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Mylar Magic: The Photography of Ira Cohen

Between 1968 and 1971 the poet, photographer and filmmaker Ira Cohen created the Mylar Chamber; a theatrical ritual space where light danced and reality distorted. These experiments produced some of the most mythic images of the 1960’s and more than 70 photographs from this intensely creative period can be found in the FULGUR title Into the Mylar Chamber. In this interview Allan Graubard discusses with  FULGUR’s Ellen Hausner the story behind the book; giving great insights and personal antidotes about Ira Cohen the photographer, ‘multimedia shaman’ and friend.

EH: Let’s start with you telling me how this project came about.

AG: Robert Shehu-Ansell, the publisher of Fulgur Press, sent me a note suggesting that he wanted to broaden the compass of publications at Fulgur to include surrealist and similar artists, and did I have any suggestions? I told him I did, and that we could discuss it when we met; we were to meet in London shortly anyway. So we met at this café near the British Museum, and when he asked me the question again, I looked at him and said ‘Robert, you know as well as I do who that person is because you’ve already published on him in Abraxas. It’s Ira Cohen and his Mylar Chamber photographs!’ And he agreed. As we shook hands, I asked him if he wished to draw blood, which we laughed at…

EH: Wished to draw blood? What do you mean?

AG: A Native American handshake: blood brothers. We didn’t have a contract and nothing was written down, so I thought if we pricked each other and traded blood [laughs]… I thought that would appeal to his magical sensibility. But just as background, I had met Robert several years before, when he got in touch with me through a person by the name of Will Swofford[1], who was archiving Ira Cohen’s photographs and also the recordings that Ira had made over the years, and then working with him to finalise what is now the film Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda. I think it was through Edwin Pouncey that Robert heard about Ira Cohen, and I suggested when he came to visit me that he visit Ira. I called Ira up and said ‘Robert Ansell, this publisher, wants to meet you’.

Ira Cohen, New York City, NY. Early 1990s.

[1] Will Swofford sought Ira out after graduating from Wesleyan University. He helped Ira in a number of ways. He was also a curator of the photography exhibition that Ira held at October Gallery, London, in 2007, and Will produced many of the images in large scale for Ira.

EH: And what year is this?

AG: You know I’m not absolutely sure of the year. It was prior to that Abraxas that came out with the Mylar Chamber image on the cover [Abraxas #2, June 2012]. So that’s how the project began. And I’m happy that Robert was able to meet Ira Cohen, but also at a time when Ira was fading. He had been in the hospital and in recuperation for quite a while because of strokes, and had just returned to his then clean and empty apartment. I mention that because Ira Cohen’s apartment prior to this time was filled with all that he had done and all he was interested in: his CDs and books; his friends’ books—which were many, many of them major poets and writers; his photographs; letters to many different people—Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin[2]…you could barely move in that apartment. Seriously! It was packed. Unfortunately, Ira Cohen was the victim of a bedbug infestation which required a very extensive cleaning operation and the removal of all books, art, manuscripts, and all photographs for a special kind of vacuum fumigation. Now this happened twice. So Robert visited Ira between the first time it happened, and then it happened again. Ira Cohen’s physical demise I lay partly to infection caused by bedbug bites. He was diabetic, and the only exercise Ira did was walking—he was an astonishing walker. So when Robert met him he came in to an empty apartment that had white walls, because they had been repainted [laughs]—so he didn’t see the citadel of extraordinary visions that were packed into loose-leaf binders etc. all over the place.

[2] Brion Gysin: artist, writer, performer, adventurer extraordinaire; creator of the ‘Dreamachine’; collaborator with William Burroughs on the cut-up method of composing texts.

EH: And how did you yourself meet Ira?

AG: Well, I met Ira in the early 1980s via a close friend of mine, the composer/musician Richard Horowitz, who did the indigenous music for the Bertolucci film Sheltering Sky. Richard lived in Morocco for a good long time where he became a virtuoso on the nye.[3] He knew Paul Bowles very well; actually Paul supported Richard for musical grant requests and things like that. Richard also knew Brion Gysin pretty well and he knew Ira Cohen. So Richard called me up one day and said ‘I want you to meet Ira Cohen’. He took me down to a Lower East Side café. When I walked in, I saw this bearded handsome fellow surrounded by a bevy of beautiful younger women, taking centre stage, as he normally did. Ira was a great talker, an exceptional presence, and he usually took over a room when he was in it. In any event, I wasn’t as impressed as his immediate audience was; and although Ira and I traded the names of the people we knew mutually—surrealist poets mostly—I thought that he was a bit too extreme for my taste. I didn’t see him again until the early 1990s, when we met at the gallery of Guillaume Gallozzi[4] on Houston Street, right by Film Forum, quite near where I worked. I would drop by the gallery now and then – Guillaume and I had become friends — and there was Ira, showing Guillaume photographs he had taken of Ornette Coleman, Brion Gysin, and others for use in an exhibition that Guillaume was soon to mount. There, we began talking in depth, quite cordially, and of course at the exhibition openings, which were splendid, lavish affairs.

