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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.
For information and directions to this exhibit, go to: http://www.555gallery.com/exhibitions/#/current-exhibition-devils-promenade/
Feature Image: Crop of “False Lights” from the series Devil’s Promenade by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal (courtesy of the artists and 555 Gallery, Boston)
Keith Johnson is a widely exhibited fine art photographer based in Hamden, CT. To view his work, go to: http://www.keithjohnsonphotographs.com/index.php