MIYELO (series)

Panoramic pictures, showing Lakota Dancers performing the Ghost Dance. They turn more and more blurred with the increasing numbers, untill they become totally abstract.


date: March 2003
location: California, (Dumont Dunes?) USA
camera: panoramic Hasselblad (Hasselblad XPan 24X65?)
Published in: 45301 (3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12,13 14), Miyelo (3-15)
Exhibitedat: Ephëmeris / Odense, (11, 4, 9), For Wellington / Massey Univ. (4, 9)


means: This is I in Lakota (Sioux) language, from Lakota Ghost Dance Song. More in the Glossary



Blures   light bleeding   sprocket shadows   solarisation

One effect I can really understand, aside solarisation, is the fact that the images seem to get darker on the sides -- actually it is a flaw of panoramic cameras that the sides of the image get less light than the central part. The weird colors and why the shadows on the sides are blue remain a mystery though. In general the longer the exposition the more blue is in the photos. Strange.



Made on the set of the movie Hidalgo

From The Stephen Cohen Gallery webpage on Miyelo exhibition

Miyelo is comprised of a series of large-scale, panoramic photographs of a Lakota Ghost Dance. They record a re-creation of the dance that was originally performed by members of Chief Big Foot's band on December 29, 1890 near Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota. These long exposures represent what was intended as a hallucination by a veteran of the Wounded Knee Massacre, as shot in the California Desert in March 2003 for the movie Hidalgo. The intent was to capture the event as a delirious remembrance, an ephemeral dream. The artist hopes these images might illustrate his belief that regardless of the context of any specific time or place, "we communicate, at best, as outlines and silhouettes to each other; blurry vanishing tracings of what we really see, feel and mean."

From The man who would be king by Scott Thill, Salon.com, October 2003

VM: (...) the idea came from a scene in the movie called Hidalgo where the character I play, who's at the end of his energies and in the middle of nowhere without any water or hope left, begins to hallucinate. In a delirious state, he starts to hear these voices and see these fragments of people. I wondered how one would use a still camera to represent images of the ephemeral dancers in wide-open, empty landscape -- how the ghosts of Ghost Dancers might look. So I really approached it as an exercise. In the end, I didn't actually use my own camera. I wanted to include more of the landscape, and Richard Cartwright, a very fine photographer who was shooting the official stills for the movie, was kind enough to lend me his panoramic Hasselblad camera.

(...) I shot the one roll of film at different settings, with increasingly longer exposures. The sun was very bright, so I was hoping to get one interesting image from the roll. Luckily, this was one of those rare situations where intentionally doing "the wrong thing" with the camera worked in an interesting way. As conscious an exercise as making these particular pictures was, there are accidents in the images -- weird spots, unexpected areas of saturation and contrast variations -- strange things that I couldn't see when shooting and still cannot really explain. The longer the exposure, the more room for surprises. I like the fact that even with a medium as supposedly controlled and predictable as photography is meant to be, there still is mystery in the results. You won't necessarily be sure what you will get, where you are going.

(...) I was initially inspired to do it partly from what I heard about the Ghost Dance, but more by the serious way that the dancers and singers had prepared for the scene. The dance had been performed once before in South Dakota, and now we were in the middle of the California desert trying it again, as a sort of mirage, a distorted memory. Just as they had done for the Wounded Knee reenactment, the dancers took their responsibilities in the ritual very seriously; there was an atmosphere that was created through the sheer earnestness of their effort. It transcended anything else that was going on with regard to the filming of the scene. When the dancers had finished and it became my turn to be filmed observing the dance, a pair of dust devils and weird crosswinds suddenly blew in on what had been a completely still day. As soon as the last take of the scene had been shot, the winds instantly and completely ceased, leaving everyone and everything calm and silent for several moments.

(...) I wanted to remember it. In taking the pictures, I wanted to join it rather than observe from a distance. Or at least to take pictures in the spirit of the event itself.

From Seeing Ghosts, by Lonny Pugh, Movieline - Hollywood Life, Nov 2003

"The reenactment was very powerful. Some of the performers can trace their family back to people who'd been present that day. It was interesting to witness the focus and the feeling, the intensity that was coming off them."

During production on his new film Hidalgo, a horse-racing epic set in the dusk of the 19th century, star Viggo Mortensen - who is also a well-known painter, poet and photographer - was so moved by the reenactment of an Indian ritual known as the Ghost Dance for the movie that he had to capture it on film himself. The resulting panoramic photos, utilizing dreamlike long-exposures, have been collected in a new book Miyelo, published by Perceval Press.

