Siren Snapshots: Photography of the American Ghoul
The American Ghoul might be a photographer hailing from the California Bay area, but his camera tells a different story—one seeped in supernatural lore and mythology that makes a vibrant, if haunted, living on the social media platform of Instagram. In his “Siren” series, Daniel Vazquez revitalizes dark rituals with specters, spirits, or witches bent on harnessing nature’s power to part the veil and access a world beyond this one or to lure the unsuspecting into their clutches.
Yet before the American Ghoul could snapshot a story about magic cast amidst the ocean’s crashing waves, Daniel Vazquez had to hone his own craft as a photographer and find the medium that spoke to him.
“I STARTED TAKING PHOTOS WHEN I WAS AROUND FOURTEEN. IT ALL STARTED WITH SKATEBOARDING, MISFITS, AND A POLAROID CAMERA. IT WAS LIKE THAT FOR A LONG TIME. ALTHOUGH I HAD A FONDNESS FOR THE OCCULT, IT WAS REALLY A CROSS-COUNTRY ROAD TRIP I TOOK YEARS BACK THAT REALLY HELPED ME EXPOSE AND CAPTURE THOSE IMAGES IN MY HEAD. THIS WAS THE IDEA MY BADASS WIFE AND MUSE ENVISIONED AFTER FINDING THIS PERFECTLY GLOOMY BEACH. TOGETHER, WE PUT OUR OWN DARK TWIST ON THE SIREN MYTHOLOGY.”
The creation of the “Siren” series is lush with symbolism, and that paired with crowns, veils, and rituals gives it a supernatural tone. Both figures are clad in either black or white and stand at opposite ends, showing recognition but not endearment, prepared to enact the subsequent ritual. While the veils separate the characters from the viewer and each other, it also perpetuates the idea of the parting of the veil, an act of witchcraft that pierces through the thin layer separating this world from the next. The veil has numerous associations, particularity with sacred objects, mourning, and piety, as well as hidden sexuality—be it dancing, red-veiled clad courtesans or sirens seeking to ensnare the unsuspecting with their song (Taschen, 530).
“I ENVISION THAT THESE SIRENS WERE PERFORMING RITUALS IN PREPARATION TO LURE IN THOSE UNSUSPECTING AND ULTIMATELY DOOMED SOULS. THERE ARE NO FACES TO BE SEEN, BECAUSE I IMAGINE EVERYONE’S OWN PERSONAL SIRENS LOOKS UNIQUE TO THEM. I ALWAYS CHOOSE TO KEEP ANONYMITY IN MY PHOTOS TO LET THEM BE RELATABLE AND HELP THE VIEWER DIVE DEEPER INTO THE STORY. I HOPED TO SHOW A DUALITY, A COMING TOGETHER FOR A COLLECTIVE GOOD. THROUGH THE SEA RAGING BEHIND THEM, THROUGH THEIR APPARENT DIFFERENCES, THEY NEED EACH OTHER, AND ARE ONE.”
For the American Ghoul, the seed of the “Siren” series may have been planted long before.
“THE STORY OF LA LLORONA HAS FASCINATED ME SINCE MY MOTHER FIRST TOLD IT TO MY BROTHERS AND I, WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG AND RESTLESS ONE NIGHT, AND SHE NEEDED SOMETHING TO SCARE US TO SLEEP. IT HAS STUCK WITH ME ALL THIS TIME, AND HAS DEVELOPED IN ME A LOVE FOR GHOST STORIES AND CREATING STORIES IN PHOTOGRAPHS.”
The idea of the forbidden, singing woman who spells death has tendrils across cultural mythology. Sirens, once bird-women, lost their ability to fly when the Greek muses became envious of their beautiful song and transformed them into the oceanic mistresses we know today (Cotterell & Storm, 65). La Llorona, otherwise known as the Woman in White, weeps as she searches for the lost souls of her children that she drowned to enact revenge on her unfaithful husband (Carbonell, 53). Both seek to ensnare and capture, ultimately leading to the death of their victim.
As children of Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, sirens naturally part the thin layer of gauze separating the living from the dead, perhaps bringing a radiant, unknown song native to the underworld to the living (Roberts & Katz, 114). Even as these women were shunned due to the consequences of their nature, their tale lives on, and none creates such a rich landscape for their story than the American Ghoul.
Carbonell, Ana Maria. “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlicue in Femenist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros.” MELUS. Vol. 24, No. 2 (1999): 52-74. Jstor. Web. 08 January 2017.
Cotterell, Arthur & Storm, Rachel. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World: Mythology. New York: Metro Books, 2013. Print.
Roberts, Timothy, Roberts, Morgan, & Katz, Brian. Mythology: Tales of Ancient Civilizations. New York, Barnes and Nobels Books, 1997. Print.
Ronnbert, Ami, & Martin, Kathleen. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2010. Print.