The “Uncanny” – Sigmund Freud

The Uncanny (1919) – by Sigmund Freud

During my symposium Shaun Hydes recommended reading Sigmund Freud’s The “Uncanny”, unfortunately I didn’t have time or space to add it in, so I briefly looked at online summaries. However it is an area I want to take forward in my final piece, my aim is to create images that are making a comment and put the audience in a reflective position. Creating an Uncanny character/image is one way of doing this. Making the audience uncomfortable enough to question the content.


This is my exploration into the text of The Uncanny.


My notes
Areas of study I derived from the text

– Aesthetics are vital to explore in regards to uncanny. Aesthetic is usually associated with theory on beauty, but it has much more to do with with the “qualities of feeling.” p.1

– “…given him and uncanny impression.” Freud talks of uncanny as a feeling, much like anyone would talk about a good impression or a bad impression. Uncanny= feeling. p1

– Freud starts by discussing previous writings on Uncanny and the limits of incomplete research, discussing E.Jentsch’s piece “Zur Psychologie des Unheimlichen” in particular.

Intellectual Uncertainty – unable to determine the human nature/ intelligence of a character. Not quite human.

– “In telling a story, one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton;” – E.Jentsch quote used. Freud openly say that he isn’t 100% accepting of Jentsch’s ideas but points out there is truth in his writings. It just cannot be used as the ONLY reason behind the uncanny feeling, he also later goes on to explore how the dead coming back to life is not always uncanny, it depends on the relationship to reality.

Hofman “The sand man” – “unparalleled atmosphere of uncanniness” Freud now refers to uncanny as an atmosphere rather than a feeling, perhaps it is both, it cannot be defined as one thing as it is not. Freud later uses the sand man to disprove Jentsch’s ideas about something new and feared being uncanny. He points out the sand man isn’t new to the man in the story, he is very familiar  and every interaction with the sand man becomes more uncanny. So perhaps it is the recollection of a feared person that casues the uncanny in this situation.

– “children do not distinguish at all sharply between living and lifeless objects, and that they are especially fond of treating their dolls like live people… the idea of a “living doll” excites no fear at all; the child had no fear od its doll coming to life, it may even have desired it.p.9 – again freud is disproving the idea of Intellectual Uncertainty as the sole reason for uncanny feelings. A child would not feel that their doll coming to life would be fearful or uncanny because they desire it and often wish for it. It makes me think of Toy Story, none of the characters seem uncanny apart from the “bad toys” if something is animated to life but is “good” we might not fear it.

The Double 

– “Hoffmann is in literature the unrivalled master of conjuring up the uncanny.” p.9

– Twins, telepathy, reoccurring faces/events/places, mirrors and shadows – all types of double which Freud shows can evoke uncanny sensations. He then delves deeper into the meaning for this looking at psychology of childhood and self-observation.

– “The “double” has become a vision of terror, just as after the fall of their religion the gods took on daemonic shapes.”p.10 The Jeckyll and hyde effect, the fear of 2 personalities.

– “a feeling came over me which I can only describe as uncanny… an involuntary return to the same situation… feeling of helplessness and of something uncanny… fateful and inescapablep.11 – Freuds personal stories which evoke uncanny, the idea of the double, when something happens again and again within a short amount of time it makes us feel uneasy or uncanny, we recognise something familiar but know it is not meant to happen.


-” “Well, I hope he’ll have a stroke and die.” A fortnight later the old gentleman really did have a stroke. My patient though this an “uncanny” experience.p.12 Humans strive for an explanation of coincidence  some resort to supernatural explanation, religion or magic. Freud see’s this coincidence as uncanny and purely coincidence.

Involuntary repetition & repression

– “for this uncanny is in reality nothing new of foreign, but something familiar and old- established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repressionp.13 

– “Two things account for our conservatism: the strength of our original emotional reaction to it, and the insufficiency of our scientific knowledge about it.p.13 It is often said we fear wat we do not know, in essence Freud is saying this combined with emotional reaction to the object in question leads to uncanniness.

