The term “uncanny” – or “unheimlich” (unhomely) – was first used by German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch in the essay On the Psychology of the Uncanny, published in 1906. Today, it’s most often associated with Sigmund Freud, who, in 1919, defined it as a descriptor for something familiar, yet alien, at the same time. Doppelgängers, mirror images and inanimate figures coming to life are all examples of this phenomenon. For over 100 years, such images have sparked a sense of morbid fascination: appearing across surrealist art, experimental cinema and, today, in contemporary photography.
One such artist is Brooke DiDonato (b. 1990), whose outdoor exhibition in Luxembourg is titled As Usual. Yet all is not as it seems. The New York-based photographer is recognised for crafting everyday scenes distorted by “visual anomalies” – glitches in the norm. From vast deserts to suburbia, DiDonato creates a universe which is slightly off kilter. Bodies intertwine, trees bend backwards and iron fences become malleable. In every shot, the meanings of familiar objects are twisted; the laws of physics unhinged. Cosy homes and gardens are imbued with danger, humour and intrigue, encouraging us to look again.
Through pleasing colour palettes, enticing 1950s-style décor and calming landscapes, DiDonato lulls the viewer into a false sense of security. Yet, instead of a world of trust and safety, where everything is as it should be, we are brought into an unexpected realm. It’s a place where the American Dream is questioned and deconstructed: a distinctly unstable universe.
As Usual is at Clervaux – cité de l’image, Luxembourg, until 14 October. Find out more here.
Words: Eleanor Sutherland
1. From the series As Usual, 2017, Point of Intersection. © Brooke DiDonato/Agence VU
2. From the series As Usual, 2018, Force of Habit. © Brooke DiDonato/Agence VU
3. Brooke DiDonato, Over and Out, from the As Usual series, 2017.