"When you have these figures, these humans, moving," says Mortensen of his surreal technique, "you can see the echoes of their movements, their residue as they're moving through frame... It makes their presence sometimes so thin that they become one with the landscape, one with the air."

It helps that his photos capture moments that are part memory but also part hallucination. In Hidalgo, Mortensen plays a Pony Express courier who travels to Saudi Arabia to compete in a dangerous race; as filmed by director Joe Johnston and cinematoragrapher Shelly Johnson, his remembrance of the aftermath of the Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee Massacre "comes back to haunt him at that time, very far away from the original event, geographically and in every other way." The actor's snaps between takes represents his own attempt at capturing, "without interfering, what they were doing, and to incorporate them into the landscape."


From The Other Side of Viggo Mortensen by Paul Young, VLife, October 6, 2003

"I wanted to get the feeling of moment," says Mortensen about a dance by American Indians he shot during the course of the movie." But I wanted to capture the feeling rather than a simple document. And by using this technique, by using a long exposure like this, it sorta made them blended into the landscape and become transparent, which was the idea."

That blurring technique shows up in a lot of Mortensen's photographs. "Actually that's how we see things," he says half-jokingly. "I mean, when you turn your head, that's what you see; you see blurs. But your brain constantly calibrates everything to make you think. 'It's all fine. You're OK. The world is not chaos.' Yet, in fact it is!"
He laughs at that, and then adds, "Basically we're all in denial. This is what life really looks like."

From Viggo Mortensen on photography, art and politics, Q&A, The House of Telcontar, Oct 2003

Q: Each Miyelo series has very strong colors and some have "lines of light", for example, Miyelo 9 and 12. Especially in Miyelo 12, the shape of the line is quite similar to the Hiragana character "Hi", which means fire, flame or the Sun in the Japanese language. How did you put these intense colors and lines of light in your works? Do you make them only with the camera? Or do you use other methods such as Photoshop?

A: The Miyelo photographs are essentially prints faithful to the photographic transparencies. Although I technically can explain what I was trying to accomplish out in the desert with the camera, and can understand most of the results, some of the aspects of the images, such as the dotted lines, are a mystery to me. The lines of light you refer to are a result of using a long exposure to "pull" the sunlight in different directions. It is interesting how we can sometimes unconsciously connect to the symbolic imagery that might be specific to a given culture or cultures. When I first arrived in New Zealand, for example, I was surprised and pleased to recognise a lot of the designs in traditional Maori art as being similar to forms in some of my own paintings and photographs. This all probably has to do with the fact that, regardless of whether we have knowingly made any comparative mythology studies or not, we as human beings have much more in common with each other and with those who came before us than not.

  From Fearless By Grazia d'Annunzio, L'Uomo Vogue, April 2004

Viggo himself, a passionate advocate of civil and human rights, while shooting in South Dakota was so impressed by an Indian ritual dance, the Ghost Dance, that he decided to frame it in 13 stills, that is, with only one film, he states, using a panoramic camera, as suggested by my friend Richard Cartwright, the movie's still photographer.

Read about the MIyelo book



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EOS: Miyelo pictures were my first encounter with meanings beyond the titles in VM's work and the most significant example of how the background knowledge can be important to the perception. Probably I wouldn't start my own research, if I haven't read Maike's Odense report:

"We asked Pilar Perez for the meaning of Mielo, and she replied, "In Lakota, it means 'It is I' and is from a Ghost dance song." In the photos Mielo 11, 4, and 9 you see figures moving, and a lot of empty space, the feeling of wide plains, deep memories."

The discussions on the many VM boards soon came to that topic, along with some links I also found a CD which had been om my shelf for a long time: Music for Native Americans by Robbie Robertson. (Lyrics here). Another Ghost Song was written by Jim Morrison. The second has no direct connection to the Native American history, but those lines surely ring a bell:

enter again the sweet forest,
enter the hot dream,
come with us.
everything is broken up, and dances.
      The Doors, Ghost Song

There are quite many ways to "read" those pictures, but those thoughts came after I read more about the Ghost Dance. Those silhouettes are ghosts -- of history and of its victims. Ghosts that should come back from the other world as the prophecy said. Also the actors performers try to embody the ghosts of the past. The filming itself was a mystery to call up ghosts too.

Especially the Miyelos 9, 10 and 11 show blurred vertical lines that seem to connect earth and sky/heaven, material and spiritual world. Remembering Odense Exhibition I was convinced that there is a logical connection between Miyelos and the Wounded Knee Hindsight series -- After the massacre it is all that left -- the ghosts.

I was also said in Odense that looking at Miyelo 9 one cannot say if the silhouettes are humans or animals, and that tells us, that there is no real difference -- we all are parts of the same world.