Cat People, Strippers and Telekinesis: Tales From Alien Abductees By Pete Brook April 27, 2012 | 6:30 am | Categories: Blogs, Photo Gallery, science, space
Alien abductions make for a good sci-fi plot devices, but it's easy to forget that we walk among people -- in the real world -- who claim to have been visited, beamed up and probed by little gray men.
New York photographer Steven Hirsch, 63, has met many of these people face to face. He visited this year's International UFO Conference to meet, photograph and interview people who avow close contact with extraterrestrials.
"I don't want my audience to have any preconceptions about these people before they see my images and read their words," says Hirsch of his Little Sticky Legs project. "My interviews barely break the surface of what is going on in their lives ... or in their minds."
Hirsch, who has freelanced for the New York Post for 18 years, makes a habit of shooting fringe members of society and gleaning their thoughts. Past subjects have included those leaving the Manhattan Criminal Court Building and Crustypunks in the parks of NYC.
For his profile photos and interviews, the fast-talking New Yorker actually shuts up and listens.
"I'm not an analyst, my questions are not intended to find answers but to allow people to tell us their stories. Courthouse Confessions, Crustypunks and Little Sticky Legs are all about storytelling. Their stories, not mine," says Hirsch. "We've become desensitized to the TV sound <membre viril>. With these projects we can stare at the picture. Stare into their eyes. Feel their angst. It's a very simple approach. There's no distractions."
Reports of alien abduction are a relatively new phenomena, with regular accounts emerging only in the 1960s. Estimates on the number of abductions vary wildly, from millions (unlikely) to thousands (more likely). It's safe to say there are hundreds of reported cases in any given year.
Due to a lack of any substantial physical evidence, abduction testimony is widely dismissed. In The Abduction Experience: A Critical Evaluation of Theory and Evidence (.pdf), the late Dr. Stuart Appelle, Professor of Psychology at SUNY Brockport and specialist in perception, wrote, "no theory yet enjoys enough empirical support to be accepted as a general explanation for the abduction experience." Appelle listed psychopathologies, sleep abnormalities, and personality traits such as a proneness to fantasy and suggestibility among potential reasons for the persistence of abduction narratives. Hypnosis treatments, intended to bring details of suppressed memories of abduction back to the surface, also come under criticism for actually implanting false memories in patients instead.
Encounter tales are not told only by people in the margins of society. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former leader of the Russian republic of Kalmykia claims he was visited by a UFO on his balcony in 1997. Last month, Simon Parkes, a British town councilor, told the press his mother was a nine-foot alien.
Hirsch, who has also trained his lens on the homes of sex offenders living on Long Island, is not looking to sugarcoat our world.
“I don’t like people to feel comfortable. My whole life has been edgy. I live in the East Village. [In years gone by] there were drug dealing stores downstairs,” he says.
As a kid, Hirsch didn't know the names of Weegee or any street photographers, but his worldview was likely shaped by their images.
"I’m a hardcore New Yorker. I grew up in Brooklyn. I grew up with the tabloids," he says. "You’d go down to the corner store at 9 p.m. and that’s when the Daily News and the Daily Mirror were on the stands with the day's news. Murders, robberies, fires; papers full of graphic images of mayhem."
Coming full circle, it was through photographing for the popular news himself, that Hirsch first started thinking about alien abductees.
"Many years ago I photographed a UFO convention in Connecticut while on assignment for one of the supermarket tabloids," says Hirsch. "The experience was mind-boggling and stuck with me for decades." This year, he was finally able to get out to Arizona and follow through on his own project.
Much of American UFO lore is based in the southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico, and Hirsch has traveled many times through desert towns full of unique characters. For him, the distance between New York City and way out west is measured in more than just miles; it's measured in attitude and psyche.
"The Southwest landscape effects the way people think. It’s trippy out there," he says. "In New York you have no sense of the universe, but in the Southwest you can’t avoid the sky; you get a sense of scale of -- and an intimacy with -- the universe."