Laura Larson

My Dark Places

Rene Steinke

Unless animated by a child's hand and voice, a doll is dead, and the rooms in a dollhouse, frozen in their arrangement, can have a certain airless malevolence.

Laura Larson's haunting photographs in the series My Dark Places heighten that sinister quality. But the photographs also enliven these rooms with movement, as if the crime had just occurred, the criminal racing out the door beyond the frame, as if we were walking into the room, eyeing the evidence that might be checked for fingerprints.

The photographs brilliantly fiddle with one's preconceived notions of scale, so that at first glance, it seems that one is looking at an actual, human-sized room, and then a slight detail will bring the revelation of tininess: the proportion of a bottle, the way a newspaper is crumpled, the size of cigarettes in relation to a table. The effect is unsettling, particularly when one mistakes a doll's splayed legs for a girl's.

Similarly unsettling is the care with which the crime-scenes are staged. This is clearly not the sloppy aggression of children tearing off a Barbie head or pulling off the arm of G.I. Joe. Who spattered the red ink blood on the wall? Who threaded the silk (water) from the faucet to a child's mouth? Who draped the noose on the floor and tipped over the chair? And there are also the meticulously planted details of domesticity: letters pushed through the mail slot, a full ashtray, a bottle of shampoo on the dirty rim of the tub—carefully constructed evidence of ordinary life, but also possible clues.

Larson photographed these scenes at the Forensic Medicine Center in Baltimore, MD, where they are on display. Frances Lee, a miniaturist and a crime buff from New Hampshire, modeled these rooms after notable crimes of the day in the 1940s. Lee seems to have delighted as much in playing the pretend-criminal as she did in playing the pretend-detective.

When viewed at the Forensic Medicine Center, with a plaque identifying each scene, these models straightforwardly “explain" what happened. But Larson's photographs—in their selective blurs and canny angles—render the explanations as mysterious as the motives. The fuzzy shape in front of the bathtub might be the murderer. The hidden part of the entryway mirror might still hold the gunman's face. Was the woman once holding the knife on the floor? And why is her face tilted on an open box?

The photographs eerily parody the official status of the standard crime photograph, as if to say that the narrative of any crime is as tenuous and changeable as a child's game, that the closest thing to the truth may be the very rage to contain violence, to analyze it— in a story, or in a miniature room.

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