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Author Topic: Pseudopod 414: The Photographer’s Tale  (Read 3597 times)


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on: November 30, 2014, 11:52:12 PM
Pseudopod 414: The Photographer’s Tale

by Daniel Mills.

“The Photographer’s Tale” was first published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #36 in 2011 and later reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 23. It currently appears in the author’s 2014 collection The Lord Came at Twilight.

DANIEL MILLS is the author of Revenants: A Dream of New England (Chomu Press, 2011) and The Lord Came at Twilight (Dark Renaissance Books, 2014). His short fiction has appeared in various journals and anthologies including Black Static and Shadows & Tall Trees. He lives in Vermont. His website can be found at Daniel

Your reader is George Cleveland, who previously read Cell Call for PSEUDOPOD.

“‘Shall we proceed?’ asked Arthur.

‘Of course,’ said Lowell, nodding. He had already prepared the collodion mixture and adjusted the lens. All that remained was to open the shutter. Taking up the flash box, he slipped his head under the cover and placed his eye against the viewfinder.

The powder vanished from Mrs. Whateley’s brow. In its place he noted the swelling of an under-skin bruise. As Lowell watched, horrified, the colors deepened and spread, leaching through flesh and tissue to collect in a series of purple bruises down the woman’s neck, creating the imprint of a man’s hand around her throat.

Lowell’s stomach clenched. The air left his lungs, and he gasped for breath that would not come. She looked up at him then — perhaps only to wonder what was taking so long — and in her eyes he saw a silent suffering, such as he had once glimpsed in the eyes of another, and all at once, he understood everything.

Whateley had come to him seeking concealment. Like many clients, he wanted an image of false happiness, another mask for the violence and cruelty they both strove to hide — he with his airs and false benevolence and she with her daubs and powders. Mrs. Whateley gazed back at Lowell through the viewfinder, her eyes bloodshot, sightless.

He swallowed. ‘I’m—sorry,’ he said and withdrew from the hood. He stepped backward from the camera. ‘But I cannot go through with it.'”

Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2014, 11:54:03 PM by Ocicat »


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Reply #1 on: December 10, 2014, 04:17:03 AM
I really loved the imagery in this story.

I liked the idea of the photographer seeing the aging woman rotting through the lens, and how she preferred staring at photos over looking at herself in the mirror.  And the way he saw through the wife's makeup to the abuse behind the happy marriage.

But I felt confused at the end, why did Patrick send him the camera? Did the camera make him do it, or was it revenge? At first I thought revenge for abuse might be the answer, but on the second listen I didn't pick up any hints towards that, the photographer doesn't seem like a bad person. There wasn't any history given for the camera itself, so it's hard to imagine it was controlling someone.

Anyone else have any theories? Did I miss some hint at the nature of the camera, was the whole event in the photographer's head?


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Reply #2 on: December 11, 2014, 01:41:42 PM
My favorite line was the one comparing the night sky to the photographer's hood.

There's a lot obfuscated in the relationship between Lowell and Patrick. I know this is a modern story in an older setting. However, there's a line of modern critique on stories of this time period that try to noodle out homosexual relationships from some of these older stories. The mores of the time would not have allowed something so scandalous to be published, so when they were included these relationships tended to be heavily veiled. When I read The Great God Pan, I appreciated it a LOT more once I mentally reinserted all the filthy bits that would not have been allowed on the printed page. One of the down sides, is that once the veil is stripped back and Nature is seen in her full glory, it causes things to be seen everywhere in every story. So I'm questioning my mental flag as I can't be sure whether this is intended or imagined.

Regardless, this story reminded me thematically and critically of Machen, so there's that. If you haven't read The Great God Pan, you should go do that thing.


"Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things—yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet—I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these 'chases in Arras, dreams in a career,' beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another's eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan."

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Reply #3 on: December 15, 2014, 02:50:59 PM
As digital photography becomes more and more of a thing, I wonder if the ability to do real photography will start to become almost like alchemy--an ancient art useful for horror and fantasy stories.  I had a friend who was an amateur photographer--she wasn't into shot composition as much as all of the different things you could do with development.  There was something really neat about being able to do, physically, what used to be so common but is now all handled by Photoshop.  And it almost seemed a little like she was an awesome mad scientist in her lab creating images out of strange chemicals.


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Reply #4 on: December 15, 2014, 05:51:06 PM
An interesting story, though the premise of a camera that predicts or reveals truths isn't a new one.  I admit I was also a bit confused about the nature of the relationship between Patrick and the protagonist--Fenrix might be right about that, but it wasn't something that occurred to me during the story.


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Reply #5 on: December 16, 2014, 09:50:59 AM
Just super. Loved this one. Great evocation of the era. Plays into the old spiritualist fascination with photography. A lovely minimal presentation of what was obviously a complex and troubled relationship between the photographers. Plus the idea of the camera revealing "truth" to the photographer, but not the photo, was just excellent and scary as heck.

Great narration too — hit the tone of the story just right.

Bonus points for snow so vaguely Christmassy ;-)


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Reply #6 on: December 16, 2014, 10:04:12 PM
Felt a little too much like one of those Twilight Zone episodes about a mysteriously revealing object, while trying to be preachy on some theme, but unlike most TZ episodes, being less certain about what it wants to say... That even cute girls get old eventually? That there is sin in the world? Whoop dee doo, was all the reaction I felt, to be honest. As Unblinking noted, it didn't feel very original.

That said, I actually kind of liked the mystery surrounding the relationship between the photographer and his former apprentice, and the fate of that apprentice. Was the camera gift a final goodbye from a doomed soul, or just a curse wished on a former master as a parting shot? We will never know.

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Reply #7 on: December 21, 2014, 05:13:23 PM
As digital photography becomes more and more of a thing, I wonder if the ability to do real photography will start to become almost like alchemy--an ancient art useful for horror and fantasy stories.  ... And it almost seemed a little like she was an awesome mad scientist in her lab creating images out of strange chemicals.

At my high school, we still have a very healthy photography department.  I use the chemistry of photography in my grade 10 science class.

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