Dolezal and Shipley return to their home region of the Ozarks in the American Midwest, where locals persist in their search for a legendary floating orb of light that can only be seen from the Devil’s Promenade. It’s a lushly wooded road in an area where wanderers flock to seek possible redemption, or just to escape the boredom and darkness of ordinary rural life. Subtle but revealing portraits are mixed with archives and reinterpretations of mythical, folkloric tales. It’s a nuanced, mysterious and tender representation by photographers returning to the place where they grew up, but also reveals the current, stark realities of a remote place in America.
Longtime collaborators, Antone and Lara currently live at nearly opposite ends of the United States (Nevada and Michigan), but their point for making this work meets in the middle, at the physiographic intersection of four heartland states. Together they have documented Ozark people and landscape over a period of almost 10 years, drawn first by a desire to reconnect with their past, then compelled to relate something of the character and rituals of an area where locals can become skittish around strangers. Their photographic interests encompass culture, identity, folklore and mythology of place—but forming a clear picture of this isolated place is complicated.
“Ozarkers always have been somewhat dualistic, believing that two great forces—one good and one evil—battle for control in each person.” – Stanley Burgess
The roots of Ozark folklore were formed by 19th century pioneer settlers from Scotland, Ireland, Britain and Germany. From early on they had a penchant for sharing jokes and colorfully embellished stories within their community, passing down superstitions and lore to younger generations. The locals’ jubilant gatherings also involved square dancing to their self-proclaimed “hillbilly” country songs.
Meanwhile, religion is central to social life in the Ozarks, having strongly shaped the area over more than two centuries. Evangelical and Fundamentalist organizations have long held world headquarters there, and Mennonites and Amish have formed substantial settlements. The locals are generally proud of their rural values and individualistic, traditional approach to life.
With Devil’s Promenade, the photographers take us along their journey into the thick woods where anything might happen; you may either bathe in the light of salvation, or come face-to-face with the Devil on a bridge, in the inky dark.