Last Friday, David Shelton opened its newest exhibition, Misty Keasler’s HAUNT, which is part of the FotoFest 2018 Biennial. HAUNT is the latest body of work by Dallas-based photographer Misty Keasler. Keasler’s immersive photo projects have been presented nationally and internationally, including at such institutions as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Art, Japan; and the Dallas Museum of Art, among others. For her upcoming project, Keasler traveled across the country photographing the interiors of 13 commercial haunted houses. Using a long time exposure on film and formal digital portraits, Misty captured unique moments with actors in costumes in a portable on-site studio. Addressing the juncture where photography fails as a medium, the exhibit grapples with the concept of capturing experience, tension, darkness, and the overwhelming of the senses within these locations. Experiences are often lost with a still image, only containing the visual experience throughout a space. “The Haunts,” the industry term, are so much more to the senses, engulfing one with sound, smell, and heightened expectations often lost visually.
While more times than not corny, there is a particular moment and feeling the artist is trying to encapsulate inside a commercial haunted house. I myself grew up in a very small midwest tourist town which relied heavily on tourist dollars, cheap thrills, and the coveted haunted house. The musky hallways were dark or dimly lit with black lighting effects and poor animatronics popped out about every ten paces as you are slapped with rubber hoses. Lifeless creatures busted out of doors as if they were strapped to an old painting ladder that had suddenly fallen from the wall. It was some sort of experience for sure, but mainly to pass the time. As the age of technology rises and the need for increased stimulation grows, new gadgets, machinery, and effects are being used throughout the booming seasonal business. Now effects such as fear frequencies are used to uproot the guest with unnerving volumes down to the biological level. Intense lighting tactics are also used, along with special olfactory equipment to fill the nostrils with the smell of decay and death.
Art mimics life. And at the moment in time, life is pretty damn terrifying down to the core. Stress and fear are monitored and controlled through the body and from our senses, and its this that Keasler attempts to capture. Haunt is a mindful and visually pleasing collection of works capturing missing components of the human experience. Through pre and post production, Keasler relies, at times, on her own memories and influences to capture the dingy and crusty segments of time behind those walls and faux wood paneling. The content within Misty Keasler’s photographs are meant to induce fear and mirror our current culture we live in today.
While pure terror may not be the feeling you get while looking at the photographs in the exhibition, Keasler does embrace continuation and condition. A glowing dated cigarette machine captures the eye the moment you hear a door slam in the neighboring, poorly lit room. Newspapers and magazines blow from a rack, fall to the floor, and blow across your feet and out the mysterious open storefront door as the sound of scraping metal appears to emanate from an outside car. The settings are classic and unmarked in a particular time.
Perhaps the instances are a memory, nightmare, or just a worn out little shop in Ohio. The storytelling is genuine and enjoyable. The mute, yet saturated images leave an uneasiness about the selected place in time and with the viewer and appears to gain access to the essence of the “haunt.” In embracing a selection of time and experience I think Keasler finds her mark and produces a sound collection of mental jaunts. HAUNT is not necessarily a “spooky” body of work, but they are remarkably fascinating and definitely worth experiencing.
Misty Keasler’s HAUNT is on display at the David Shelton Gallery through March 31.