2017 Photochallenge, week 36: Uncanny Valley

Ever wondered why clowns, robots, mime players and dolls give us the creeps? According to robotics professor Masahiro Mori, this is because of the Uncanny valley effect.


Uncanny valley – Maaike Groenewege

To quote Litreactor’s excellent article on this topic:
We have a great degree of tolerance for that which isn’t human so long as we can identify what makes it non-human. But when something is just a little too familiar … when it’s like us, but not quite … we get caught up on that “not quite.” This is where Freud’s uncanny and King’s terror take place. It is the space where our minds don’t know whether to connect with or run away from what we see.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to play around with this challenge: make a picture of a doll, robot, clown or any other topic that gives you the chills.

Only rule is that:

  • there should be a human or something humanoid in your picture
  • your picture should make us feel slightly freaked out, eerie or uncomfortable.

Some ideas…

Of course, clowns are great for this challenge. The archetypical ‘evil clown’ has been around for a very long time already; you can read some interesting history here. Their heavy make-up makes it impossible to read their emotions, and it’s this ambiguity that makes us feel uncomfortable.


Clowning around – Beth Jusino

The same goes for masks and other ways of making facial expressions unrecognisable.

kelly jean

No title – Kelly Jean Photography



Creepy doll – Isabella Dyba

No need for explanation here! There are quite a lot of websites that are dedicated to creepy dolls. For some extra effect, consider taking your doll apart, perhaps remove the eyes, or look for a really old and battered example.

And how about this one…can you imagine travelling to work on the London Underground and encounter these?

03-twin-dolls-london-tube-matt alexander - PA wire

Matt Warren, via Metro.co.uk

Adding effects to regular portraits

Things have to be only slightly off to give us the shivers, so another way of handling this challenge is to manipulate a regular portrait. Just a change in proportions or a tweak on the eyes will already put your image right into the uncanny valley.


Human doll – Laura Porphyria

A fun and not-so-difficult approach is to use a Faceswap app on your tablet or phone. Try swapping faces between adults and babies, or, even creepier, humans and animals!


Faceswap girl-chicken – source unknown

This should give you enough information to get going, and remember: don’t forget to enjoy yourself!

Our friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+, Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

About maaikegee

I live in the middle of the Netherlands together with Significant Other (who features regularly in my Photochallenge images) and my two cats Bumper and Pebbles (who are also no stranger to modelling). I’ve been glued to my compact camera for the last ten years, still love my Sony RX-100 and switched to a Nikon D7200 in 2015. I love street photography, conceptual photography, macro and still life. You can find my portfolio at www.maaaike.nl