October 10- November 8
Devil's Promenade: A collaborative photographic project by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal
Deep in the backwoods of the Ozark hills locals both young and old still talk about the Spook Light. This mysterious light phenomenon appears on chance nights as a floating orb, seen on a remote country road in an area known as the Devil's Promenade. Many have tried and failed to discover its origins, including the United States Army Corp of Engineers in the 1950's. Because of its lack of explanation the Devil's Promenade has been a popular local destination for decades, with the tale of the Spook Light taking on the quality of myth within the local community.
Our collaborative project combines photographs of Ozark people and the land with more abstract and interpretive images based on oral accounts and mythology surrounding the light. Our aim is not to provide documentation, but to suggest a narrative that, in the spirit of the light, is part fixed in the unique region and part afloat in a mysterious, otherworldly realm.
Folkloric stories can shed symbolic light on very real issues in a community. In the Ozarks many live in isolated poverty and drug addiction is high. This region is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and the struggle between heaven and hell factors into everyday conversation. We feel the frequent and mysterious appearance of the Spook Light has come to represent for the people we meet a desire for redemption and the fear of slipping into the darkness. It is a sublime experience whose defiance of explanation provides a reprieve from ordinary life.
-Antone Dolezal and Lara Shipley
In 2004, after hearing an interview with the museum's curator, Gretchen Worden, by Terry Gross from the NPR program Fresh Air, I called the Museum to ask if I could photograph. She said that I could and a few days later I was in Philadelphia and began a new phase in my career.
The Mutter Museum is a forensics study museum specializing in specimens of abnormalities and deformities.
My Photograph were made with the Museum's permission.
Made while on sabbatical leave from my teaching position and living in Italy. These are from the Spallanzani Collection of the Civic Museum in Reggio Emilia. Pictures made with the permission and assistance of the Museum.
OCTOBER 21, 2014
Guest Blog by Keith Johnson with Elin Spring
Devil’s Promenade, a collaborative photographic project exploring the myth of the Spook Light in the Ozark Hills by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal is sparking a conversation with Neal Rantoul’s Mutter Museum (Phildelphia) and Spallanzini Collection (Italy) photographic studies of sometimes deformed anatomical specimens on the walls of 555 Gallery in South Boston through November 8, 2014. In two very differently imagined and crafted groups of pictures, the styles of these bodies of work couldn’t be more different. They express artistic interests that seem opposite in nature, while in fact exploring our very nature.
I spent an hour in the gallery with these photographs wondering why I felt uneasy. The pictures from Devil’s Promenade depict people living off the grid in the Ozarks. They are all emotion – the laying-on of hands to heal and to connect. Lara and Antone spent a good deal of time developing trust amongst the subjects so they’d be virtually invisible and non-intrusive while photographing alien-seeming people and rituals. The photographs manifest tension in the pose, the timing, gestures and proximity and, although the pictures are of people and place, the subject is always the underlying emotion.
By contrast, Neal Rantoul’s pictures are finely crafted, beautifully lit, and exquisitely printed. Neal cut his photographic teeth with big cameras and places emphasis on craft and beauty. His pictures of abnormal and deformed forensic specimens shot in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia and of odd and beguiling medical cases in the Civic Museum in Reggio Emilia, Italy (the Spallanzini Collection) can be downright unsettling, even creepy. The collision of sublime photographic composition and technique with content including horrible injury or malformation causes a tension that arrests the viewer’s attention.
Whether studying those who are philosophically alien in the Ozarks or the remains of those bearing anatomical abnormalities, the work of these photographers raises gripping and insistent questions about the nature of being human. Admittedly disquieting, the work is fascinating and rewarding in its depth of feeling. And it’s appropriately spooky enough for Halloween.