Pretty Things: Nick Vogelson

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Death and the doppleganger aren’t necessarily cheery subject matter suited for spring, but they take on a surprising freshness in photographer Nick Vogelson‘s new show at The Cooper Union, “The Uncanny”.

New York-based Vogelson’s eye looks toward the violent past for inspiration. For example, above you see 134th Street and Willis Avenue – a recreation of a New York Times picture attached to a story headlined, “Police Hold Six in Auto Shooting”. Date: 6/25/17. The past comes up often in Vogelson’s work. Death did, after all, teach man his first lesson: it ain’t forever. We know about death before we even know how to live life.

Of his show, Vogelson writes:

The idea behind the work is the uncanny – the familiar made strange – and its relation to death and dead bodies, the return of the dead, and the anterior future – the future that is already the past. The future is death.

Man, of course, denies death. We’re on an undying quest to be undying.
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While science, medicine and persuasive trainers work to thwart death’s infinite might, Freud claimed man’s mind tricks itself with the idea of a double, Vogelson tells us. Indeed – the Jewish headshrinker wrote an entire 1919 essay called “The Uncanny” in which he writes that all uncanny themes are “concerned with the phenomenon of the ‘double'”. He continues:

…We have characters who are to be considered identical because they look alike. This relation is accentuated by mental processes leaping from one of these characters to another – by what we should call telepathy –, so that the one possesses knowledge, feelings and experience in common with the other. Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own.

Freud goes on to reference his colleague, Otto Rank. The psychologist wrote Der Doppelgaenger (The Double) in 1914 (although it wouldn’t be published in book form until 1925). Of his friend’s work, Freud writes:

[Rank] has gone into the connections which the ‘double’ has with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, with guardian spirits, with the belief in the soul and with the fear of death; but he also lets in a flood of light on the surprising evolution of the idea. For the ‘double’ was originally an insurance against the destruction of the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death’, as Rank says; and probably the ‘immortal’ soul was the first ‘double’ of the body.

Austrian Rank must have been reading good old Georg-ie Hegel.

In addition to keeping man’s ego in line, the double also warns of danger. President Abraham Lincoln allegedly saw his double right after finding out he had won a second term. Of course, poor Abe didn’t make it out alive.

No doubt you’ll live through Vogelson’s show – and perhaps even feel a bit revived knowing a young gun such as Vogelson’s stalking the streets. And hopefully Vogelson – who also works as Out‘s deputy art director – will go on to bring us even more preternatural pictures.

“The Uncanny” opens today at The Cooper Union (7th Street and 3rd Avenue) and shows through May 12th. If you want to meet Mr. Vogelson, be sure to pop into tomorrow’s opening reception from 6-8. Beverages to be provided by The Little Penguin. Sweet, huh?
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FYI: This here’s an adult human’s skull. No name, no cause of death. It does, however, have fourteen teeth intact. The adult human typically has 32 permanent teeth…)