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Portfolio & Interview: Antone Dolezal & Lara Shipley's Devil's Promenade


photo-eye Gallery Portfolio & Interview: Antone Dolezal & Lara Shipley's Devil's Promenade We are happy to announce a portfolio of images from Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal titled Devil's Promenade. The Photographer's Showcase portfolio coincides with an exhibition at the photo-eye Bookstore + Project space, as well as a book signing and talk on Sunday, June 29th from 3-5pm. Shipley and Dolezal stopped by photo-eye Bookstore to talk about the series with photo-eye's Melanie McWhorter.

Off the Beaten Path, 2013 by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal
30x37" Image - 1/10 - $1600

We are happy to announce a portfolio of images from Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal titled Devil's Promenade, a series looking into the folklore and legends surrounding the phenomenon of Spook Light in the Ozarks. The Photographer's Showcase portfolio coincides with an exhibition at the photo-eye Bookstore + Project Space, as well as a book signing and talk on Sunday, June 29th from 3-5pm. Vol. 2 of Shipley and Dolezal's series of books, Spook Light Chronicles, has also just been released. Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 1 is sold out.

Shipley and Dolezal stopped by photo-eye Bookstore to talk about the series with photo-eye's Melanie McWhorter.
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Encounter by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal
30x30" Image - 1/10 - $1600
Melanie McWhorter:     Lara and Antone, would you tell us about how you met and how you decided to start the project Devil’s Promenade?

Lara Shipley:     We are both former employees of photo-eye. So, we met through you, Melanie!

MM:     Well thank you, I wanted you to say that first!

LS:     So let’s start off the interview that way, we owe everything to Melanie McWhorter!

MM:     [Laughter]

AD:     We started talking about how we were both from the Ozarks and wanted to do a project on this place. So we decided to collaborate. We spent about six months just researching the Ozarks before we came across the story of the Spook Light, which I remember my father telling me about when I was growing up.

MM:     How do you go about your process? It seems like you are building a lot on narrative, on the idea of folklore, and when I describe the project to people I talk about the incorporation of mythology, narrative and a pseudo-documentary. How did you decide to go about it in this way?

LS:     A big part of our process is just wandering around and talking to people in a really loose way. That part of our practice is rooted in the documentary tradition of exploring a place. But we were also interested in aspects of the Ozarks that are more magical — the larger than life stories. We began recreating and elaborating on some of the stories we had been told. We liked mixing these images with the more straight style pictures, because I think it really grounds the fantastical pictures in a real place. I think of it as related to the magical realism tradition in literature. It feels like a place that is real enough that you could walk into it, but also a little bit magical, which I think is what the Ozarks is like. It’s real, you can go there, but there is this other element to it that revels in the unexplained.

Sleepless Days, 2013 and Having Heard the Old Stories, 2012 by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal
each image: 30x30" - 1/10 - $1600

MM:     Talk a little bit about the Spook Light.

AD:     The Devil’s Promenade is a region of the Ozarks where people claim to have seen this mysterious light phenomenon called the Spook Light. It was first documented in the 1880s and then in the 1950s it became this cult tourist destination that people would come from all over to visit. The United States Army Corps of Engineers tried to determine its origins in the 50s, with no success. This only added to its popularity as an attraction.

LS:     It was off of Route 66 and became a roadside tourist attraction.

AD:     The way people describe it is a ball of light that changes color and morphs into separate orbs of light. People say it will appear far down the road, but some have said it will come into your car. Because the Spook Light is still a mystery, people have a desire to see it. They want to experience the unexplained. And that for us became this great metaphor for searching and desire in the Ozarks.

MM:     You are both really good friends of mine and have shared some stories of your experiences while you have been on your travels. I know you are saving some of them for your next book, but I was wondering if there is any specific experience that you guys would like to share?

LS:     Which one do you think we should…

AD:     Yeah, which one!

False Lights, 2013 by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal
30x37" - 1/10 - $1600

LS:     So we saw a man get healed at a small tent revival on the side of the road this past trip. The attendance was very low, but the amount of energy people were exerting — when people were leaving they said they felt almost too high to drive home. We went a few times, and at the end of the second time someone came up and asked to be healed. His leg was badly swollen and he was worried it needed to be amputated. He said he didn’t trust doctors and wanted to be healed. So they healed him.

AD:     Well… they went through the process of healing him.

LS:     Yeah, they anointed him with oil, laid hands…

AD:     By the end of it he was dancing around the chairs of the tent.

LS:     It was an experience of total ecstasy that was really incredible; not a part of my day to day. And that’s something that I love about working on this project, how it put me in these experiences I wouldn’t normally be having.

AD:     It was like stepping back into time. It was an old school revival. Everyone prayed individually but at the same time. I had never seen that before. There was a harmony and rhythm that rose to an intensity that was hypnotic and beautiful, but also very haunting.