One afternoon, it must have been 1996 or 97, something like that, I was on a crosstown bus and I saw Ira Cohen on the street in a Moroccan caftan, walking toward the bus stop. I thought ‘how wonderful, a chance meeting with Ira Cohen on the bus!’. The door opened, Ira looked into the bus and did not board the bus. The door closed and the bus took off. I thought ‘he didn’t board the bus because he didn’t have the money to pay the fare’. So I got off at the next stop, which was right down the block, and walked back toward him. Ira was crying, and muttering to himself ‘how did I get into this hell?’. He had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I took him to a nearby Greek coffee shop—one of those cheap Greek coffee shops that were popular in New York—and we talked for an hour or two. I calmed him down, we parted, and then he sent me one of his books; I sent him one of my books, and finally one night I said, oh what the hell, I’m just going over there. I went up to his apartment and we became very close friends very quickly. That’s how I met him.

Prepping for the Mylar Chamber photo shoot
(Ira Cohen)

[3] The traditional, Moroccan oblique reed flute.

[4] Guillaume Gallozzi was a fascinating guy who exhibited and dealt in major English surrealist and 20th century romantic artists. He lived in his gallery: a big, three-story brownstone with a backyard. His exhibition openings were the best: great art, interesting crowd, beautiful women, fine champagne…He was the godchild of Julien Levy, who opened the first surrealist gallery in NYC in the 1930s, and carried on that tradition in high style until his tragic death.

EH: And when you first started your friendship with him, and through the time that you were developing your friendship, were you aware of him more as a writer and a poet? Were you aware of his visual work?

AG: I was not aware of his experiments in the Mylar Chamber, I was aware of him as a poet—not so much as a photographer but as an artist, too. I also knew him as a lynchpin of the underground, international avant-garde; his reputation preceded him. But I did not share his appreciation of most of the poets that he hung out with. So there were some differences between how we viewed the literary scene and people who were important, and some similarities; and the latter became much more prominent as we got to know each other better.

EH: And do you think he regarded himself more as a poet than a photographer or more than a visual artist? Up until now, when people think of Ira Cohen they often think of the poetry, and that’s changing, but I’m wondering if that’s because he put that image out, or if that’s something that just happened naturally.

AG: Two answers: the easy answer is that he called himself neither poet nor photographer, but a ‘multimedia shaman’. That’s the quick answer. And what is that? Something to consider, and it could be a good number of things, but certainly connected to the time in which he came up, when the term ‘multimedia’ was a term that the avant-garde used in their happenings, their theatre works, their art, which is the 1960s and 70s before the digital age. The other answer is that Ira was known as a poet and a publisher who had brought this magazine, initially called Gnaoua, into the world, which I first saw on that Bob Dylan record cover where it’s leaning up on the mantelpiece, an early Bob Dylan record [Bringing It All Back Home]. But he was known as that, and as a player in avant-garde literature. Did I read his poetry when I first met him? A little bit, but not thoroughly. Then I read all his poetry and other texts he had written and published, or not published.

EH: So you came to know the visual side of this work through your friendship and relationship with him? It became revealed with time?

AG: Yes, when I walked into the apartment, he had an extraordinary photo of one of the founders of Butoh, Kazuo Ohno, on the wall, blown up big—an extraordinary photograph. So Kazuo at that time was in his eighties, and he and Ira knew each other, which I thought was quite interesting. And then I found out that Ira was friends with my most important collaborator, the conductor/composer Lawrence D. Butch Morris, and that opened my eyes a bit. Unfortunately, both are gone now, but that helped to facilitate my greater interest in who this man actually was and what he did.

