as you walk in to the room and on the same wall as the door. If you slept on the top bunk and came down the stairs, you’d be facing the window opposite.
One evening, around Christmas time, I was waiting for my sister to come through to the bedroom once she’d finished brushing her teeth. I remember it was around that time of year because we used to have these 90’s vinyl Christmas stickers stuck to the window – putting those up made it feel more like home … I was leaning patiently against the bottom bunkbed whilst looking out of the window opposite me. From my height you could just about see the top of the houses to the back of the garden. It was dark and looked cold. There was usually this bright light which shone through the window, belonging to a house a few doors down.
As I waited, I saw the top of a ladder appear and move close to the window. I suddenly felt scared and out of place. I was too engrossed in what was happening that the walls drew in around me and I felt fixated for a few more seconds. All whilst this was happening, and the ladder found its balance against the bedroom window, I saw a feather hat. It occurred to me that it was a young boy wearing a native American tribal hat – almost like a fancy dress outfit. As he was climbing to the top of the ladder and looking into the room directly at me, I ran away in fear.
I ran so fast into my parents room across the landing from ours that I nearly tripped over. They were making their bed and laughed as I came in screaming. I remember being so confused because they didn’t believe me. I explained what I had just seen and they kept saying its the light playing tricks. I thought they were part of a joke being played on me and I suddenly felt quite vulnerable.
I’m not one to usually get into ghost stories and to this day, I have never properly understood what that memory meant. Perhaps it was just the bright light creating an illusion…?
Androids, avatars, and animations aim for extreme realism but get caught in a disturbing chasm that has been dubbed the uncanny valley. They are extremely realistic and lifelike — but when we examine them, we see they are not quite human. When a robotic or animated depiction lies in this “valley,” people tend to feel a sense of unease, strangeness, disgust, or creepiness.
The uncanny valley is a term used to describe the relationship between the human-like appearance of a robotic object and the emotional response it evokes. In this phenomenon, people feel a sense of unease or even revulsion in response to humanoid robots that are highly realistic.
Origins of the Uncanny Valley
The term was first coined and described by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in an article published in 1970. In his work, Mori noted that people found his robots more appealing if they look more human. While people found his robots more appealing the more human they appeared, this only worked up to a certain point.
When robots appear close but not quite human, people tend to feel uncomfortable or even disgusted. Once the uncanny valley has been reached, people start to feel uneasy, disturbed, and sometimes afraid.
“I have noticed that, in climbing toward the goal of making robots appear human, our affinity for them increases until we come to a valley, which I call the uncanny valley,” Mori explained in his seminal paper on the topic.1
Mori used a number of examples to clarify this idea. An industrial robot has little human likeness and therefore generates little affinity in observers. A toy robot, on the other hand, has a more human likeness and tends to be more appealing. A prosthetic hand, he noted, tends to lie in this uncanny valley — it can be highly lifelike yet generates feelings of unease.
Mori and others have suggested that the uncanny valley is an aversive, evolved response to the potential threats of death and disease. Because something is human-like but not quite lifelike, it may evoke the same response that people feel when they encounter something that is dead or dying.
Theories also suggest that the uncanny valley may exist due to the difficulty in determining what category an entity belongs to.
When something approaches a point where it seems to transition from one to the other, it can trigger feelings of cognitive dissonance. When people hold conflicting beliefs, they tend to experience feelings of psychological discomfort.
In this case, there is a conflict between the belief that an entity is human and the belief that it is not human. Something that looked human might abruptly appear nonhuman, or it may even shift back and forth as the viewer observes it.
Last night I watched Blue Velvet directed by David Lynch with cinematography by Frederick Elmes.
Part of the contrast Elmes was seeking was built right into the film’s structure from the outset. Both Lynch and Elmes had agreed that the opening and closing sequences of the film should be mirror images of each other in overly bright, cheery tones — a sandwich made with Wonder Bread surrounding the dark meat that makes up the film’s disturbing middle section. “We had always planned to have the beginning and the end look like this very cheerful — slightly too cheerful — a little-bit-more-than-real world that David wanted to create,” Elmes says. “We designed it with that in mind. We didn’t do anything to manipulate it, except to light it in such a way that the colors really appeared to be saturated. That, contrasted with the middle part of the film, gives you that sense of difference.”
The joyride upon which Frank and his cronies have taken young Jeffrey pauses for a brief time at Ben’s club, undoubtedly the film’s most bizarre location, not so much because of the setting itself, but due to the unusual clientele the place attracts. Then again, Ben, as played by Dean Stockwell, is an effete counterpoint to Hopper’s brutal Frank, and the usual byplay between these two characters is largely responsible for building the perverse mood of this sequence.
