Let’s Get Creepy With Victorian Photography (Warning: Contains 19th Century Boobs)

Emily Perry-Musgrave
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Emily Perry-Musgrave

Artist & Writer at Under The Art House
Northerner with a passion for lingerie, art, guinea pigs and sarcasm.
Emily Perry-Musgrave
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The Georgians and Victorians were many things, and that definitely includes morbid – in particular, they were spiritually obsessed with the afterlife. And luckily for them, everything is grimmer in grainy black and white. Their aesthetic was basically “How can we make this normal situation eerie?” Because of this, the context totally changes to an association we’ve consistently had with horror throughout the 20th/21st century. Apparently even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were fascinated by Spiritualism and the afterlife, participating in seances as early as 1846. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, was fascinated by the paranormal. He wrote over sixty books on the subject and a was a member of the British Society for Psychical Research. Britain has a long and rich history with the paranormal and lucky for us photos from that time period still exist. It was a universal obsession, with mediums travelling from the USA to Britain to impress wealthy members of society with their spiritual talents. In fact, the notion of being afraid of death is incredibly 21st century – our ancestors would live life in pursuit of a ‘good death’, and passing on from your physical life to your spiritual life was simply another step in your journey. It was sad to miss people, but it certainly wasn’t something to be afraid of. The Order of the Good Death is an organisation constructed by mortician and YouTuber Caitlin Doughty, and if you would like to learn more about historical ideals and beliefs surrounding death and how a positive relationship with death can work with you in the 21st century, I definitely recommend checking them out! And now back to Victorians…

It was in fashion to be creepy, creeped out or the creeper. I’m certain that this new and interesting concept was so popular for the same reason it is today. We LOVE being scared – just look at how many tickets were sold last month for the premier of IT. So, naturally, every photo the Victorians produced was creepy no matter how innocent the image’s subject was. Using the methods the Victorian’s used (including long exposure times which is why they all looked miserable AF) you can have an adorable puppy turn into a soulless fuzz demon. For example:

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Just an average cute, Maltese puppy turns into…

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OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT PUPPY TO MAKE IT SO DEAD BEHIND THE EYES???

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This lass was probably just having a “me” day and chilling in her boudoir with her hopefully flame-resistant drapery. It’s a beautiful photo but legit looks like someone could have taken it through a keyhole. If it wasn’t an early 20th century photo I probably wouldn’t even be thinking this.

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And this lass is just spending some time naked with her marionette. A totally not creepy, completely average scenario.

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Nothing wrong with a witch accessorising her outfit with a curtain tassel, times are hard. This is just an average Saturday night to me. Don’t bother enquiring about joining her coven. I’ve already asked and she said applications are now closed 🙁

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And now onto the amazing (fake) spirit photos. Remember that time Uncle Gerald died and we all wanted to gather around for one last picture with his corpse? Yeah, me neither. Created with double exposure, I’m pretty sure someone said to the ghost “Just look creepy!” threw a blanket on her and this is what the result was. I’ve seen worse, like this next gem…

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It’s awkward when a spirit finally shows up and then totally takes over your stunning head shot by being 50x the size of a living person and blocking your light.

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This is actually a pretty well done image. Grainy image quality? Check. Sinister narrative? Check. Spooky bookcase that could potentially have books on the occult? Check. Skeleton hugging a man that has an enormous moustache? Check. 10/10 would scare again.

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I reckon this lass was a moment before this photo was taken holding an animal which she gave up as a sacrifice. I’m not sure why she’d need to be naked for that but maybe when the gates of hell open it gets a bit toasty so she needed to shed some layers? Either that or she is being literally pulled from a deep slumber and she is incredibly unhappy about it. Either way, I’m not entirely sure it needed to be photographed. But you’d better believe I am glad that it was.

As you might have noticed, there is a huge crossover with Victorian photography and erotica. It’s now a well known fact that that time period was filled with absolute filth. After all, how could the uptight, strict and repressed Victorian people stay so when the vibrator was invented in the late 1800s?

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