This Week in Photography: Creepy in Context

 

The high clouds came in this week.

For the first time in Autumn.

 

It means the November rains and snows are nearly upon us.

As we’re in a drought here in Northern New Mexico, and there is a fire on the other side of the mountains, it’s good that the moisture is finally coming.

It makes much more sense, seasonally, to have the cold and the wet and the brown.

Gray skies, so rare during the year, make sense in November, and as I write this on the back-side of October, (on a Thursday as usual,) bad weather “seems” more right than the extended-Summer we’ve been having all month.

It’s been very climate-changey, all this warm weather and blue skies.

Certain things make sense in our bones, in the deep reptilian part of our brains, because it has always been thus.

I think humans have always been creeped out by the end of October, Halloween, the leaves just dropped, the trees scraggly all of a sudden, and it seems like the ghosts are around the corner.

Boo!

Right?

The Day of the Dead in Mexican culture is at the same time, when the spirit world and the world of the living can almost touch.

So I won’t be surprised if it’s misty and cold on Halloween this year.

The harvest palette, all warm colors, disappearing: the yellows and oranges and ochres.

Because today’s zine makes me think of Halloween, in the best possible way, making it the perfect thing to review.

Stella Kramer wrote not too long ago, offering to send along her zine, “Stellazine,” and I had a gut feeling it was the one to pull off the stack.

Open it up, and in a hand written note, Stella says she wants to “put more eyes on work that I think is singular and worth being seen.”

The cover says “Still Life” by Giovanni Savino, with white on orange, and then a round sticker added to the upper left hand corner reads “STELLAZINE.”

Open it up, and the first page says 001, which reads as page one, but also maybe the first of its kind in a new series of STELLAZINES?

Stella writes, “No coronavirus. No quarantine or isolation. This is timeless; photography that isn’t tied to anything but itself, the photographer and the viewer.”

And the short statement goes on to say we’ll be seeing a mix of two projects that she brought together for this volume.

“I love how everyone’s eyes are closed,” she writes, “as if they are dreaming about what they just read.”

Well, that’s one way to look at it.

Another is that these people look like maybe they’re dead?

And the colors!

(Orange and black, like the permanent marker on the pumpkin near my front door.)

So Halloween that my autumn-craving bones started shaking from within my flesh.

Charlie Brown may have gotten booted off the networks, (only saw the headline, didn’t click the link,) but this can come back off my bookshelf any year at this time.

The second image spread is the weakest, for some reason, so I felt a tiny let-down after the very strong opening, but then the wooden arm, and the next page features a boy with his eyes closed, and a very sharp knife cutting into a book, on the page beside.

And then nails and snakes! And tooth picks and clamps!

The sense of menace becomes overt, and why are everyone’s eyes closed?

Then two young African American girls with big pigtails, on consecutive pages, and I think of photos of victims of church bombings in the 60’s.

Or girls who died of typhoid or something curable, but nobody had the money to buy the medicine.

I’m sure these girls are alive and well, (IRL,) and were likely photographed in contemporary times, but in context with these old books, and torture devices, (and the wooden arm!) the creepy vibe envelops any and all things inside.

(As a thought experiment, I just opened the zine again, and looked at those two images in particular. If you skip the entire narrative, I can see the young women as strong, determined, and alive. But even then, the sense of the images not being contemporary is so strong.)

You turn the pages and there are no horizons.

No places to breathe.

And with no people looking back at you, no respite in friendly eyes, you keep turning the pages until the end, hoping for a break, but it never comes.

The ladies on the last pages look like they were killed many many decades ago, and then we’re only being introduced to their murder file pics now, after they’ve been unearthed by some hungry new cop looking to make a name for himself on cold cases.

Or maybe I just need to look past the orange and black color scheme, and the old-film aesthetic, and the old time styling.

Maybe these are two African-American women, shot in 2020, dreaming of a more equitable society?

Or a safer tomorrow?

Maybe it has nothing to do with darkness or demons?

Context is a funny thing, because as important as it is, it’s also highly subjective.

Happy Halloween.

To learn more about Stellazine click here

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program. 

Jonathan Blaustein

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