Reality and Imagination

– “an uncanny effect is often and easily produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality, such as when something we have regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality.p.15 When the line between reality and fantasy is blurred it provokes uncanny feelings.


– “We have heard that it is in the highest degree uncanny when inanimate objects – a picture or a doll – come to life… who would be so bold as to call it an uncanny moment, for instance, when Snow-White opens her eyes once more?p.16 The most powerful point I think Freud makes, it shows how hard it is to define uncanny and you cannot simply say that one act makes something uncanny. uncanny is not a fact it is a feeling and within everyone a certain combination of the themes discussed in this text are what cause uncanniness.

– “As soon as something actually happen in our lives which seems to support the old, discarded beliefs, we get a feeling of the uncanny. p17

– “Primitive beliefs are most intimately connected with infantile complexes.p.18 

Within these few pages I see a connection between the fairtytales and reality and Imagination, fairytales open with “Once upon a time in a far away land” the spectator is instantly disconnected from the story by both time and space, therefore the strange events will not effect their lives, it is too detached from reality to have an emotional effect on us.

The main topic of discussion within this text is whilst trying to define Uncanny we cannot define it. Freud taking a psychological stand point looks at examples of uncanny and what evoked the emotion within that case. Each example has to be taken individually as it could use one or multiple reasonings. The text has made me understand the uncanny a lot more and now instead of seeing a photograph and thinking something is strange about it I might have more hope at breaking down what is making it uncanny to me and possibly to others.

Susanna Majuri

Inspired by the hyper-reality themes in Adam Hinton’s ‘Lovin’ it’ I came across the work of Finish Susanna Majuri. In her bio Majuri says “I throw myself into a fictive reality in the shootings.” and “I want to narrate feelings like in novels.”. Albeit Majuri is speaking of different novels to the ones I have been reading, but her inspiration from literature and aspiration of fictional reality is the same as mine. What also strikes me within Majuri’s work is the openness of the images. They are not forcing ideas upon us but once we dig past the beautiful aesthetics her work makes comments on nature, beauty and human ability.

In this video Susanna Majuri talks through some of her images and her use of water.

Ready Player One: Photography, Alternate Reality and Fiction

Over the course of 4 days I read Ernie Clines New York bestseller novel ‘Ready Player One’. My original intent was to tweet everything I found interesting, but this became imposible, it would have taken me months to read if I tweeted every single thing. I also found myself reading 100 or so pages at a time too immersed into the book to remember to take notes. The theme I found most interesting within the book is the idea of identity, knowing someone so well in a virtual world without ever meeting them. Once Ernie Cline made the comparison that Dungeons and Dragons was the original virtual reality it made me think about the role of this book. Like the protagonist Wade I found myself connecting with people I didn’t know. In Wade’s case they were real people but their avatars might not have represented them, but in my case I felt I became quite intimate with characters who didn’t even exists, all I knew of them was my interpretation of Clines writing. In turn this made me think about how this reflects within photography, in creating something fiction we are creating an alternate reality, wether it be through the more accepted route of gaming and films or through writing and photography. In photography we see all these genres, documentary, fine art, conceptual but why isn’t there a fiction genre like there is in writing? I guess you could argue in some cases there is, Cindy Sherman creates a series of characters all with fictional identities but you would never call her work fiction photography or an alternate reality.

Image above ©Cindy Sherman

Photography seems to still have this relationship with reality that it can’t get away from. I would like to over my career help separate this tie. Once you’re established as a fiction producer then you can start to think about sub genres, sci-fi, fantasy, romance etc… By all means photography is about telling a story, but who’s to say that story has to be fact?

Food for thought while I think about what’s my product, leaving university trying to find a voice as a photographer. See my book notes below, I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of anything, games, anime, tv, sci-fi.

