Artist John Metoyer explores the ‘fabricated world’ of horror in an eerie paean to the earliest forms of photography
Poet and photographer John Metoyer’s latest book Blood Migration is a visually gripping collection of sinister work, an insight into his fascination with the convergence of science, myth and religion. A “fabricated world that exists on the margins of our day-to-day reality”, populated with supernatural beings more suited to our most terrifying nightmares. Employing eerie 19th century photographic techniques, Metoyer often plays with old tricks – such as wire hangers and a children’s space kit in “Herschel’s Dream” – to achieve that old-school spook. Poetic musings take inspiration from his ancestors (having been enslaved in 70s) and, a visceral and profound series entitled Death’s Confessions invites the reader to “visit the mangled, thickly stitched torsos that fill these halls.” Below we chat to the artist about his love of the antique process, finding humour in the horrific and the thin veil that separates us from the unknown.
Why are these old-fashioned processes, tools, and techniques so crucial to your work?
John Metoyer: I find, when combined, the processes and tools from the current and past two centuries can work together to achieve an appropriate otherworldliness. For me, it’s the generational intermingling of photographic processes, tools, and techniques that makes for a richer creative experience and much more interesting final print.
How did you discover this love of photography and poetry? Is there a particular moment that stands out for you?
John Metoyer: For me, it all links back to my poetry professor, Dr. John Wood, who I met at graduate school studying short story and novel writing. Dr. Wood is a collector of 19th and early 20th century photographs and seeing and learning about gum prints, cyanotypes, daguerreotype, platinum prints, ambrotypes, and viewing the work of photographers like Keith Carter, Sally Mann and Joel Peter Witkin, was a huge inspiration. Photography made sense to me, and eventually I took a beginning black and white photography class. It felt natural, so I stuck with it and vigorously pursued every process I could find.
“Rationally, I don’t believe I will rise from my grave to be floating about in a tunic, plucking at lyre and flapping my wings up on a cloud somewhere, but the speculation connected to the mythologies that led to concepts like Heaven or the Ancient Egyptians’ funerary practices all fascinate me” – John Metoyer
How do you construct the images?
John Metoyer: For example, “Herschel’s Dream” is comprised of old tarps, wire hangers, a plastic solar system, and a kid’s science model of the female anatomy. I tried to explain how these materials were going to work together to a friend and was greeted with a confused look of mild horror. The process is usually intentional – I’ve thought of something I want to create or build and maybe even sketched it out a bit. For a good deal of my work, I find inspiration at that point where science, myth, and religion sort of converge. It’s that grey area of the unexplained in the world that all three attempt to explain. When that larger concept is visually infused in an antique looking process, a sort of magic happens for me.
The dead and the sick are integral to your work – what is it about them that fascinates you?
John Metoyer: The terminally ill and, of course, the dead are on the verge of, or are, experiencing the big unknown – the afterlife. It’s the granddaddy of all the big questions science, religion, and myth attempt to answer in one way or another; what happens after we die? Rationally, I don’t believe I will rise from my grave to be floating about in a tunic, plucking at lyre and flapping my wings up on a cloud somewhere, but the speculation connected to the mythologies that led to concepts like Heaven or the Ancient Egyptians’ funerary practices all fascinate me. The dead, and even the severely ill, represent that thin veil that separates us from the unknown.
Blood Migration is published by 21st Century Editions.