The Uncanny Valley Portraits

Peter Andrew Lusztyk

“The Uncanny Valley,” a phrase coined by Masahiro Mori, suggests that human replicas that appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit eeriness and feelings of revulsion among observers. This exhibition of uncanny portraits of wax figures taken at Madame Tussauds museums in Las Vegas and Washington, DC invites viewers to test Mori’s theory. Depicting some of the most famous celebrities and recognizable people in the world, these wax figures are renowned for their likeness to the original subjects. As cultural artifacts, they represent a yearning to physically interact with even the verisimilitude of celebrity.

The act of photography causes the Tussauds wax sculptures to appear more real than they do in the museum. This con is achieved by removing the sculpture’s failure of “liveness,” expected by the viewer when interacting with the three-dimensional form, and returning the copy to the more familiar mode of celebrity consumption used in popular culture and advertising. The resulting images in this exhibition are intended to confront issues of simulation and hyper-reality.