  1. On page 16 and hooked already @erniecline #readyplayerone #erniecline #rpg #oasis
  2. “I had access to the OASIS, which was like having an escape hatch into a better reality. The OASIS kept me sane.”#readyplayerone #erniecline
  3. “A Gunter rite of passage, like a Jedi building his first lightsaber.” Wade Watts on coding his first Atari game #readyplayerone #gunter
  4. “The lines of distinction between a persons real identity and that of their avatar began to blur.” #readyplayerone #quote #oasis #erniecline
  5. “In a way, these old role-playing games had been the first virtual reality simulations.” #dungeonsandsragons #dandd #readyplayerone #quote
  6. Just finished level one. Damn this is a good book. meant to be reading it bit by bit. But just read 150 pages in one go #readyplayerone
  7. “It didn’t matter who was in charge. Those people were rearranging deck chairs in the Titanic and everyone knew it.” #readyplayerone #quote
  8. 47 pages to go. Lets do this!!! #readyplayerone #finalbattle #oasis #rpg #scifi #erniecline

RPG and Virtual Reality

I have this urge with this project to produce something really technologically advanced, the one down side, I have no idea how to build software or electronics. Or even how to go about finding someone who does, and get them to do it for free.

Recently I have been watching an anime about an RPG. The first season of ‘Sword Art Online‘ see’s the creator of a virtual world release only 10,000 copies of the game, and once logged in you cannot log out. It’s his way of playing God. Also unlike normal RPGs once you die in the game you die in real life too. The series sees almost 2 years of the game inside, people start to prefer that world to the real one, get married and forget about reaching the 100th level, as their bodies in real life are laying in a special SAO victims hospital being kept alive by a drip, exploring issues of which is the real reality? I won’t go into the storyline too much as it has loads of flaws and unanswered questions but my point is that this anime has been voted by many websites the best of 2012, when I started my symposium I wanted to explore the photograph as an alternate reality but I kept on stumbling and getting stuck with no research content. So I abandoned it, but as this anime has made me think about virtual reality even more I think there is some way I can tap into this with photography. I am not sure how yet but this has got to be a way forward for not only my work but for society too. How long will it be before products like Nervgear are mainstream? (not in the crazy trapped in a virtual world way) And how can this be utilised within photography?

Upon a new fascination with virtual realities I bought this book, which I am currently reading. Once I am finished reading it I will storify my tweeted notes and see how this has had an impact on me and how the author utilises virtual reality.

image (1)
The book is going to be made into a film as well due to it’s popularity. Watch this interview with Ernie Cline the author to hear about the book plot and the plans for the film.

others explorations of Japanese escapism

With my newly focussed idea I decided it would be best to look for articles and essays written on Japanese Escapsim and see other peoples take on this aspect of Japanese Popular Culture.

Bloggers without borders – “Japanese escapism

Article Link –

 This article starts off by talking about how Japan is the place to go if you are looking to escape, whether it’s through video games, manga and themed restaurants. It then contradicts this with a link to Japanese suicide rates and pressure to create perfection and be the best you can. Linking these two juxtaposed aspects within Japanese Culture to explain why there Popular culture is so connected with escapism and is so intense. The same ethics are used in the work place and in entertainment. All or nothing. It then goes on to explain about the culture of Otaku (Geeks, Freaks, Obsessed), men (predominantly) who work hard a are well educated and have good jobs, but who then have an alter ego, obsessed with teenage girls and anime. A great social group example of both worlds.

Key Quotes:
“I’m not aware of any other nation where fantasy, escapism and the cyber world have fused with such intensity.”
“As Japan is very regimented and cold. So, pop culture, is everything but regimented. Pop culture in Japan is all about creating a world where anything is possible.”
“could it have anything to do with the great despair the Japanese live in? There is no country where there are so many complaints about the great expectations every one has to live up to. Maybe these expectations are just too much for many and they seek enjoyment in the alternate universe of Otaku.”

