Creepy things are kind of an ambiguity but they’re also kind of not, so our brains don’t know what to do. Some parts respond with fear, while other parts don’t, and they don’t know why. So instead of achieving a typical fear response – horror – we simply feel uneasy. Terror. Creeped out. Between the mountains of safety and danger there is a valley of creepiness, where the limits of our trust and knowledge and security aren’t very clear.
I like this; particularly the emphasis on ambiguity. English is a language so rich it’s not always easy to separate out clear definitions and uses for its many synonymous words. “Terror”. “Horror”. “Fear”. “The creeps.” We know they are different, but knowing how and why is tricky.
I find the image above slightly creepy. Is it an eye? Or just a drop of water. In my imagination it could easily be the chrysallis of an alien life, beginning its transformation.
Creepy-ness is a quality particularly suited to photography and film-making, where manipulation of images is a legitimate part of the magic.
A couple of years ago I photographed some ceramic heads mounted in a tree at a sculpture exhibition. At the time I found them slightly disturbing, but in the light of day, I could see where the heads were mounted on the tree, so there was no real ambiguity — it was a piece of sculpture.
But with a bit of photo editing — to “hide the joins” — I think the image takes on a slightly ambiguous quality.
Some things are culturally imbued with a much greater “creepy” factor than others; like insects, which are often called “creepy-crawlies.” What is it about something so small that makes us so uneasy?
And do we feel better or worse when the image is transformed a bit so it appear the insect lies beneath a layer of … what?