EH: Now I’d like to turn to some aspects of the work which were discussed throughout the book. In the book, in the interview he does with Ira Landgarten, he refers to Marvel Comics, and he also refers to Chinese film, to fairy tales. So his influences seem to come from many different places. He’s clearly extremely well read and very cultivated, but it’s very interesting to me that he was also influenced by a sort of more pop culture, like Marvel comics. I wonder if you had any thoughts about that; what I sort of see as in a way—this is in quotes—as ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, if you see what I mean. So very influenced by philosophy, artists, sophisticated thought, very fine art forms of all kinds; and the same time, loving comics.

AG: Well, Ira was a true alchemist of the word and the image. And in alchemy of course, the low is precedent to the high. Without the low, the base matter, you cannot transmute lead into gold. What is the fructifying element? The word alchemy itself is al- and then –kemi: which, in ancient Egyptian, refers to the black mud of the Nile — the rich dirt deposited by the river that enables growth: crops, food, and so on. For Ira there was no distinction between the attraction of looking at a painting by Titian or in reading a comic about Baron Mordo. He appreciated both equally and also for the fact that popular art had such a large audience. He was not supercilious in any way about art or poetry. And I think that his inspirations came from comic books, and those cheap swordplay movies. Martial arts films from China were first hitting New York in those years—and you saw them in movie theatres in Chinatown, mostly attended by Chinese. Now, of course, you see them many different places. It was a big movie genre. But then you were in Chinatown and you went to the movie theatre with Chinese people who were watching these films coming out of Shanghai or Beijing or Hong Kong, wherever they came from. But no, Ira was very attuned to the attractions of popular culture and what we think of now as ‘high’ culture, but those differences were soon pretty much to vanish as Pop and Minimalism came to the fore in this country [USA]. I think Ira was in the forefront of that. And also it came via his relationship with Jack Smith. That was essential, because Jack loved what we would consider kitsch Hollywood movies, and at the same time one of the most important Surrealist films, Rose Hobart by Joseph Cornell, is based on one of those kitsch Hollywood movies which inspired Jack extraordinarily. Ira worked with Jack as an assistant and then as a colleague on a film, and Jack was also present at least in the first sequence of Mylar Chamber photographs, playing Count Norebo, which is Oberon spelled backwards, because Jack Smith wanted to play Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was his fantasy—I don’t think he ever did. So those are the influences that inspired Ira’s interest in popular culture and culture in general.

Prepping for the Mylar Chamber photo shoot
(Ira Cohen & Angus MacLise)

EH: And it was also no doubt his upbringing. Everybody growing up is surrounded by their own pop culture and is very affected by that, presumably. I’m guessing that’s some of it—that he grew up with some of this material.

AG: I’m sure he did. You know, thinking about it, when we spoke about his past, he usually referred to his parents and his parents’ friends[5], and how he would get along with them speaking sign when they came over, and he has that wonderful phrase ‘they sounded like love birds cooing to each other’ when they did try to pronounce words. But he did not discuss too much else about his early youth. I should add that he grew up in the Bronx near the area I grew up in. He’s from a previous generation. But one experience he did tell me about was quite a stunning memory. Down the street from my apartment house on 1100 Grand Concourse –Grand Concourse is the widest street in New York, it was planned after the Champs-Élysées [laughs]—and this is bourgeois, mostly Jewish Bronx at this time, the 1950s, although surrounded by different ethnicities and other groups of people. Down the street was a place we called ‘The Rocks’, because it was an empty lot with big boulders in it. My brother and me, and our friends, would play there. Ira knew that place as well. He didn’t play there, but one day he said he found a brown paper bag. And when he opened it up, there was a human embryo. Some woman had done an abortion and left it there.

EH: Wow.

AG: I’ll never forget that … and I have had the opportunity to go back to that particular place because on that lot was built the Bronx Museum of Art. Last summer, my friend and colleague (also in the book) Alice Farley did some astonishing dance theatre performances there. The museum is on that spot. But beyond that, Ira did not really talk about his past except going into Manhattan, you know, as a kid, like I did: wander around Times Square, go to the penny arcade, eat some cheap greasy Italian food, check out the theatres, find a bookshop, things like that. He also mentioned, when he got somewhat older, college age, when he went to Cornell and came back to Columbia University, frequenting the jazz clubs on 52nd Street. Some of them were still there—Birdland was still there. Those were essential experiences for him in what was, or just had been, a very popular music: jazz. It wasn’t cloistered or marginalised as it became when R&B really hit for young white audiences as Rock ‘n Roll.

[5] Ira’s parents were deaf, as were most of their friends.

