Who’s Afraid of Photography?

Who’s Afraid of Photography?

Figure 1. A commercial for the German firm K-Fee. Source: “K-Fee Commercials.” https://wiki.screamerfanbase.com/K-fee_commercials.

In contemporary horror, the photographic image is often used as the object of horror or even represents the main antagonist of the story. We can trace the origin of such depictions to the very invention of the technique of photography in the 19th century, which was also the heyday of spiritualist theories about photography making the soul of the deceased visible to the human eye using chemical compounds. A notorious example is the case of photographer William Mumler who offered well-off relatives of recently deceased people in the States to make portraits with the ghosts of their loved ones. There are also reports of some peoples that allegedly also consider the soul to be closely bound to photography and in consequence abhor photography, as the film is supposedly capable of capturing and depriving the photographed person of their soul. Films like The Ring, The Others, Peeping Tom, and The Invisible Man demonstrate how frequently uncanny photography appears in the horror film genre and open questions about the reasons of such depictions. While the theory of horror claims that horror uses specific iconography of fear to reflect the common fears of the time (e.g. an invasion of giant insects and carnivorous plants in the 50s as a consequence of American fear of a communist invasion), the article explores the issue of photography as the main antagonist in the horror genre of the 21st century and whether this means that it appears as the universal fear of digital identity, surveillance, and identity theft.

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In the Victorian age new technical props became humanised, transformed into anthropomorphized characters of fairy tales – the camera monk, the telescope giant, the microscope servant, magical assistants helping the wizard main character to reveal the secrets of the universe.
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