Street Vendor at Night




Voudou Princess


Dark Places #1


Ball and Bicycle


Dark Places #2


Dinner in the Dark


Manuela Guards
a Dark Place


Nuns Leaving an Alley




Sewing Machine



For as long as
I can remember,
I have seen apparitions
in the dark.
As a child, I would look up at trees and buildings, and they would be ogres and demons. I would look again and they would be trees and buildings. A few minutes later, they might be fantastic creatures again.
     Looking into darkened rooms, under cabinets, in the corner, has the same effect. People, if they are there, take on an odd aspect, moving in and out of other worlds. Objects become people, animals, totems of higher significance. Perhaps the best example in the photographs here of this is the street vendor. I had seen her during the day, and she looked like many of the other street vendors, an Indian woman carrying a lot of bright objects. Sitting in an open-air restaurant at night with my camera, I suddenly saw her coming through the streetlights, her face fixed in a wild leer and her objects thrust out front, and she was now a living gargoyle.
     It was almost by accident that I began to photograph the images that passed by quickly. I was in Mallorca, walking down a narrow street away from the crowds, shops and beaches. Looking into a slightly opened door, I saw a room that had only a few chairs, an old tile floor, and a religious painting. There was a sensation of spirits in the room. I quickly took a photograph, and when I printed it a month later, it became the start of my "Dark Places" series.
     I often photograph in places that have a sense of spiritual history—Spain, with its gothic Catholic past, and Mexico, with its collision of Spanish Catholicism and Indian shamanism, have been my favorite locations. However, these locations aren't essential to my work, and I will continue to find images wherever I may be.
     I have always seen the photograph as a transmutation rather than a literal truth. Once one reduces the dimensionality, removes the color, reduces the scan and scope of human vision, there is no literal truth. Photographs can explore beyond what something is, to what it means, or how it feels, because it has no need to be what is.
     Looking on the web at photographer Jan Faul's depiction of a Nevada atomic test site, I was struck by the unbearable silence in the photographs, and reading his words about the site, read about the silence. The photographs' strongest statement was what was not in the photographs, not what was in them. This is the transmutation that photographs can accomplish and is what I strive for in my photographs.
     I draw much of my inspiration from words and music. Some writers develop powerful imagery that stays with me and helps when I photograph, writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster, Paul Bowles. I listen to devotional music, particularly from North Africa and India.
     The one artist that I feel as an influence is Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Although I would never compare my photographs to his beautiful work, he works in a realm that explores the hidden. He is often cast as a photographer and documentarian of Mexican culture, but this is not adequate as his art works at a much deeper level.
     I photograph with simple tools. All of these photographs were taken with fixed lens cameras, which I find useful in the low-light areas I like to photograph because of their size and weight. Often the camera is handheld at very slow speeds, allowing the apparitions to take place. Occasionally I use a tiny flash unit to "root" some of the motion, but usually I just use whatever light is available. Film choice is equally simple—I use XP2 in 35mm and Tri-X in medium format. These are the tools I have found, after much experimentation, give me the look I want right now. I could probably use anything, as long as I continue to have sight.
                      — Jeff Spirer


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