EH: I’d like to talk now about a central and very big subject: the mirror, because this is so key to the Mylar series. And there are so many meanings that are described and referred to and implied and discussed in this book about mirrors, and all the different ways they are used and seen in the work. So I’ll just name some of them and maybe we can just have a discussion about it. Mirror reflections to do with scrying, so the black mirror of John Dee; the difference between ‘opaque reflective water’ versus ‘transparent refractive water’ [from p. 24 of Into the Mylar Chamber]; mirrors as passageways to the underworld; mirrors as magical apparatus; mirror of the psyche; mirror as creation of sinister Doppelgangers, so the goetic, demonic side; mirrors as protective objects, guarding against psychic disruption or disillusion; and the Jungian side, so the mirror of the psyche and the idea of a mirror being something that reflects back the self but also something that one looks through. So it’s this amazingly rich image, working from so many different traditions. And since you worked on this book and spent so much time immersed in it, I wondered if you had impressions or thoughts about that, and how he used them, what the most important aspects were to him, what he thought about it, what you think about it.

AG: It’s a large subject! I should preface this by saying when I first began doing actual research on the book, my first area of research was the history of the development of mirrors. And I note that very briefly in my article in the book, in terms of the mirror’s use as an emblem for a deity in ancient Egyptian religion; the mirror’s use as a medium for fascination and death, à la Narcissus in Greek myth; the mirror’s use as a medium for endless reflections of beauty; the mirror’s use as a medium for divination (you mentioned the black obsidian mirror of John Dee) and scrying; and the mirror’s prefiguration of death given the development of the stilled reflection in a photo. Prior to the development of photography, the mirror was not seen so much as a doorway into death, but a photograph captures a moment and then extracts it from the flow of time, which is one metaphor for death. For Ira, divination was very significant, both as a medium of discussion about how to live, where to go next, and how to write and what to write about vis-à-vis several feeding sources, one of which was his study of the esoteric character of divination—scrying is one of them; the fascination of looking at a reflective surface that glitters, which is quite easy, you just look at the water on a sunny day and it glitters. If you look at it long enough, or at least this happens to me, from the corners of my eye I sense beings: ephemeral, visual content that I usually cannot identify. But I have always thought that if you did practise that form of envisioning – is it divination? Perhaps it can become divination – well, it’s very common…all you need is water and sun…you would find a way to clarify unconscious impulses that would then appear; very much like a poet does when the poet reveals unconscious impulses on the page. There isn’t that much difference between the two exercises. Ira was not afraid of mirrors—some people are. He used mirrors and mirroring to create marvellous images.

White Snake (Robert LaVigne and unknown Participant)

EH: But he wasn’t scared of mirrors?

AG: No, he wasn’t like that. He didn’t have that paranoia in regard to the reflected image. I think what is most significant about Ira’s relationship to mirrors is that the Mylar Chamber photographs are really reflections of reflections. And that is extremely important in signifying how younger viewers of this book can really identify with this process, because we call this ‘virtual image’, but for Ira it was just photographing the reflection off a sheet of Mylar, which usually deformed the person reflected … then set in another reflection which was the developed photograph. I think that ties these photos to our contemporary thinking, rather than seeing these photos as eccentric, fascinating works of art about a time which no longer exists. In terms of the phrase ‘still reflective water, transparent refractive water’, when I wrote that phrase I was simply remembering something that happened when I was 17. I went into a pool and I had a stick with me—it’s something kids do, too, they see the reflection of the stick bent in the water, it’s just that way, and to me the birth of the mirror comes from a human being staring at him or herself in the water. Put your hand in it and it ripples out and deforms it. In a certain kind of way, the Mylar Chamber photographs are that deformation, which makes it a very common, simple thing, as well as it being done in real time: just the snap of a shutter, no darkroom effects. And certainly no digital effects because that world didn’t even exist then. But the birth of the mirror and how it appears in art is a very compelling subject, and certainly the Mylar Chamber photographs are in that context, they come from that context: of how artists used mirrors and mirroring in their work, which is very important to their work, and sometimes implicit in the work and sometimes explicit in the work. Looking at a Mylar Chamber photograph, it’s very easy to not recognise the fact that this is a photograph of a reflection, rather than just a photograph. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror, if you put another mirror behind your head, you would see yourself reflected infinitely. And I think that is one of the factors that interested Ira as well: how to touch the infinite through these visualisations on a piece of paper with some chemicals on it–which was also quite an explicit desire of his poetry. One fed the other. Just as reading Electro fighting Magneto in a Marvel comic book he read in the same light as he read Robert Graves’ White Goddess. No difference. They both fed the same desire, which was to reveal mythic elements in daily life, and to construct from those elements a new way of living, or an expanded way of living. That was the utopian desire of the counterculture, however much it succeeded and failed to succeed. And I also think that those times, that decade–in my mind, in the 20th century there are two decades where cultural rebellion reaches quite a height: one is in the 1920s post-World War I, and then of course the Depression hits, and heinous political currents begin their ascendancy, such as fascism and Stalinism; and in the 1960s as the American imperium reaches its height of power, politically, economically, and culturally. So discussing mirrors is a very, very interesting subject.

