Suburban horror photography series: exploring your local area’s dark side
Magda Knight is a huge fan of the horror genre and sees it everywhere she goes. Finding the darkness in suburbia leads you to see the macabre in the everyday. In a good way. Or a bad way. You decide.
I have a personal photo album called ‘Suburban Horror’, and it’s just shots of where I live. I speak not of real-life social horror. In the hands of another photographer that might have value and meaning, but I stay in my lane. I was brought up on the lurid kitsch of Hammer Horror films, the iconic pagan stylistics of The Wicker Man, the green-leaved terror of BBC children’s shows like Moondial. I’m mesmerised by the off-kilter icy cool of Sapphire and Steel. I’m drawn to the grotesquerie of Royston Vasey, the English folk horror of Will Wheatley, the comedic cruelty of Alice Lowe. I’m drawn to suburbia’s secrets, and what hides behind those prettily painted doors. I study the tools in the white vans of tradesfolk. I wonder what they use them for when they’re not on the clock.
I have few rules in photography, but one rule for my Suburban Horror series is this: I forbid myself to apply a filter. I do, however, bleach the colour from my suburban horror photographs, for worlds of light and shadow are more clearly at war with each other when presented in stark black-and-white. And each photo is presented with a tiny dark tale all of its own.
Welcome to my shots of Carshalton, South London. But it could be anywhere. It could be where you live. Suburban horror is just around the corner if you squint your eyes and pretend not to look.
Welcome to the Wrythe
You never saw a more welcoming sign. Feel welcomed! Do not think of things that roil and slither and squirm when you see this sign. It is forbidden.
Live well. Love much. Laugh often.
A happy sign outside a happy house. A cannibal lives here. He lives well and laughs often.
Barbed wire is darkness wrought in metal. A freedom-eater. A salt circle of knives. Cross yourself quickly when you walk past barbed wire and pray the bad thing never happens to you.
The old man who lives here will greet you and offer you hot sweet tea, but his eyes are clouded with the weight of stories he’ll never bring himself to tell. He’s out on that spire every day, tapping it with a hammer, and every year it grows taller. He’s building a spire tall enough to pierce God through the heart.
She plays the same song on the harp all day every day, so loud that her neighbours hear it through the walls. You never heard a harp so loud. She does not answer the door when they come to complain. Their warning letters are returned unopened. One day the neighbours will sell up, as all neighbours do. Perhaps the new neighbours will love her music? Or perhaps they’ll cease to knock on her door and her roses will grow taller, their blooms fat and red.
An unholy pact signed by vapers with grimoires on their phones. They took insufficient care in spelling the name, spraying with abandon. Now, something worse than their intended guest seeks to inch its way through mortar and brick. The ivy shivers when there is no breeze; deep in its sap, it knows what the future holds. It has tried to cover the sign, but the council keeps cutting it back. Time is running out.
Stepping through these trees leads you to a world much like this one, but you can never come back. The last thing you will hear is the rustle of leaves laughing behind your back. No-one knows why these trees hate people so much. Perhaps the felled ghosts of the wood that used to grow here will know the answer.
Every Thursay evening a mannequin’s head is propped up in this window. No-one lives in this house. The mannequin’s head does not move. It is just a doll. Local records say this has happened every Thursday since 1923.
This garden is lovingly tended every day by an old Polish woman. The plants wither before they bloom. No bird has ever come to peck for grain; they keep their distance. She fingers the coral beads around her neck, and in a cracked voice that has crossed the sea she says it is not plants she seeks to grow here, nor birds she seeks to feed.
You’ll never see this in the local gazette. Every year on September the 1st a baker ascends the steps of the gas tower, climbs neatly and slowly over the barrier, and drops. The crowd below heaves a collective sigh and disperses in silence. It is always a baker. Or a grocer. A butcher. A cafe owner, a Madame du Chocolat. The village must be fed.
Friends and enemies
The schoolgirls make a pile of KFC bones in the root hollows of this tree at lunchtime. Dog walkers wring their hands and say please don’t, the rats will come. The girls share a glance that speaks volumes in a language the dog walkers can never hope to read. When they eventually reply to the dog walkers, their voices drip with poison-sheened disdain. “We know.”
Main photo: Thanks to the dog walker who took this photo of me on my local football pitch at 7AM. They were entirely gracious about being accosted by a random cheery monk.