Frances F. Denny: Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America
My brand of witchcraft is my own: a wild eclectic brew of hoodoo (black Native American folk spirituality) and shamanism. I am a solitary witch and the woods are my church. I pray in nature and use the elements to heighten my rituals and ceremonies. I use tools such as drums, rattles, animal bones, feathers, crystals, and sigils, and I channel animal spirits, spirit guides, and ancestors. I ray wit my full body and spirit to enter into trance states. – Shine Blackhawk
Perhaps after the year we’ve just experienced, considering witchcraft is not such a strange idea. Artist Frances F. Denny tossed the poison apple out the car window as she traveled the U.S. photographing and interviewing a diverse group of people who identify as witches. After a major exhibition at Clampart in New York, she has released the monograph Major Arcana, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, The book “explores the various ways the notion of witch-ness belongs to those who claim it, representing the witch as a singularly self-sought identity that both empowers and politicizes its bearer.”
Major Arcana is an exploration of contemporary witchery told through striking photographs and short, thought-provoking essays in the subjects’ own words, along with a foreword by the “Terry Gross of witches,” Pam Grossman, and a Q&A with curator Horace D. Ballard. From occultists and Neo-pagans, to herbalists and Wiccan High Priestesses, Denny’s portraits capture the multifaceted faces of modern witchcraft and challenge our assumptions about who and what a witch really is. The book can be purchased on Amazon and on Bookshop. She has an upcoming exhibition: “Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America,” at The Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach, FLA, curated by Erin Gordon (January 19th-April 16th, 2021).
Frances F. Denny is an artist and photographer whose work investigates female identities. Her work is represented by ClampArt in New York City. Frances’ first monograph, Let Virtue Be Your Guide, was published in 2016 by Radius Books. Her second book, Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America, was released in November 2020 by Andrews McMeel Publishing. She is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts 2016 Fellowship in Photography, and has won numerous awards, including PDN’s 30, LensCulture Emerging Talent, Magenta Flash Forward, and Critical Mass. She received an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. Frances lives in New York where she balances her art practice and work as an editorial and commercial photographer. She shoots regularly for The New York Times and New Yorker. IG @francesfdenny
Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America
Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America is a collection of portraits and texts written by individuals from across the United States who identify as witches.
As early as 15th century Europe, people condemned as witches faced an agonizing fate. Those unfortunate enough to be accused of witchcraft were thought to be allied with the devil, and were demonized, tortured, and in many cases put to death based on the scantest of evidence. Yet despite its deplorable history, recent decades have seen a reclaiming of the word “witch.” In the mid-20th century, emerging pagan communities in the United States and Europe began embracing the term, and since then, “witch” has been adopted by a diverse group of people, from practicing Wiccans to feminist activitsts. Major Arcana explores the various ways the notion of witch-ness belongs to those who claim it, representing the witch as a singularly self-sought identity that both empowers and politicizes its bearer.
Each person photographed for Major Arcana (including genderfluid and trans individuals) pursues a form of witchcraft, whether aligned with a religion (like Wicca, Santeria, or Voudou) or a self-defined practice. No two individuals inhabit the term “witch” in quite the same way, but many consider themselves pagan, and engage in a diversity of traditions, including: mysticism, engagement with the occult, politically-oriented activism, polytheism, ritualized “spell-work,” and plant-based healing. Among those included in the series are self-proclaimed green witches, white witches, kitchen witches, hedge witches, sex witches, and cosmic witches. “Witch” is a mutable term, belonging to and embodying a wide spectrum of people. Ultimately, Major Arcana aims to fully reflect that spectrum, re-framing the witch as a feminist archetype as well as the contemporary embodiment of a defiant, unsanctioned femininity. – Frances F. Denny
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