I really enjoy photographing strangeness. An exploration which has carried on from my architectural dissertation on “Uncanny Spaces”, where I explored the mental spaces of my childhood. Spaces which were not of delight but of terror. I mapped these rooms as part of my spatial history (included in this post), trying to capture the emotion I felt while occupying each room.
Growing up in the Philippines, there were certain areas in the house that really got to me. I felt as if these spaces were alive. The Philippines is predominantly a Christian majority with a strong belief in spiritual beings, the good and evil kinds.
Stories of creatures and spirits are a big part of the culture and the feeling that I shared my home with phantoms were visceral experiences. I should perhaps elaborate on what I define as a home at that time. I lived inside a catholic school compound where I spent most of my childhood playing and going to school. During day time it was a blast, student’s and teachers were about, filled with activity and life. But as school finished up and the large compound with lots of empty rooms became silent, the atmosphere changed. It was not uncommon to invite the local priest to come and bless the school.
‘Dark is the hour!’ ‘Aye, and cold.’
‘Lone is my house.’ ‘Ah, but mine? ‘
‘Sight, touch, lips, eyes gleamed in vain.’
‘Long dead these to thine.’
Ghost by Walter de la Mare
I linked this back to Sigmund Freud’s essay “The Uncanny”. One that stems from the definition of the German word “Heimlich” which translates to homely in English. He goes through its etymology by using two 19th Century dictionary’s and also looks at it’s use in literature. In particular the Grimm’s fairytales and highlights the literary definition of Heimlich ultimately changes to that of “Unheimlich” / unhomely.
In essence the home that is secure, safe and familiar can be viewed as something that is private and unknown.
This unknown morphs into the mystic and unseen becoming unheimlich or Unhomely. This blur, liminal point is that which is Uncanny.
Heimlich (a) Familiar Unheimlich (a) Unfamiliar
Heimlich (b) Secret Unheimlich (b) Revealed
The strangely familiar. Freud’s essay goes onto giving examples of fantastical tales which evoke the feeling of Uncanny, from Automaton’s to doppelgangers just to name a few.
Anthony Vidler also explores the Unhomely in his paper “The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely”, specifically focusing on the Architectural unhomely aspects of the uncanny. Vidler uses Edgar Edgar Allan Poe’s “The fall of Usher” as one of the Haunted houses as an example and describes the uncanny arises from the “normality of the setting” and the absence of overt terror” resulting in a “disturbing unfamiliarity of the evidently familiar”. Poe’s description of the blank deteriorating walls and its lifeless eyes for windows makes us identify with our own mortality and the ultimate effect of time to all things.
I find photographically I am drawn to these sort of spaces. From gritty alleys, to desolate abandoned places were Urbanex photography arises. Two years ago I came across the term “Thanatourism” which according to good old wiki is “Dark tourism (also black tourism or grief tourism) has been defined as tourism involving travel to sites historically associated with death and tragedy.” Urbanex I think is the photographer’s version of this fascination, as we break into abandoned mental asylums or take photos of models in run down place filled with grafitti.
My last year’s trip to the Philippines again reminded me of the type of rawness I grew up in and which I identify with whenever I see a dark gritty alley. The textures, colour, decay, and use is like a patina over the buildings.
I do find these sort of images in Australia albeit much more difficult. I shoot and post a range of images but these sort are the most personal to me. The next images are all shot here in Australia. Thanks for reading. Hope I have not scared you guys off.