Defamiliarising the Familiar: The Distorted Body in Photography

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In the context of my photographic practice, this practice-based research investigates visual distortions of the human body through the application of techniques available to photography within a studio environment. Despite an understanding of the motivations and contextual reasoning for why surrealist and contemporary photographers distort the human body, the technical considerations of photographic distortions have been under-represented in photographic studies. This research is critical of the lack of understanding such techniques. The research on visual distortions is situated within the context of defamiliarisation and Freud’s theory of the ‘uncanny’ (Freud 1919), which refers to an estranged yet familiar sensation, and is a pivotal component in the examination of visually distorted human bodies that do not conform with normative perceptions. This study comprises photographic experiments based on three main photographic techniques: distortions by way of concealment, distortions through the mirror, and distortions from post-production manipulation. Each technique is divided into sub-methods, which demonstrate the capacity of each technique for generating distortions of the human body within the photograph. This research is primarily situated within the context of Surrealism, for surrealist photographers were the first to engage in photographic experimentation to distort the body for the purposes of artistic expression. Thus, the established techniques of this research are supported by a technical analysis of comparative surrealist photographers, as well as contemporary photographers servicing the legacy of Surrealism, who critically engage with principles of the ‘uncanny’ in redefining perceptions of the human body through diverse photographic experimentation.
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