TIAA #31: “Behind Every Pawn Lies a Predator”

Tosin’s Images & Anecdotes (TIAA) is my self-assigned photography challenge of 2022. The immediate objective is to select one image from my inventory (a cityscape, landscape, portrait, oddity, etc.) each week and write something about it. This “something” could be the story behind the photo, a triggered memory in relation to the photo, or simply a reaction or reflection based on the subject matter featured. The long-term objective is to encourage myself to add more content to “La Vue Atypique”, which celebrates its first decade in publication this year.

"Behind Every Pawn Lies a Predator" / January 27, 2014
“Behind Every Pawn Lies a Predator” / January 27, 2014

What can I say about the photograph above?

Throughout my life, I have never been a fan of horror movies or the horror genre in general.

I can attribute this aversion to watching horror movies at a very young age. When I was 10 years of age, I made the mistake of watching the movie “Halloween” with a few classmates shortly before the actual date of Halloween. Back then, I was living in a very small town in central Pennsylvania — a neighborhood that, for me, didn’t look dissimilar from the locale in which this cult classic horror movie was situated. I remember that movie gave me weekly nightmares through to Christmas.

About a year later, when I thought was more experienced and well-rounded at the mature age of 11, I thought I had the gumption to stomach more horror movies. This time, I was living in a small town in northeastern Oklahoma, and the movie was called “Sleepaway Camp”. I think I watched the movie on the night of Halloween with one of my friends at a sleepover. My friend wasn’t bothered by the movie, but I, once again, couldn’t get some of the movie’s goriest scenes out of my psyche for several weeks.

From that point on, I avoided watching horror movies if I could. In my teenage years, it was hard to escape my friends and peers’ interests in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Friday 13th” movie franchises. There were also those movies involving that crazy doll — Chucky. (What were they? Oh yes…the “Child’s Play” movie series.)

I don’t care for the horror, but I am intrigued by the eeriness of evil characters in books and films.
Their physical features alone can inspire fear.

I think the one movie that ranked very high in my fear factor, equivalent to “Halloween” and “Sleepaway Camp”, was The Omen”. This particular movie mixed horror with religion so I was utterly and completely horrified when I saw Damien doing devilish deeds, perhaps when I was 12 or 13. Alas, this is, in fact, the genre’s objective, right? To horrify. It says so in the name!

I think I had seen most of these movies before the age of 16, and they always bothered me, even if they were “only movies” and “just entertainment”.

While this may be true, I suppose it just came down to personal tastes and preferences. Give me a comedy, suspense thriller, science fiction saga, epic adventure, or film noire any day.

Horror? Hmmm…ask me again after you’ve already seen the movie and the credits are rolling.

Some decades later, I’m still not that keen on horror, but I am very keen on film noire, mystery, suspense, and eeriness. Basically, I can stomach horror if there isn’t any gore, graphic slashing, slaying, and references to any major religion. Of course, I can see many saying, “Well, that’s not horror at all.” Well, I suppose I’ve made my point!

This series started in the 1959 and its odd, eerie, irksome — and many true-to-life — episodes still mystify viewers more than sixty years later.

This week’s photo was taken from my “2014 :365” challenge eight years ago. The day this image was created, I think I just wanted to try something that I didn’t think I could muster via photography — a scary image, or the presentation of a subject matter that evokes angst, anxiety, trepidation, or anything that’s the opposite of serenity and calmness. I started to ponder about all the scary movies, chilling tv series, and suspense thrillers that often have a twist at the end, or many twists throughout the course of the story. Of course, I couldn’t think of a better example than “The Twilight Zone”, which remains my favorite television series to date.

You could say that I’m fascinated with intrigue, quirkiness, or situations that are genuinely bizarre, but can still invoke a slight bit of fear.

(In retrospect, I wonder about the demarcation between fear and horror. When does the former get supplanted by the latter?)

Looking around my home for props for the photograph, I discovered my chess set and the shape of the figures, such as the king, queen, knight, bishop, rook…and the pawn.

Then, the idea came to me.

Chess is always about strategy, prediction, and execution. It’s also about manipulation and watching the actions of one’s opponent — not just about his or her physical moves on the chessboard, but body language and emotion as well. Chess is also about how well one utilizes the characters on the chessboard and getting as much utility from them to achieve victory until they are no longer effective. Furthermore, Chess could be interpreted as how well one uses another for one’s own purposes — people who use others as pawns. When taken to extreme in regards to manipulation of human behavior, a darkness — an eeriness — materializes. It’s ugly. It’s abusive. It’s scary. It’s real.

The thought came to me to line up the chess pieces as one would prior to the start of a game. I put the board on a table and turned off most of the lights in my home. I used one or two flashlights to shine on the chess pieces. Also, I had just enough light so one could see my face behind the chess pieces. I was trying to think of the stories told in books and movies in which opposing characters are fighting a battle while, all along, neither side is aware that they’ve been manipulated by another entity: a third party, an innocuous acquaintance, a previously perceived bystander — the true predator. The real villain.

You can just make out an eye, part of my nose, and some wrinkles on my forehead behind the chess pieces. My pupil is massively enlarged because there was so little light in the location in which I captured the image (it might have been my dining room). However, the fear factor is that if one isn’t paying close attention, one doesn’t even realize he or she is being watched clandestinely. Also, when one does eventually notice, the face appears to materialize out of the darkness.

When I finally finished the post-processing on this image, which was more effective in monochrome tones than in color, I, myself, was taken aback by the spookiness of the image. Essentially, I think I was able to achieve my goal for creating a brief scare in a photo, or something startling or disconcerting, at least. Since then, I’ve been very interested to challenge myself more often to create frightening imagery — for the fun of it, and for the art of it.

My own tiny version of horror in the making.


32 articles down for the TIAA challenge. 20 remain!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kirk. says:

    What a fun topic! You know I love horror moves and the “Halloween” series is my ultimate favourite. Just as you said, it comes down to personal tastes. That image you took is creepy because unless you zoom in, you don’t realize it’s your eye staring back at the viewer. Very creepy!

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