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The Supplement: The Nutshell Studies Of Unexplained Death

Frances Glessner Lee at work on one of her models

Sometimes you encounter of body work that shames you utterly, because you suddenly realise your ignorance of it prior is unforgivable in light of lectures you've given and conversations you've had.  The Nutshell Studies Of Unexplained Death is one such cultural blindspot and I'm sharing it with the excitement that derives from coming across 'the perfect thing!'.  Oh, how some of those back-in-the-day lectures might have been enriched by showing some impressionable young minds these extraordinary, macabre, unheimlich images by photographer, Corinne May Botz!  As the photographer herself explains:

"The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" is an exploration of a collection of eighteen miniature crime scene models that were built in the 1940's and 50's by a progressive criminologist Frances Glessner Lee (1878 – 1962). The models, which were based on actual homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths, were created to train detectives to assess visual evidence... 

The models display an astounding level of precision and detail: shades can be raised and lowered, mice live in the walls, stereoscopes work, whistles blow and pencils write. My photographs highlight the models’ painstaking detail, as well as the prominence of female victims. Through framing, scale, lighting, color, and depth of field, I attempt to bring intimacy and emotion to the scene of the crime. I want viewers to feel as if they inhabit the miniatures - to loose their sense of proportion and experience the large in the small."

When I look at Botz's images of Lee's lilliputian miseries I can't help but recall the classic ghost story written by M.R. James entitled The Haunted Doll's House (1923), in which dark deeds are played out in rooms of the titular miniature for its unsuspecting buyer...  Indeed, doll houses as 'unease machines' are a staple of horror films.  They are 'uncanny objects' in their strange, perfect mirroring of the home made strange and unnerving by dint of their scale and sense of secret, impending activity.  Why, only the other night I was watching Nick Murphy's appreciably atmospheric Brit-chiller The Awakening (2011), which featured a very nice bit of creepy business with a seemingly prescient doll's house...


  1. Oh wow! The sink one really got me, so unsettling and silent. Horrible but really fascinating, thanks Phil! :D


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