Seeing is Believing: The Capacity of the Manipulated Photograph to Represent Scenes of Mythology and the Supernatural

Carolyn Lefley

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This illustrated paper explores the capacity of the manipulated photograph to represent scenes of mythology and the supernatural. Can a photograph, which is said to be an index of the real, render a mythical realm into a believable scene? Practices such a double exposures and combination printing have historically been used to create famous faked images of the supernatural, such as the Cottingley Fairy images and Spurgen’s photograph of the Loch Ness monster. The photograph has a causal link with reality and as such a carefully manipulated image has the power to deceive or persuade the viewer.
In her photography project ‘Realm’ Carolyn Lefley explores this apparent truth-telling phenomenon by constructing double exposure photographs that create a layering of realities. A familiar domestic interior and a potentially mythological landscape combine to create scenes of make-believe, which reference texts such as Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass and into the wardrobe, all of these paths lead from the realm of the real, into the realm of myth. The kingdom of Narnia is entered through an ordinary wardrobe. The photograph of a homely interior becomes a portal into a mythical realm.
The idea of creating fictional realms and in essence writing new mythology is a practice known as mythopoeia, which fascinated authors such as JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and George MacDonald. The photographs in ‘Realm’ depict new image-worlds of myth and wonder. Post-production techniques have been utilised to achieve these images. The paper will conclude with a consideration of the next era in photography, that of computer simulated reality. Sarah Kember notes in her book Virtual Anxiety that the veracity of the photograph is not threatened by this paradigm shift, suggesting that any representation only constructs an ‘image-idea’ of reality.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014
Event1st Global Conference – Deception: Probing the Boundaries - Mansfield College, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 17 Jul 201419 Jul 2014


Conference1st Global Conference – Deception: Probing the Boundaries
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • interdisciplinary
  • Photography
  • deception
  • manipulation


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