Posted on October 2, 2013
|“Cocktail Gal,” a rare happy “ghoul”|
A suggestion came to me not long ago that I should hang show of my pictures that had faces in them. I knew that I’d purposely photographed faces in things at times, when they were obvious, but others have noticed more faces in the photos than I’d ever paid attention to.
When I went through a few thousand images consciously looking for faces, it seemed to me that the photos, often abstract, that carried the most emotional impact often did include subliminal forms that looked like faces, or other features reminiscent of body parts, or visual analogs of muscle tensions. The exercise reminded me of a book I read back in the seventies entitled Subliminal Seduction, by Wilson Bryan Key. The author had a PhD in communication and wrote a number of books on the theme of subliminal advertising, now billed by Wikipedia as “controversial.” Whether Key’s conclusions were controversial or not, they did open my eyes to the way imagery is used in advertising to capture our attention. Advertisers would be fools NOT to have used such techniques if they wanted their ads to be effective.
Nowadays I ask myself whether Key’s book was instrumental in influencing my photographic eye. Could be so, or it could be that the human mind simply has its eyes open for faces and other forms related to human body appearances. More than likely, it’s the latter. Research has shown that newborn babies are “exceptionally capable of facial recognition shortly after birth.” (Wikipedia) That stands to reason. It also stands to reason that survival would dictate that we’d remain exceptionally capable of facial recognition throughout life, not to speak of developing sensitive abilities to recognize clues to personality from facial and other bodily cues.
I notice that, as often as not, the faces I find in my photos carry a ghoulish aspect. Is that the image I project on the world? Or is it just that faces hidden in photos are necessarily distortions, and ghouls are distorted beings? Most of us, especially children, harbor a fascination for horror stories or monster images. We seem to enjoy being scared, as long as we can be scared and feel safe at the same time. That may play into the subject choices I make when shooting certain photos. Is the perceived mood of any arbitrary environment we visit influenced by unconsciously perceived faces or forms?
Another aspect of ghoulish imagery that occurred to me as I was picking images to print for this show, was that North America tends to be a “happy face” society, which strongly tends to suppress awareness of injustice or other negative aspects of life in our country. This sort of awareness doesn’t go away, but rather just goes underground. I’ve noticed on various podcasts I listen to, such as KMO’s C-Realm, that discussion turns now and then to the subject of zombies, the living dead. Maybe my unconscious is alert to the zombies among us as well.
A favorite book of mine is Nightmares in the Sky: Gargoyles and Grotesques, photos by F-Stop Fitzgerald with commentary by Stephen King. Gargoyles were traditionally installed on cathedrals and other buildings both to serve as rain spouts and to scare off evil spirits. Maybe that’s the best possible interpretation to apply to the gargoyle-like figures in these photographs.
Several of the pictures provide fertile ground for ghoulish projections. They are full of faces if you throw your eyes out of focus and view the image in a glancing manner. There are other images where it’s difficult to find anything recognizable as a face at all, but somehow they convey the impression of a face, or at least an emotion that might be conveyed by a face. Use your imagination, and have fun. Remember, Halloween is almost upon us!
This show will be hanging in Mindport’s gallery for an indefinite period, commencing on or about October 9th.