Lara Shipley

11/01/2015 - 11/01/2016
Lara Shipley

“Believer” by Kansas City-based artist Lara Shipley was selected for the Project Wall by guest curator April M. Watson, Curator of Photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. The photograph features a young white man with neck tattoos and lip piercings, looking skywards, as if seeking transcendence.

“Believer” is part of larger collaborative photographic project, Devil’s Promenade, created by Shipley and Antone Dolezal, which explores the distinct mix of folklore, superstition, and history that shapes Ozark culture in certain rural communities in southern Missouri. The figure’s assertive physicality and his searching expression suggest a tension between gritty, mundane existence and a desire for sublime experience.

Both Shipley and Dolezal grew up in small, rural towns in southern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma, respectively. Fascinated by the region’s folklore, the artists focused their project on the Spook Light myth. This tale centers on a mysterious light orb that appears on chance evenings along a deserted rural road known as Devil’s Promenade. The Spook Light is believed to portend supernatural encounters between humans, ghosts, and the devil, though it has no definitive association.

In symbolic terms, the appearance of the Spook Light represents a desire to transcend ordinary experience. This longing resonates with other socio-economic realities of the area. As Shipley and Dolezal have stated: “In the Ozarks many live in isolated poverty and drug addiction is high. This region is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and the struggle between heaven and hell factors into everyday conversation. We feel the frequent and mysterious appearance of 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.”

Devil’s Promenade unfolds as an open-ended narrative, comprised of portraits, landscapes, straight and staged photographs. Working this way allows Shipley and Dolezal to move beyond the limits of traditional documentary photography, and create images that more readily suggest multiple layers of meaning. Moving between description and invention, Shipley and Dolezal present a complex, perceptive, and compassionate picture of a place and its people isolated from mainstream culture.

Lara Shipley holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from Arizona State University (2013) and a Bachelor of Journalism in photography from University of Missouri, Columbia. Her work has been featured on NPR, and reproduced in Lenscratch, Fraction, Vice, and the Huffington Post. She has had exhibitions of her work at Gallery 555 in Boston, and photo-eye in Santa Fe. Recently she was selected by Epsten Gallery and the National Museum of Women in the Arts as one of several “Women to Watch.”


The Kansas City Star

“New Block Artspace Project Wall portrays Ozarks “Believer”
November 6, 2014