Simplicity became the key to their approach, and then the true horror and humor of the situation became apparent. Simplicity is a deceptive word because it tends to make things sound easy; Elmes’ photography in the sequence is flawless, and its apparent artlessness is so artful that the scene becomes painfully real. The audience is made to feel that they’re in a horrible, claustrophobic environment with some very unsavory though oddly amusing types, and Elmes does nothing photographically to make it look the least bit inviting. “What’s interesting about this scene is that we have this group of very strange characters in one room,” Elmes remarks.
“We’d already chosen the exterior of the building, so we knew what the interior should look like and then David and Patty Norris spent a lot of time talking about it and I think she came up with a wonderful design for the apartment. It was quite fabulous and styled after the era. Also, the palette of colors in there is very well chosen and sets a real mood for the things that happen.”
“We chose our slats carefully because we knew we’d be spending some time in the closet, and we knew this element of his voyeurism was important to the script,” Elmes explains. “We tried a couple of different things and this one seemed to be the one that gave him the best visibility and also gave us the opportunity to do an interesting light that we knew we’d have to live with for awhile once we established it. We never shot anything that he couldn’t actually see from the closet. The set was designed in such a way that the closet was in a special spot where Jeffrey can see the living room, he can see down the hall to the bathroom, and he can see part of the kitchen, but he can’t see around the corner which is the place Dorothy sneaks up on him with a knife.
The ‘uncanny’ is a concept in art associated with psychologist Sigmund Freud which describes a strange and anxious feeling sometimes created by familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts.
The term was first used by German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch in his essay On the Psychology of the Uncanny, 1906. Jentsch describes the uncanny – in German ‘unheimlich’ (unhomely) – as something new and unknown that can often be seen as negative at first.
Sigmund Freud’s essay The Uncanny (1919) however repositioned the idea as the instance when something can be familiar and yet alien at the same time. He suggested that ‘unheimlich’ was specifically in opposition to ‘heimlich’, which can mean homely and familiar but also secret and concealed or private. ‘Unheimlich’ therefore was not just unknown, but also, he argued, bringing out something that was hidden or repressed. He called it ‘that class of frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’ (source).
Surrealism aims to revolutionise human experience. It balances a rational vision of life with one that asserts the power of the unconscious and dreams. The movement’s artists find magic and strange beauty in the unexpected and the uncanny, the disregarded and the unconventional. At the core of their work is the willingness to challenge imposed values and norms, and a search for freedom.
The word ‘surrealist’ (suggesting ‘beyond reality’) was coined by the French avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire in the preface to a play performed in 1917 (source).
Artists, including some associated with the surrealist movement drew on this description and made artworks that combined familiar things in unexpected ways to create uncanny feelings (source).
“Uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” SIGMUND FREUD (source).
‘The negative prefix un- is the indicator of repression’ Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny.
To experience the uncanny is to experience ‘the return of the repressed’, the coming back into consciousness of a fear, once intimate and familiar, but since made strange or ‘othered’ by disavowal. (unheimlich – unhomely) The Uncanny Handbook Presentation by Phil Gomm
Light, shadow and harsh contrast plays with mood and emotion
The fact that Stanley Kubrick had full control over the design of the sets in The Shining suggests that any errors or inaccuracies in its design were intentional; as a result, instead of creating a functioning space, he presents us with an implausible and irrational design. The space within the hotel therefore is spatially impossible. The film has been studied by a number of enthusiasts who have attempted to map out the space of the hotel. They have discovered numerous errors – doors and hallways lead to nowhere, while impossible windows, such as Stuart Ullman’s office window, exist in a number of rooms
The interiors of the hotel, where we spend much of our time over the course of the film, were constructed at the Elstree Studios in England. In using three different settings, Stanley Kubrick was interested in achieving a specific look for his film, one that required him to use different locations for these establishing scenes. In addition, constructing the interiors of the hotel in a studio provided him with full artistic control over the space (source).
At a base level, the Hotel resembles just an enormously empty hotel for a horror narrative to play over. However, referring back to Affron’s framework of set design, the Overlook is much more than a setting and is crucially ‘set as embellishment’ (1995:38-9) as it ‘does have a relationship with the real, but at the same time is striking and unfamiliar.’ Fundamentally the set at its base level is in-fact verisimilitude. However, in its design, there are countless surreal anomalies such as; televisions projecting images without power-cords, geographically impossible windows, and doors that essentially can lead to nowhere.
Overlook itself is presented as an omniscient being that entraps its protagonists.According to Kuter (1957: 5), ‘[t]he modern day art director must be very nearly a modern-day Leonardo Da Vinci in a wide range of his interests, capabilities, talents and knowledge.’ This statement can be true in regard to Roy Walker’s position of art director, as it appears his set was designed to work perfectly in simpatico with Kubrick’s idiosyncratic; cinematography, high key lighting, and innovative camera movement with the inclusion of the newly invented Steadicam (source).