EH: It is, and it was begging to talked about. It’s impossible to not refer to that when looking at this work, because as you say it is about reflection, it’s about double reflection, it’s not about tricks at all in fact, it’s simply what’s reflected. But the composition is something that Ira worked on as an artist: what clothes to put people in or not to put people in, did he want people naked or not, did he want to present certain mythological characters or not—some characters are much more specific, and some other work is much more vague, much more ephemeral, subconscious, whereas some others are telling specific tales. So he really played with the medium. It’s clear he experimented with what could be expressed in this medium.

AG: Yes, he certainly did because it was a new medium and he was one if its first explorers in the way that he did it. No one had ever constructed a Mylar Chamber. He had precursors of course in photography who did use distorting lenses or shot subjects in mirrors that distorted them. And then of course, perhaps the most popular basis of his inspiration of the Mylar Chamber were the distorting mirrors in fun houses, like in Coney Island, which he also went to when he was a kid. What did you do? You went into the fun house and you saw yourself distorted in those mirrors and you made of fun yourself. It didn’t mean too much. But then again, for that first audience, the motion picture didn’t mean that much either, it was just a sideline, and then look at what it became.

EH: That brings us to what we were saying before about the ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. As you say, it’s all one and it’s all valid food for inspiration for an artist. When I think of Coney Island, I think of popular, right? This is where everybody wanted to go. And yet it created that food for thought for Ira; it gave some of that inspiration to him to create these beautiful pieces.

AG: I think also you should note the period too. In the early 1950s, late 50s, Ira was about ready to go to college. I was a kid. But what did we read? We read comic books and we read Mad Magazine, a very popular comic book. But a satirical comic book that deformed reality for purposes of laughter and humour. But there was critique in those Mad Magazine comics. And they were extremely popular. People got more clarity about their lives than they did by reading the newspaper because it was humoresque. Comedy takes off the king’s cape and you see him naked for the first time!

Jhil Prism (Jhil McEntyre)

EH: And you think that fed also into the work?

AG: Oh yes, there’s no doubt about it. There’s humour in the Mylar Chamber photographs as well as great marvels and some mysteries, its ambiguities, sometime lack of concision—which are not negatives, but inducements.

EH: In some way I think we’re coming to a new understanding and appreciation of these pictures. I think in the past they were seen very much as a 1960s psychedelic drug expression. They were put in a category of lots of other art from that time without fully appreciating them because it was easy to say they were simply psychedelic drug pictures. And only recently have people understood that they should be taken more seriously and seen as artworks in their own right, and this book is a chance for us to really examine them and to see them all together as a body of work. Have you any thoughts about that?

AG: I can say something about that. One, for those people who see these images as paradigmatic of the 1960s drug culture, I wonder how many of them have actually taken psychoactive substances. Because if they have, and it was a good trip, with LSD or psilocybin or mescaline or peyote or whatever else they took, they would not say that. They would realise that these experiences were exceptional visionary experiences, with synaesthesia, and also highly emotional. So if anyone ever gave me that: ‘oh, these are just psychedelic images’, I’d ask them ‘have you ever take psychedelics? If you did, you probably wouldn’t say that! You would probably say something to the effect that ah, these photographs remind me of those extraordinary trips I took; let me tell you about them.’ And then you could return to the photos. The photographs come from the 1960s, they partake of the counterculture of the 1960s, they’re from that era, they portray that era, they present that era. Do the works sustain decades later? That’s the real question. And for me, they do. Does a piece of music sustain a hundred years after it’s played? Will a film sustain fifty years later? Or a Broadway play? Or a book? Tastes come and go, things appear that seem to have been lost, but these photos return both these reflections and also something which is of great consequence then and today: that is to say, this was a collective adventure. Did Ira dictate the dress? In some degree he did; in another degree, it’s what his players came in with, and what his girlfriend, Rosalind Schwartz, sewed—because she created most of the costumes. So chance came into it a good deal in terms of what was the costume. For example, the great photograph of William Burroughs with that snake—who brought the snake in? Did Bill bring it in? Did Ira have it laying around in the loft? Or did someone else bring it in and say ‘here, Bill, hold the snake!’ [laughs] So yes, they partake of the 1960s; they also supersede the constraints of the culture of the 1960s because they still speak to us today about the manipulations possible in virtual reality. And the difference, which is essential, Ira was doing this real time. Virtual reality is done on a computer: virtual time. It’s the difference between seeing a play as filmed and going to the theatre and seeing it live. And I will never be satisfied by watching plays on screen (although I’m doing that now in my isolation [during the coronavirus pandemic])!

