the Art of Shadows

Show someone a picture like the one above and ask them what they imagine the woman is doing, and some may say dancing, some may say she is a puppet, and some may say she is the victim of a brutal killing. Indeed, I do this sort of opinion polling every time I sit down to create an image, since I am not sure when shooting what exactly I am going for.

I do remember, on the day we shot this, that the model and I were improvising poses and I asked her to move like she was bent and broken, and like a marionette with a few broken strings. She gave me some great versions of that, and I was pretty sure I was going to do something with strings attached to her, something perhaps whimsical and lighter than usual.

I could not have been more wrong!

As I put her in a misty field of picked corn, snow on the ground, she sort of took a dark turn to that of a victim, and a victim of a brutal and elaborate killer. I resisted it as much as I could, creating this very dark image of a violent death, but no matter how I tried to skew it, all I saw in that field was a victim. There was no dancer, no puppet on a string. Needless to say, I committed to it and brought it to its conclusion - I do not fear the darker stuff, but it occurs to me that some will be put off by it. I understand that perfectly - not everyone wants to take a walk on the creepy side of the street. I don't live there either, whatever you might think, but I am drawn to it as a subject of study.

The Shadow archetype, the dark half, the Stranger...every horror film plays off our common fear of these aspects of the human psyche - they would not have the popularity they have if we did not relate to them on some primordial level. There is a fascination our culture has with the criminal mind, the serial killer, the psychotic and the insane. Often, the dark mind behind these killings thinks their actions noble - a transformation of the unclean or offensive to a state of cleanliness or purity. They are purging the world of the weak, embracing the hunter within lest they become the hunted.

And so we come upon our young woman here, apparently dead in a cold, miserable field, and she likely died a terrifying, painful death at the hands of a killer, who created a vision of a human scarecrow for reasons he may not even be aware of. He is creating his art, his very dark art, and he has no human empathy that gives him pause.

I often think of those left to mourn someone who died in a grisly fashion, how must the loss and sadness be intensified with the knowledge that the victim's final day or hours were filled with terror, pain and suffering. How does one find the light in life once darkness has engulfed them so completely? How can one love again when the human condition can produce actual monsters - predators stalking prey with motivations easily hidden by sheer population, indifference, distraction and denial?

For most of us, these dark images will be safely relegated to our fictions and entertainments, and perhaps we seek catharsis, those of us who indulge in exploring the sinister side of mankind. For me, this image was irresistible to create - it wanted to be the victim, and despite the grisly subject matter, I find a beauty in this image - not solely because I created it, but also in form, lines, and movement. I can see a lot of visual inspirations at work in my creation - everything from Giger's Aliens to the recently cancelled but stunning "Hannibal" television series. This may even turn into a series of images I will add to over time, the Art of Shadows, where we wrestle with the light, but darkness wins in the end.

Regarding the title, "The Field Where I Died," it is borrowed from an episode of "the X-Files" where a woman has memories of her death in a previous life.


Michael Bilotta

May 30, 2016