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Pele, Goddess of the Volcano: Selected Work


Pele, Goddess of the Volcano
her behavior erratic and volatile
full of fire and anger
her fury penetrates powerfully
capricious are her moods
she has many faces

My work consists mostly of self-portraits, although I have worked with models in the past. I see my “regular” self-portraits as the basis of my work and I shoot these while listening to my favorite music. I dance and sing with my camera in my hand and submerge myself in waves of sound that draw me into the world in which my images are born. These photos are taken randomly, yet in a controlled manner: the flip-out monitor of my camera allows me to see the results immediately, and this gives me the opportunity to react straightaway. This interaction is crucial, and is the main reason I use digital photography. I do not use Photoshop or the like to manipulate the pictures afterwards; the deformations and effects in the images are reality as captured by the camera.

Alongside the self-portraits I also undertake separate projects portraying someone other than myself, although in most cases I am still the model. I have brought to life, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, from the famous John Keats poem, and in my latest series I have become Pele, Goddess of the Volcano. This is a separate group of images in which I am posing as Pele, the most well known and notorious of all the gods and goddesses in the Hawaiian mythology. I’m impersonating this turbulent lady, getting under her skin and living her in my images. I’ve researched her and voice her liquid personality.

There are many stories about the fiery hot-blooded Pele and in all of them her capricious character is abundantly clear. If you do not obey her she will let you feel her anger, being capable of devouring everything and everyone that gets in her way. She is a patroness of dance and uses this to seduce men - those that fall for her invariably find that her fire cannot be extinguished and oftentimes end up being sucked into Pele’s fiery lava flows. This powerful, seductive Fire Goddess has many forms and can easily melt from one into the other. My series shows her from being dormant to violently erupting.

To create the enchanting colors and atmosphere I projected images onto myself from a National Geographic DVD about volcanoes. During the sessions I listened to Tori Amos’ cd Boys for Pele (said to be her darkest cd) and her anger and pain fueled me. She produced this album when she was about my age, during a very difficult period of her life in which she began to re-examine her own personae. In fact, Tori went to Hawaii to work with a shaman and studied the myths and legends before and during the creation of the album.

On my two trips to the Big Island of Hawaii I myself experienced the magic of Pele. The Fire Goddess now resides in the fire pit of Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on earth, which has been continuously erupting for the past twenty years. 

“When gazing into the depths of hell”, Pele can be seen swimming in the orange-red lava on its flanks. -Mark Twain

Suzanne Banning

March 2006

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Pele, Goddess of the Volcano: Text
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