EH: Ian MacFayden says [p. 132 of Into the Mylar Chamber] that ‘Ira’s Mylar work is part of this tradition of apparitional photography–La Photographie Transcendentale.’ Is that something you could talk about?

Title Unknown (Charles Ludlam)

AG: A little bit, yes. The apparitional photography that Ian, I believe, is referring to is a kind of spirit photography that became popular as the medium developed. You have to remember this occurs, historically, after Mesmerism, which attracted a cult following in Europe just prior to the French Revolution, and then develops for decades in different forms. Finally, there’s photography, a new technology, which can give visual evidence of the kinds of somatic experiences that the Mesmerics had, and also in séances, and the largesse of organisations like the Society for Psychical Research which published a number of books about apparitional phenomena. Ira’s interest is a bit more expansive than that because he was quite compelled by shamanic experience and read a good deal—probably mostly after the Mylar Chamber period but read some before on the experiences of shamans and their use of mirrors in the shamanic experience when they’re trying to cure someone who has a spiritual or physical illness.

EH: So it’s still the idea of spiritual photography but from a different tradition, or a different source in a way?

AG: Yes. Ian discusses in the article some astonishing photos that were supposedly spirit photographs but there seemed to be no manipulation: these were just negatives left out to develop whatever light source they could and the light source when developed seemed to be visually metaphoric to the kind of spiritual images in vogue then. I’ve seen a few of them, they’re streaks and sparks of light that have a certain kind of figuration but not clear, it’s ambiguous, which allows the viewer to read into the configuration whatever he or she wants. So yeah, that was true, too. And also, Ian makes a broader statement about Ira also desiring—however much he recognised that desire then or not—to provide a record of that moment in his life of people who later died. So that, years on, he could look back on the photograph of Angus MacLise, of Harold Norse, and of many others in those photographs. These are now like spirit photographs: they capture some essential aspect of that moment for that person in that context, which we can use, for example, if we want to listen to Angus’s music or read his extraordinary poetry (which really needs to be published), or look at Harold Norse’s poems and so forth … I think it’s Harold in that photograph of a half-nude man, ambiguous, with a very long penis in the book—but it’s a frightening image. To me it’s an image of death, but also the image of death via sexuality and eroticism, and those relationships have a great library behind them. Love as death of a certain kind, sex as love, and the aspect of death, making it all poignant. Without death, that negation, I don’t think we would be capable of thinking or feeling too much.

Prepping for the Mylar Chamber photo shoot.
(Title and participants unknown)

EH: So the connection between love, sex, and death: how death allows love and sex to be?

AG: Yes. We know we’re going to end, so we want things to burn at a very high temperature emotionally to give us a sense of living. And I think those photographs are quite sensitive to that nexus, at least the way I view them. They’re very sexy—the women are very sexy.

EH: Is there anything you would like to add to FULGUR readers?

AG: I would refer readers to the last statement in the article that I wrote that’s in the book which says that ‘madness is not the apotheosis of reality by hallucination, but the eradication of reality from the hallucinations we have, however subtly or tenderly or brutally they appear to us’ [p. 26 of Into the Mylar Chamber]. Meaning simply to say that hallucination is an essential aspect of our perceptive systems, our characters and our emotions; we see things as we want to see them more than seeing things as ‘they are’. And thus when we eradicate our humanity from how we see things, we’re the ones who lose. I think these photos capture states that are comparable to hallucination and thus they capture what’s really true about us. And that’s why I think this book is important.

Cellophane Maja
(Participant unknown)