Elf Life

Elves are back in style. Of course, to the average role-playing game enthusiast, they never went out. But those not accustomed to spending waking hours dreaming of the darkest depths of Mordor, there is about to be a big-budget introduction by way of the three Lord of the Rings films.

So it appears locally based photographer Stewart Cohen is a little bit ahead of the curve, premiering his exhibit Dark Elves at the Bath House Cultural Center weeks before the film's release.

Except that Cohen wasn't influenced by the Ring trilogy. In fact, the idea "came out of the blue," he says, when planning this exhibit with curators at the Bath House Cultural Center last year. Other, more traditional holiday themes didn't grab him, but, after mulling it over, he blurted out "dark elves."

Topic in hand and mind, he just had to figure out what dark elves were and how to photograph them. After a little research, he saw his topic more clearly.

"According to myth," Cohen says, "the dark elves emerged from a rebellion in elfin history when one-third of the elfin population was banished from the North Pole by 'good elves.' They became wights, neither human nor godlike beings, living beneath the earth, having little to do with mankind unless one seeks them out."

He began his search for these mythical dark elves by approaching the Dallas chapter of the Little People of America and finding some people he thought had the right look about them for the project he was working on. "They were very receptive to it," he says. "Most of them had played elves before."

Following a friend's suggestion to get down in the roots of trees where the elves allegedly live, the shooting took place in Dallas' Boulder Park and in swamps in Louisiana with lighting provided entirely by kerosene lanterns.

"I wanted to capture a dark, magical mood, conveying a feeling of voyeurism," he says.

"As if the viewer is spying from behind a tree and catching a stolen glance of the elves in the moonlight."

The photographs are dark, but with a touch of warmth from the atypical lighting source. If not for the excellent makeup applied to the models, many--if not most--of the photographs would make excellent portraits.

"A lot of fine artists make a distinction between fine art and commercial art," Cohen says. "But I guess what sets me apart is that my work is just my work. There may be some differences because of the demands of a certain project, but my interest has always been people. I got into this to meet people; I love the interaction. In fact, if I have a gift, it is not necessarily in photography, but in interacting with people. Whether it be models, celebrities, people off the street or construction workers, everyone has a story to tell."

Even mythical ones, apparently.

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Mark Hughes