Antone Dolezal gives viewers a peek into the eerie side of Oklahoma. From abandoned homes to Ozark’s unexplained “spook lights” phenomenon, Dolezal uses photographs and found objects to explore his home state.
Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Antone Dolezal: I grew up on the northeastern region of Oklahoma, near where the plains and the Ozark hills meet.
DY: Where do you live now?
AD: Santa Fe, NM.
DY: When did you start taking pictures?
AD: My father had a darkroom and taught me how to print and develop film when I was 11 or 12. It wasn’t until college that I discovered photography as a means to construct visual narratives and became a serious image-maker.
DY: We’re featuring photos from two series, Devil’s Promenade and Ghost Town. How did these series begin, and what’s the unifying theme in each of them?
AD: Ghost Town was the first series I completed after college. The images here are of abandoned homes and towns in Oklahoma that were hit hardest by the Dust Bowl. It is really a survey of the decay that has taken place over the past five or six decades in the No Man’s Land region of the state. It is a place rich with forgotten ghosts and left behind memories. My intent with Ghost Town was to evoke the current state of the region, while also telling a story that was from my own experience of exploring this landscape.
Devil’s Promenade is a collaborative project with Lara Shipley that is a narrative based body of work relating to mythology in the rural Ozarks. It is a project that blends regional folklore and local history with present day photographs of Ozark people, the land and interpretive images based on the mysterious phenomenon of the Spook Light – a floating orb found on a wooded road in the Ozark backwoods.
The Light was first documented in the 1880s and has since grown into a local tourist attraction. Because no one has been able to determine what causes the phenomenon, people continue to have a desire to see it. They want to go out into the pitch-black woods at night and experience fear and the unexplained. And so for us the Spook Light became this great metaphor for searching and desire in the Ozarks.
DY: How do you classify your photography? Is it photojournalistic? Fine art? Some combination of both?
AD: My projects are a mixture of documentary photography and interpretive images based upon regional stories I’ve read or have been told by locals. So there is a blending of styles and approaches that go into constructing these narratives.
With every new project I make a conscious effort to break my own rules and notions of what a photograph should be. There is a conscious attempt to always make better portraits or landscapes and if I have an image in my head that needs to be made I experiment with new techniques to make those pictures happen… and of course then a whole lot of editing to make it appear cohesive!
DY: You include found items in these series. How and why did you make this decision?
AD: With Devil’s Promenade it was important to include the history of this place in order to present the whole outline of the story. Here is the evidence… people have been seeing and writing about the Spook Light for over a hundred years. It’s a real phenomenon that folks have been entranced by for a long time and we wanted to present that history and then reimagine it and reveal the story in a modern way.
DY: What’s your process like? How much time do you spend planning your photos, how much do you think about their meaning ahead of time, what does it look like when you actually take the pictures?
AD: I spend many months researching my subjects before ever heading out and taking a photo. I’ll generally write down an outline of what images I plan to make and then just go out and work in a very traditional and loose way. I’ll walk around and talk with as many people as I can, make portraits, find out about places to explore…. It’s a very intuitive practice. But, if someone I’m talking with tells me a great story that I want to see as a photograph, I have no issue with recreating or constructing that scene.
DY: What do you think when you hear the words “rural photography?” Many of your pictures in this series are set in rural landscapes. Do you consider yourself a rural photographer?
I grew up in a rural environment and I choose to photograph subjects I have a deep connection with. That said, I don’t pin myself down as a rural photographer. The project I am working on now is closely tied with immigration and migrant workers in the United States. My wife’s family and their story of immigrating to the US from South America has been a huge influence on how I approach this new series. So for me, being a photographer is about making work that resonates on a personal level and that I find important with relation to the current dialogue in contemporary photography.
Antone Dolezal was raised on the eastern plains of Oklahoma and currently resides in Santa Fe, NM. His photographs explore the American social landscape and its relationship to history and folklore and are often accompanied by vernacular imagery, found objects and fictional literature. His work has recently been exhibited at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design, photo-eye Bookstore + Project Space (Santa Fe), Rayko Photo Center (San Francisco), 555 Gallery (Boston), among other venues. Antone’s photographs have been featured on National Public Radio, Oxford American, Photo District News and Mossless Magazine and his prints and books are held in various collections including the British Library (London), Marion Center for the Photographic Arts (Santa Fe) and the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago).