What is it about this photograph that makes you feel uncomfortable?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In his principal philosophical work, Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre identified the power of the human gaze as one of existential affirmation; to stare into the face of another and not only recognize them as a person, but see them recognize you in return, was to Sartre a necessary interchange in the development of one's sense of individuality and self.

Perhaps this is why so many of us find the blank gaze in this photograph so psychologically unsettling. To find no recognition of separateness or personhood in the eyes of another is to have one's identity shaken and sense of control stripped away. It's part of what makes some of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who monsters so terrifying, and why the image up top might make you feel a little uneasy.


Photographs like this always get me thinking about the neurobiological mechanisms at play in the philosophical musings of thinkers like Sartre and Jaques Lacan. Our appreciation for and reliance upon facial recognition in our day-to-day lives suggests an evolutionary history deeply rooted in the identification of self and other. Where do such distinctions emerge on an evolutionary timeline? Where else do science and philosophy overlap?

This photo up top is one of several from "Shape," a series by French photographer Quentin Arnaud, spotted on Illusion 360.