The photographer Rodney Smith shows us images of real things and people, but real things and people that aren’t positioned in real ways and places people would actually be. Instead, he uses something very familiar to each of us–the human body–and consistently puts it in very unfamiliar situations. By using something so intimately familiar to each of us as the body in weird ways, he automatically jars our own experienced sensations. And this jarring of familiar sensations, this defamiliarization of something so familiar to us, is what typically results in what literary critics term the feeling of the uncanny. What the uncanny does, in its defamiliarizing of the familiar, is to jar viewers from their sense of the familiar. It displaces them from where they normally are. In Rodney Smith’s photographs, our bodies, unfamiliar with the bodily experiences of his subjects, are dislodged from where they are. Yet the feeling produced by Smith’s photography is not uncanny; rather, it has a sort of reverent, almost sacred, effect. His background as a graduate of the Yale School of Divinity makes him deeply interested in truth beneath the surface, and so he uses photography to get at that sort of truth through his use of the body in ways that would typically produce an uncanny effect, yet don’t. The settings in which he places bodies, as well as the way he uses the bodies themselves, help to shift the feeling of the uncanny into the feeling of the divine or sacred. His ability to do so is highly contingent upon his use of bodies: because we, the viewers, all have bodies, our bodies resonate with those we see in his photography. We are connected to the subjects of his works in a fundamental and profound way because of our embodiedness. And using this connection, Rodney Smith takes our now displaced bodies and transports them with his bodies to somewhere beyond the surface, somewhere sacred. Through his use of techniques typical of the uncanny, he shifts the effects of the uncanny from simple displacement of the self to meaningful replacement of the self within the greater context of our unique and, in his eyes, beautiful world we live in.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



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Rodney Smith, photography, the uncanny, Freud, bodies, embodied knowledge, divine, sacred