NY Times – “Japanese Obsessions

Article Link –

Oddly enough this article begins at a Japanese Gym, where the writer Roger Cohern see’s images of food whilst on a treadmill. he began to be mesmerised by this strange addition to workouts which he had never seen.

The exploration of Japans intense popular culture is broken down into 4 sections in this article.

Wealth- Japans economy is strong, but whilst they are one of the wealthiest countries they have not gained the leading position in exports and products that was expected, China has that role now. So Japan is left somewhere inbetween America and China, with lots of money and no heavy restrictions on where it should be spent.
Postmodernism –
Conformism – The individuals need to escape from millions of other doing the same thing in the same country.
Dispair –  Natural disasters and economies all around collapsing.

Key Quotes:
“I’m not aware of any other nation where fantasy, escapism and the cyber world have fused with such intensity.”
“My sense is that four factors have contributed to this: wealth, postmodernism, conformism and despair.”
“Japan is also moderately bored. The days of rising Japan Inc. when the former U.S. ambassador in Tokyo, Mike Mansfield, could speak of U.S.-Japan ties as “the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none” and fears of a Japan takeover were rampant — those days are gone. China has occupied that space.”
“So what’s left for this comfortable, perfectionist society of narrowed ambition is otaku escape, the games I found myself playing to fool exhaustion as Chinese dumplings adorned the treadmill. “What’s all this food?” I finally asked a man on the neighboring machine. He had no doubt: “Things you should not eat.””

Petros Chrisostomou

”My work is multi faceted, and is inspired by my perception of reality through mediated modes of communication. It is also much to do with ones reading of scale, as well as idealistic, and comments on class and taste also. I am interested in simulacra and make large free standing sculptures that physically exist in the real world as well as fabricated miniature constructs (or still lives) that I photograph to assume an alternate reality, these mirror the physical works that I make to form a circulatory dialogue between fact and fiction”.

Magid Salmi – Alternate Reality

Alternate reality was an exhibition held in 2011 at Spacetaker ARC Gallery in Houston, Texas. It was a solo exhibition that displayed the work of American Photographer Magid Salmi.

The Spacetaker website describes the work of Magid Salmi and how it comments on modern society in a unique way.

Spacetaker is excited to host Alternate Reality, a solo exhibition by Houston artist Magid Salmi, as part of its ARC Exhibition Series. Salmi’suniquely constructed still life photographs feature the use of common household and perishable items to create an alternate reality which investigates the notion that what we consider strange and shocking at this point in time may become the standard of things to come.

It is within this process that he describes and encapsulates our society’s obsession with consumerism, and how prevalent technological progress has become in our daily lives. “My photographs suggest that ideas, concepts, and truths are only as pertinent as the time in which they exist,” states Salmi. Taking a humorous approach to many of his works, Salmiencourages the audience to discover their own individual connections and interpretations to the images.

On Magid Salmi’s website the series is called iTECH this name along with the consistent use of white makes a direct reference to the iconic and global brand, Apple. The browning of the bulb reminds us that these items are perishable and makes me think about how temporary modern society is, within a year or so this garlic phone will have lost it’s initial integrity and end up in the bin, much like our latest technology will be in a year. It is hard to know if this is the meaning Magid Salmi meant to convey because he provides no description to his work, and is keen to let the viewer create their own relationship with the image and the idea behind it.

It’s important to me that my work contains some sort of social commentary, but I also want to find a connection with my audience by utilizing and transforming items that everyone might be familiar with.

-Magid Salmi

Salmi’s representation of our society through an alternate reality reaffirms my idea that a photo can be constructed to become a reality in it’s own right. A portal into a non existant world, and in this case the portals purpose is meant to make us reflect on our own relationship with technology.

Lori Nix

I am often asked questions about the inspiration for my work as well as my working process. As a ‘non-traditional’ photographer (I construct my subject matter rather than go find it) people find it hard to grasp what exactly it is that I do.

