A Photo-Illusionist’s Declaration by Jerry A. Sierra
IT TOOK MORE THAN LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS to scare me as a child. It took King Kong.
Nothing seemed to scare me as a teenager, but then, as an adventurous young adult, I was able to embrace the willful and joyous terror of classic monsters.
It took monsters. Real monsters like King Kong, like you could find occasionally in sci-fi movies and comic books. Universal monsters, which existed since long before my time, were the real thing.
The creature-features of the 1950s pointed the way, and eventually the cultural/technical evolution followed in their footsteps.
Before this goes any further, let the record show that there are no lions or tigers or bears in any of my images. These fine creatures were eaten long ago by the monsters depicted in my images, or killed by humans, often for mere sport, making men the real monsters of a world that’s slowly sinking into the ocean.
Perhaps the giant ant-mutations that horrified New Mexico in “Them” (1954) ate them, or the bi-ped alien creature that grew over 20 feet tall and went on a rampage across Sicily in Ray Harryhousen’s “20 Million Miles to Earth” (1957). I know it wasn’t the Xenomorph that chased Ellen Ripley throughout the dark halls of the ill-fated Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979), or the shape-shifter that evaded McCready in John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982). But who can tell for certain?
Maybe they were never real in the first place.
Real monsters only know one thing; they don’t like us and they know we don’t like them. It may ultimately be our own fault, but that much we can accept to be real.
For the purpose of this paper, and as a general observation, reality is that which we share… movies we see with friends, exchanges with our partners and the checkout clerk at Safeway, the shoes we wear to walk in the rain, the results of a medical examination…
Reality is bleak and shallow… lacking passion or judgement…
Most of the time, you can’t escape reality.
Don Juan once explained to his more than humble student that “the world conforms to our description of it…” (I paraphrase) which indirectly points to the unreal as a major influence in our lives.
Un-reality is where the action is. This is how we privately interpret our exchanges in the reality layer and what it means to us internally. It is deep and private and often personal beyond words… it’s most abstract when you try to explain it to a human or extraterrestrial... or to a therapist. (I’ve noticed that un-creative-sane-types tend to protect their unreality from the outside world as if it was a disease…)
The line between reality and un-reality is often invisible to those that experience it the strongest. And it’s most powerful when you ride it like a fast motorcycle through slow freeway traffic. That’s why I love photography; it has always allowed a creator the option to favor one frame of reference (reality) over the other (unreality) with every image captured. Let the viewer beware.
Initially I experienced photography as a celebratory expression of the real (above); a beautiful old face, a classic sunset, the human figure, a child exploring the world… today reality is still there for those times when I can’t handle the intensity of the un-reality that surrounds me.
Reality is often convenient and reliable, while unreality can be deeply painful and unforgiving.
To honor the fine tradition of unreal-fright-for-escapist-fun (and spiritual release), I strive to show the deeper integrity of my characters… and the very reason we love things that scare us. They start out as toys purchased through a computer and sent through the mail… immediately unboxed, displayed and posed, then photographed… sometimes repeatedly.
The toys and figurines used for these formal studio portraits are no longer mere toys or figurines… they’re actors! Thespians called upon to play new roles and face new challenges, though some are subject to decades old typecasting practices, and others get made anew. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason, and some can’t easily break out of their stereotypes.
And yet their spirit comes alive for the camera…
NEXT: Don't dream it, see it