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Lost Children, the Moors & Evil Monsters: the photographic story of the Moors murders

Pleasance, Helen (2011) Lost Children, the Moors & Evil Monsters: the photographic story of the Moors murders. Image & Narrative, 12 (4). pp. 18-38.

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Abstract

The persistent power of the Moors murders as a British cultural narrative is dependent upon the potent photographic images in which it is rendered. These images fall into three categories; the haunting snapshots of children who disappeared and were subsequently discovered to have been abducted and murdered, the desolate Yorkshire Moors on which their bodies were buried, and those of their murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. These images, in Susan Sontag’s words, provide “both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence.” (15-16) It is in this play between presence and absence that their power lies. This article will examine these different images in order to explain their cumulative narrative power. The photographs of the children provide an uncanny archive of that which is irrevocably lost, articulated more starkly through the images of the moors to which they are lost. While the arrest photographs of Brady and Hindley work in the opposite direction, seeming to be a direct representation of an evil responsible for such a loss. The Moors murders narrative provides an extreme example of the dual ways in which photographs work as both absolute evidence of a reality that they capture directly, and as a haunting archive of loss. In examining this, the essay will suggest how, more generally, photographic narratives work strangely between concepts of the real and the spectral. Photographs always testify to things that really happened, while, simultaneously, replacing things that are permanently lost in the past.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
School/Department: School of Humanities, Religion & Philosophy
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/2005

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