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Mysterious desolation in Qatar. Photo: Kristin Giordano.

“Stories of the Desert” and “Tacoma Artist Playing Cards” – photographs by Kristin Giordano through February 16, 2014.

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In the desert there is a woman whose face is so beautiful that you cannot look upon it or you will be turned to stone.

This story of a desert-dwelling spirit was told by a young Muslim student to photographer Kristin Giordano as she worked on a project called “Stories of the Desert”, in Qatar. “I have always been fascinated by the supernatural. Living in Qatar, I became intrigued by local tales of djinn, better known in the West as genies. I visited a classroom at Qatar University to collect stories about djinn” – and she ventured out into the desert to try and capture the phenomena with her camera.

Two of Giordano’s haunting photos (not shown on this page) are now on exhibit at Moss + Mineral. Also on view through February 16 are her framed photos of the local landscape featured in the Tacoma Artist Playing Cards.

For “Stories of the Desert”, the Tacoma-based photographer asked young Muslim women from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Bosnia for stories of encounters with djinn, which are still considered dangerous entities that interact with the living today.

Doors best left unopened? A photograph from Giordano's "Palace" series.

Doors best left unopened? A photograph from Giordano’s “Palace” series.

A husband and wife were driving on a desert road and saw an apparition on the roadside, a woman in a black abaya that was blowing in the wind. They stopped to give her a ride, and once inside the car, the wife looked down and realized that the woman’s feet were on backwards.

“Some of the girls at the university are frightened and do not want to speak of djinn for fear of attracting their unwanted attentions,” says Giordano. “Others scoff at them as superstition. One of the students is unafraid, because she is a devout Muslim and thus protected by Allah.

“The girls who believe that djinn are real say a bismillah when they enter a bathroom or an abandoned house. Stories abound: A cousin whose hair turned white after encountering a djinn in an abandoned house. A black cat that disappeared down a toilet. ‘Djinn were created by Allah, it is in the Koran,’ they tell you. Like vampires, they cast no reflection. They may have the feet of a goat. In Egypt, they are said to marry humans. They are immortal. [Alternatively] they have human lifespans. They don’t like salt.

Djinn reside in abandoned houses and villages. If a house is abandoned for more than 40 days, djinn will take up residence. Animal bones are evidence of djinn. They can also take animal form – cats, snakes, scorpions, ants, and birds.”

Giordano chose to shoot with a panoramic pinhole camera, which is a lens-less camera similar to a camera obscura. “When you create a completely light-less box with only a tiny, pinprick aperture, this light will create an inverted projection on the opposite wall of the box,” she explains. Fully armed, she ventured out to sites that she imagined might be inhabited by the spirits, and started shooting. “When I developed the film I noticed on some images a strange, smoke-like apparition.” She was quickly dumbfounded: “It first appears in a doorway in an abandoned village. There are two images of a pyramid pile of roadside rubble, made within moments of each other. In one image, the rubble is normal, a pile of rocks. In another, a strange light emanates from the rocks and floats upward.” This is the pair of photographs on view at Moss + Mineral. The apparition “almost looks like a winged creature.

“’Djinn were created by Allah from smokeless fire,’ the girls had told me. ‘It is in the Koran.’ I am at once excited and slightly freaked out. It’s probably just an effect of the sunlight hitting the film, something like a lens flare.” But she emailed the images to a few friends. The response from one, Ian, came quickly. “‘You do not want to fuck with this stuff.’ I can almost see the expression on his face as he would later speak the words again, eyebrows raised, eyes boring into me.”  ~ Lisa Kinoshita

Kristin Giordano, “Stories of the Desert” and “Tacoma Artist Playing Cards”, on view at M+M through February 16.

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