My chosen brand for this assignment is Foul Play magazine, a new independent publishing initiative. The founders have a passion for the ‘true crime’ genre which is moving into the mainstream as a result of the popularity of the podcast Serial.
“We reject sensational exposés and instead choose to investigate the cultural and social significance of crime.
Rather than encouraging readers to revel in macabre details of a human being’s demise, we direct you to look at what led to that crime or how its aftermath was dealt with. Sometimes we’ll find corners of the story that may seem insignificant, but we think are worthy of our time.
Foul Play is not looking to profit from pain or hound people for the perfect paparazzi shot of a murderer. We won’t be tapping any victims’ phones for a juicy scoop. We report about crime remembering that there are humans on both sides: the victim and the perpetrator.” Source: https://www.foulplaymag.com/about/
I have an uneasy relationship with this fascination for crime. I don’t like reading thrillers or viewing anything anxiety-inducing and I would never watch a horror movie as it would disrupt my sleeping and peace of mind tremendously. Even memories of watching Sixth Sense over a decade gives me shivers. And I have always wondered about people who relish the genre.
And yet, millions of people find this to be not only great entertainment but also, paradoxically, a way to overcome anxiety and confront natural fears head-on. For a lot of women, this is actually soothing. The theory is that repeated exposure, with perceived distance and safe context, can reduce the amygdala response to horrible things. We learn that if the association does not always have a negative outcome, we become less fearful.
Dr Mathias Clasen from Aarhus University: “When our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers in the East African savannah, it was important that they were prepared for possible attacks by predators and vermin. They had to train their reactions to stressful situations, and the desire to do so became stored in their DNA – which we still carry today. When we watch a horror movie, we’re satisfying that desire. We’re training our danger preparedness. We use fiction as an ‘emotional simulator’ to broaden our horizons. Horror fiction exercises our reactions to what’s terrible and frightening.”
Clasen talks about his interest in taking mental journeys ‘into the wild’ where we can have terrifying vicarious experiences. He also observes that some of the horror fiction that resonates with us is metaphorical (eg the Exorcist and the generation gap in the 70s which alienated many parents from their children) or just very primal (the Zombie phenomenon being related to a revulsion to rotting flesh or our natural fear of sharp-toothed predators creating a fascination with vampires).
This is ancient and universal. People have been telling scary stories around campfires for thousands of years. This helps children to learn about good and evil, about where danger may lie. Imagination is a huge part of our humanity and, when combined with fear, it can take us to very dark places.
Here is an interesting example: https://www.myfavoritemurder.com/about
My Favourite Murder takes a humorous approach and has a massive following of ‘murderinos’ but it also has some serious feminist messaging around staying safe, while still being sexy, avoiding bad decisions and the dangers of ‘toxic masculinity’.
Matching the Foul Play brand profile
I would like to explore the edges of things: exploit the crepuscular hours – the moments when day dissolves into night; the construction and ambiguity of a scene; the sometimes fine line between innocence and guilt, victim and perpetrator.
- Feeling of isolation (small figures in a large space)
- Use of shadows – playing on fears of the dark
- The victims, if portrayed, must still have agency
Things to avoid
- The images should be non-sensational, no gratuitous gore
- Jack the Ripper associations
- Hawksmoor associations
- Beautiful, dead women
- Weegee-style realism?
Initial scenario ideas
- A large, creepy figure semi-camouflaged to create a start when seen
- Matt sitting at his desk, in the dark, shot from outside the window
- A woman banging on the large church doors
- A bike and a spilt-open bag on the ground lit by street lamp
- A figure in car headlights (holding a knife)
- A man with a shovel (behind the swings in Allen Gardens)
- Shot from the ground (POV of the victim)?
- Hands through (prison) bars
- Digging up a skull (or washing in the sink)?
- Denis Sever’s House (would need to be pre-arranged, probs not enough time)
- Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (too heavy-handed?)
- Vacant lots and building sites (can’t always get people in)
- Use ‘desire paths‘ metaphorically? (deviating from the established way could expose the walker to danger but also indicating the strength of human will and collective action)
- Isolated parts of the local parks (will people think these are actual crime scenes?)
- Paths by the railway tracks
Key issues to explore
- Cultural prejudice to the horror genre (not just where there is an absence of morality or poor aesthetics)
- Feminism and true crime
- The interplay of culture and biology
Flight Patterns, 2014 – Juan Fernando Herran. We saw some of this work in Arles this year. The aesthetic is appealing but also the idea. Herran has captured the movement of drug runners and criminals on mopeds as they conduct their illicit business in Columbia.
From the Arles catalogue:
Gregory Crewdson. Many of his images have the eerie stillness I would like to capture, often containing elements that ask more questions than give answers.
I asked my Facebook friends to share some examples of images or movie moments that they find to be eerie. Some people opted for straight horror (such as Ringu or The Shining) and clearly, for others it was a very personal response to images seen as a child such as this one where something usually cute and comforting looks evil:
Or where something evil takes on the form of someone familiar, such as your Dad:
This image only becomes truly chilling when you know the backstory:
I had not seen this image by Peter Doig before but Michael Colvin mentioned it as a good example and I agree. It is simple and mysterious, placing the viewer in the position of the hunted, although we have no idea if this is a good or bad cop.
There is more information here including the reference that it is based on a still from Friday 13th.
The Blair Witch Project is famous for being terrifying for what it didn’t show. The documentary style and hype about whether it was real or not, helped. But how brilliant to be able to make twigs and stones and marks on walls so chilling. The ‘best’ frights come from being given space to let our imagination run wild.
This is all well and good. I know what I would *like* to create. The more valid question at this point is “What *can* I create with very limited time and resources?” I guess I better let my imagination run wild.