-Lori Nix

When I talk about a photograph being an alternative reality this is what I mean, constructed subject matter, creating a new world in a photograph. I stumbled across Lori Nix’s work whilst doing research for another project. But that quote really jumped out at me. It’s reconfirmed to me that my idea is getting there, it just needs developing. There are other photographers who acknowledge they construct their images, they aren’t real. Even if Lori Nix’s approach might be more literal that most.

Mamika – Sacha Goldberger

I bought ‘Mamika‘ a book by Sacha Goldberger a few weeks ago whilst trying to find an original photography book. (running #photography can at times make you urge to see something different, although most of the time it’s inspring.)

It wasn’t until now that I realised this book reflects my previously sub-conscious admiration of work which representes how we use photography to escape reality.

In this case it’s not just me escaping reality by immersing myself in someone else’s story, but Frederika (the subject) escaping her reality and in turn allowing Sacha Goldberger to escape his.

I see the series as comforting relationship between a Grandson and Grandmother, the mutual respect and Love they feel for each other allow them to use their strengths to create a gripping story. Frederika’s being her personality and Sacha’s being his photography.

The title ‘Mamika’ means “my little Grandma” which reinforces this idea of comfort and love between the two. But like most stories there is a dark sinister message too. At first we may laugh at images of Grandma Frederika sitting backwards on a bicycle or mistaking an elephant for a mouse, but once we look at the context, we see an elderly lady displaying signs of senility and loneliness. Growing old isn’t easy and this is Sacha and Frederika’s way of coping with it.

Despite this the series also offers us hope. That at no matter what age you can be who you want to be and break conventions via photography and the encouragement of loved ones.

I would recommend anyone interested in photography to buy this book, as it’s not only a beautiful concept but the execution of the images is great too.

Become Someone Else

It seems what I previously wrote about, everyone finding their own ways to escape reality couldn’t be more true.

This campaign “Become Someone Else” by the Lithuanian Agency, Love for Mint Vinetu, is a great example of one way in which people escape reality. Although it might not relate directly to photography and escapism. It does make me think wether some people treat photographs like instant books. Without putting any effort in we are immersed into a place or a situation in which we escape, even if it’s for a few seconds.

frogConcept: A Digital Escape

While researching digital escape/rest i found this design concept.

The future isn’t all rosy. Increasing pollution, overpopulation, poverty, and climate change – society’s impact on the earth is reaching a breaking point. And while we may work to slow the onset of these catastrophes, reversing them is no longer an option. The question becomes, how do we live with the troubles we’ve already caused?

What if we used technology to not only combat this dangerous new environment – but also to escape from it? We already use mobile devices to provide on-demand escapism, channeling movies, music, and other distractions. Increased processing power and emerging technologies will enable holistic computing systems to be stored in wearable devices, providing a more immersive personal media experience. In a troubling future, these augmented reality devices would offer a new dimension – a virtual layer that could be used to “re-skin” the troubling outside world. A boundary between the wearer and the world around him, the device would become a sort of visual drug, used to make the world appear a better place – even if just for a moment.

The device itself acts as a mask between the user and the outside world, expressing the internality of the human-device interaction. It offers a physical distinction between those moving in the real world and those who are “plugged in” to their private dimensions, the world as they wish to see it.

The visual design casts the mask as a lifestyle product of the future, as it plays with a glaring, exaggerated coolness of the wearer. It gives an almost robotic appearance, and suggests a diversion from what we define today as “normal” physical human interaction.

Within the mask, smells, sounds, even air quality would be imitated to create a full sensory experience. The facial expressions of those wearing the device would be detected and projected onto personal avatars visible to others also living behind the shield of the mask.

This Mask is a great design development. The idea that we can use reconstructed images to show us what the world used to look like, Also the amount of information given on the glasses is a technology we have developed. This is a scary idea but compliments digital rest well, we just sit back and relax while technology feeds us loads of information, that we accept as true.