An image of a young man gazing heavenwards was recently installed on the Block Artspace Project Wall at 43rd and Main streets.
It’s a closeup, clearly showing his vivid neck tattoos and various piercings. The photograph, by Kansas City artist Lara Shipley, was selected by guest curator April M. Watson, curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Titled “Believer,” the piece is part of Shipley’s ongoing “Devil’s Promenade” project with Antone Dolezal. The series, which explores Ozarks life and culture through straight and staged photographs by Shipley and Dolezal, as well as found images and texts, has gotten a lot of press lately, including a 2014 interview in Vice Magazine and a 2013 spot on NPR.
Both artists grew up in small towns in the region of the Devil’s Promenade, a rural road in the Ozarks, where a mysterious orb of light called the “spook light,” is said to appear. The phenomenon provides a jumping off point for Shipley and Dolezal’s poetic and unflinching portrayal of the region.
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“In the Ozarks many live in isolated poverty and drug addiction is high,” the two have said. “This region is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and the struggle between heaven and hell factors into everyday conversation.”
In this context, the photographers believe, “the Spook Light has come to represent a desire for redemption and the fear of slipping into darkness. It is the sublime experience whose defiance of explanation provides a reprieve from ordinary life.”
Appearing transfixed, like a saint witnessing a miraculous event in a Renaissance painting, Shipley’s “Believer” personifies that reprieve, however momentary.