The 21st century is often described as a secular age. Faith and superstition have, in many parts of the world, been replaced by science and reason. The traditional belief systems have been succeeded by a firm devotion to the technological advancements of Silicon Valley. Photographer Antone Dolezal is challenging this assumption. When television-viewers across America were following the disheartening 2016 elections, Antone travelled — and continues to travel — across the country’s Southwestern states to capture the spiritual communities of California and Nevada for his series, Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit.
Antone’s interest in superstition and mythology plays a prominent role throughout his body of work, which has been exhibited at Boston’s 555 Gallery and Kansas City Art Institute among others. His last long-term project Devils Promenade, for example, looked at the local folklore of Arkansas’ Ozark Woods through a set of eerie, uncanny photographs. In Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit, Antone delves deeper into this fascination. Whether it’s a portrait shot of a captivating young girl floating in a lake or an otherworldly photograph of a person lying on a surgical table, Antone’s series offers the viewer a compelling insight into the enigmatic narratives that have been constructed about the communities he visited.
We had a chat with Antone to find out a little bit more about Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit:
INT: How did the idea behind Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit come about?
AD: I lived in the Southwestern United States for ten years and have many friends and acquaintances that are members of new religious movements, New Age practitioners, or they regularly attend peyote or ayahuasca ceremonies. As I have such a close connection and access to these varying faiths, I became fascinated with their origins and began to research the different realities humans construct to find some kind of truth and meaning in life.
I was able to trace many myths and ideologies based on the folklore of the American West, sci-fi cinema, astrological literature, secret military conspiracy theories and Eastern and Indigenous mysticism. There was a curious mixture of pop culture and ancient beliefs, as well as historical and environmental situations that allowed this utopian phenomenon to take root.
In Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit, I make parallels between the different realities many of us live in; in America, I think it is safe to say we don’t all live the same truth. This work is just as much a commentary on what is happening within mainstream society, as it is a remark on what is happening at its edges.
INT: Tell us about the people in the photographs. Who are they?
AD: This work lives in a realm between fact and fiction and I think it’s important to maintain some mystery about who the people are in these photographs. That said, the people I have encountered fit a specific conceptual and aesthetic criteria. I photograph in the traditional way of going out into the world, meeting people and, if a connection is made, I sit with them for a few hours to make a portrait. I collect their stories, beliefs and rituals, which are often re-enacted for the camera.
I also actively seek out people who I come across in my research. So I will send emails, make phone calls and do whatever I can to convince a person to stand in front of my camera. If a good photographic relationship is established, we will often work together on multiple shoots over several days to create the right interpretive portrait.
INT: What are you looking to capture in a photograph?
AD: I aim to make work that provides the viewer with a nuanced and alternative understanding of my subject matter while highlighting parallels to issues present in mainstream society. I’m particularly curious about the conditions that produce ideologies meant to eclipse conventional life.
Aesthetically speaking, the tone of my pictures evolved organically. I experimented for several years on this work before I landed on an overall tone and mood for the photographs. I made an effort to refer to photographers who worked in this region before me. The influences of Richard Misrach, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel, Michael Lundgren, Nico Krebs and Taiyo Onorato — the list goes on — are evident in the series. Making work that presents a new perspective on the American West is a challenge and I see this project as a continuation of a dialogue that began many decades ago.
The landscape is a central character and I approach these images from the perspective of a latter-day romantic. There is an inseparable entanglement between humans and the “natural world”, and I aim to make connections between my portraits, landscapes and unseen forces at play. By weaving together these elements, I hope to exhibit how humans create and interpret meaning and belief from their environment.
INT: What is the relationship between your photographs and the archival work you’ve sourced?
AD: The archival images and text all reference various myths and beliefs of the new religious movements. By weaving fragments of different myths, histories and folklore together in image, text and the archive, I encourage the viewer to search for greater meaning embedded throughout this work. I prompt the viewer to look for substantive connections and to engage in the act of re-tracing in order to gain access to greater knowledge of the subject. I hope to engage the viewer in a process aimed at finding new ways of understanding and relating to the eccentricities of the people, cultures and beliefs presented throughout this work.
INT: Is there a narrative behind Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit? Is the series telling a story?
AD: This isn’t a documentary project, but there is the suggestion of a narrative. Part of Fortune and Part of Spirit is placed in the deserts of California and Nevada, and makes connections between the region’s history and the contemporary issues regarding those seeking a utopian future. This pull between the past, present and possible future aims to reveal an uprooting of stable traditions overtaken by new social realities.
INT: How has the project evolved over time?
AD: It’s such a slow process and is still ongoing! I’m confident the images will manifest, but the research involved to understand my subject is always a slow burner. In each project I undertake, I make it a priority to challenge myself to find new ways of approaching portraiture or interpreting the landscape. I actively push myself to be a better photographer and to be infinitely engaged and curious about my subject. After venturing down this rabbit hole, the possibilities for this work seem endless.