LS:     Yeah, it was very emotional. It was an experience related to some characteristics of Ozark culture I’ve experienced: people wary of outsiders but this desire for spirituality and community.

Waiting for the Light, 2013 and A Small Grave, 2012 by Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal
30x30" - 1/10 - $1600 and 30x37" - 1/10 - $1600 

MM:     And that’s an analogy that is similar to the Spook Light. Does it exist, or doesn’t it exist?

LS:     Yeah, and it really doesn’t matter. It’s about belief.

MM:     And maybe you follow up with this guy and if his leg had to be amputated, or he is healed.

LS:     Sure, maybe he is healed. Mental power is pretty incredible.

AD:     What Lara just said about spiritual desire, the act of going and seeing the Spook Light is, speaking for myself, definitely a spiritual act. It is the experience of seeking out something that defies explanation.

LS:     The experience of just sitting in the dark is something we’ve almost lost as a culture, especially if you are living in a city. There is something very moving about it — creepy and scary, but very beautiful: the droning sounds of the insects and animals noises, the shapes of the trees, the darkness. Even that just on its own is an interesting experience, but this idea that maybe something else magical could happen is pretty great.

Spook Light Chronicles Vols. 1 and 2 by Lara Shipley & Antone Dolezal
MM:     Let’s talk about the books. You’ve published Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 1 and now you have just come out with Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 2. How did you market the books and build a larger audience?

AD:     We released the project in the late summer of 2013 when Jeff Rich published it for Oxford American. After that we started getting some interest in the work and more press followed. We always envisioned the project as a book and the timing seemed right.

LS:     We wanted make something that people who were really excited about the work could afford. And that is one of the things that I love about books — the accessibility. We started offering the books as a preorder and once we raised the money to publish them we printed.

MM:     So you presold the books in order to go to print?

AD:     Yes. It has been the people who supported us through the preorder that made these books happen.

LS:     Absolutely, one of the reasons we kept the edition small and published in a serial form was to keep the overhead manageable. We also didn’t want to exhaust the market for the project as we envision this work as being a larger monograph in the future.

AD:     Exactly, we also didn’t want to exhaust all of our images. This body of work is much larger than what is in the Spook Light Chronicles series.

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 2: The Phosphorescent Man. By Lara Shipley & Antone Dolezal.  Search Party Press, 2014

LS:     The name Spook Light Chronicles is kind of hokey. It’s a reference to these great old booklets that were published at a time when the Spook Light was a big Route 66 roadside attraction. Our books are about the same size and use some of the same language and fonts.

Vol. 1 is called The Road and the Light and its centered around the story of the Spook Light and our present day experience of going to the Devil’s Promenade and finding that it is still a very active story. The quotes in the book and the vernacular photos were all collected from our trips to the area.

Vol. 2, The Phosphorescent Man, delves more into the history and mythology of the region. The title is a reference to a historical character known as Spooky, who had a shack on the road called the Spook Light Museum. The stories people told us described him as a trickster, bent on scaring the shit out of visitors to the museum. We felt he was related to the story of the Devil’s Promenade that claimed it was a place where a wander might encounter the Devil and loose their soul for a wish. In our book it is Spooky who you might encounter on the road, who is luring lost souls to the light.

AD:     One thing that we were told several times was that people claimed to have seen the Devil on the road at night, but interestingly people also claimed to see Spooky walking around nude on the road, dancing under moonlight and singing a song that he wrote to conjure the light.

MM:     After his death?

LS:     Nope, he was just that eccentric.

Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 2: The Phosphorescent Man. By Lara Shipley & Antone Dolezal.  Search Party Press, 2014

AD:     Locals told us that he would perform these Ghost Shows in the shack. He would spray paint himself with aluminum paint and dance naked under a black light for $5 a head.

MM:     The aluminum probably contributed a little bit to his behavior!

LS:     No doubt! Spooky also had a lot of postcards and brochures that he would send out across the country to encourage visitors. One of the postcards we replicated for the show.

AD:     He was an amateur photographer, so it is actually his picture of the Spook Light on that postcard.

MM:     And what about the Vol. 3?

LS:     We just got back from our last trip where we were focusing on content for the third book. It will be about the relationship between Ozark community and storytelling. The title is We Always Lie to Strangers, which is homage to Vance Randolph, a famous folklorist from the Ozarks who did an amazing job collecting all of these stories, songs and recordings.

AD:     Vol. 3 will be released in conjunction with an exhibition at 555 Gallery in Boston in October.

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Devil's Promenade exhibition continues at photo-eye Bookstore + Project Space at 376-A Garcia St, Santa Fe, through August 16th.

View Devil's Promenade on the Photographer's Showcase

Purchase signed copy of Spook Light Chronicles Vol. 2


For more information or to purchase a print, please contact Anne Kelly at 505-988-5150 x121 or anne@photoeye.com

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