The (Oc)cult of Paraphotography

A coven of old and new photographers peers into the aesthetic realms of the supernatural

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In attempt to capture the intangible and investigating all things esoteric, mystical, and supernatural, On Paraphotography: Uncertainty, the Occult and the Uncanny is an exploration into the aesthetic realms of supernatural representation through photography. Exhibiting at Harlan Levey Projects in Brussels, the show features the work of Czech photographer Tereza Zelenkova, AnOther contributor Paulina Otylie Surys, the 1930s photographer Joel-Peter Witkin, and Jeffrey Silverthorne. Here, its curator Brad Feuerhelm discusses the concept of ‘the other’, Catholicism versus occult ideology and post-LaVeyan Satanism:

Dazed Digital: Where did the inspiration for this exhibit come from?
Brad Feuerhelm: I have been after this esoteric material for some time now. I was selling a lot of it to clients abroad when one day I just started holding it back, as it was too fascinating to continually sell. I'm interested in the many forms of esoteric and pagan thought as the current norm of religious aptitude is a bore for me. Being without a designated religion myself, the appeal to older customs and rituals provides a stepping stone into a historic territory that photography just marginally covers.

DD: What is it about the occult that fascinates you?
Brad Feuerhelm: The idea that people believe it. It is a very intense system of practice, and in order to fully understand ‘the occult’ one must spend a majority of one’s life in total belief of the other while following a very disciplined series of defined steps in order to achieve spiritual clarity. I am mostly drawn to the aesthetics.

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DD: Why do you think does this topic cause such polarising reactions of either fascination or fear?
Brad Feuerhelm: Catholicism's massive crush on occult ideology has been embedded in society at large for 600 years. If you live in ‘the norm’, you will be inflicted with anxiety towards ‘the other’. It causes irrational behaviour and fear, much like everything these days... a completely emotional response devoid of clarity to reason and the acceptance of different ideologies.

DD: How do you see the idea of the mystical and creativity correlating to one another?
Brad Feuerhelm: There is definitely some correlation there. Many of the rites and rituals associated with the occult and perhaps Left Hand post-LaVeyan Satanism suggests a quest for the now and unique. It is about the self and maturing in such a way as to promote creative thinking and individual thought. They are actually quite similar.

DD: What does each individual artist bring to the show?
Brad Feuerhelm: Paulina Otylie Surys and Tereza Zelenkova are both pillars of creative photography. Surys’ work echoes the boudoir chamber of dark light and Zelenkova's practice is about the subtle Czech penchant for melancholia. Joel-Peter Witkin incorporates the ritual of death as does Jeffrey Silverthorne. The process of the uncanny and uncertain is delivered through understanding the body in transition.

DD: What would you like the viewers to take away from this exhibition?
Brad Feuerhelm: A sense of viewing something they have not quite seen before. There is very little horror associated with the show, so the shock element is not there unless you really want it to be. Perhaps if you are faint of heart or brain, it may leave you feeling like you need to commune with your deity further. That would also be a fine way to leave.

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