What Are Cursed Images And Why Do They Exist Online?

It may be that the physics are all wrong — an upside-down hot air balloon, maybe. Or an eerie, red-eyed creature peaking down into the camera from a foggy perch. Or an alley full of dark, robed figures that just give you the willies. Or maybe it's a shot of Saddam Hussein on a television set into a fiberglass cow. These are what are known as cursed images. According to The Cursed Judge, who claims to have once owned and "saved" the subreddit r/cursedimages, a cursed image is "an image that logically should not or could not exist, an image that raises many questions and answers just about none of them, resting firmly in the line between fact and fiction."

That person has several additional criteria about what makes an image cursed, and others have their own ideas, as well, but the common denominator for all these pictures is that they creep the viewer out. Paper magazine spoke with the owner of the Tumblr blog that reportedly started the trend online in 2015. Preferring to remain anonymous, she spoke of "forgotten photographs [that] just had an eerie mood about them, like someone had captured a moment from a dream or another life." She had a thing for empty rooms, off-putting costumes, mannequins in awkward positions — subjects that have become common tropes in the world of cursed images. That may give us an idea of what cursed images are. Why they exist, however, is a bit more difficult to answer.

Why in the world do cursed images even exist?

The r/cursedimages subreddit has a set of guidelines that attempt to explain what makes a photo a cursed image, a process that analyzes pics posted online in both form and spirit. To analyze the substance of a photo, one must use the 3W1H model, that is, three W questions and one H one. And yes, "Why?" is among the W's. The author of the guidelines admits that this is "arguably the most important" of the W questions, but offers little in the way of figuring out how to answer it.

For example: go through the list of 51 cursed images published by Blaze Press and try to answer this question about a single one of them. As with most of the things that take place on the internet, you'll have a pretty hard time coming up with a satisfying answer. That list includes two separate photos of stairs covered with things that people don't normally cover stairs with. Why would someone carpet them with human hair or slices of bread? Why take pictures of it and post it in some obscure corner of the internet where there's a good chance that it may never even be seen by another human being? Can't answer those questions? Then you just might have a cursed image on your hands. Now check for the spirit of the image: if it inspires feelings of confusion, creepiness, or dread — much like the coulrophobia-inducing pic above — then indeed, the image is cursed.