Photographer: Eliza Jouin @elizajouin
Model: Lilian Zancajo-Lugo @lilzanc
What Is The "Necromania" Photo Series?
Visually inspired by the 1971 erotic horror film Vampyros Lesbos, the photo series "Necromania" by photographer Eliza Jouin embarks on a journey that intricately weaves together the threads of Latinx Catholicism, modern femininity, and the captivating allure of darkness. Through its compelling portraits, the narrative unfolds, tracing the evolution of tradition, identity, and the corporeal self.
Guided by the spirit of duality, "Necromania" begins with the enigmatic juxtaposition of model Lilian Zancajo-Lugo wearing both a habit-like head covering and a sinuous snake. Each image captures the nuanced evolution of a young woman's relationship with her faith and herself. As the visual narrative unfolds, the woman's connection to her Catholic heritage takes on new dimensions. Mirrors, candles, and fabrics become symbols of introspection and empowerment, guiding her on a journey towards self-actualization This transformation culminates in a vivid tableau where her bared body, intertwined with a once-virginal rosary, is adorned with blood—an evocative fusion of the sacred and the visceral. In "Necromania," the essence of contemporary Latinx femininity converges with the depth of tradition, inviting viewers to contemplate the intricate relationship between culture, spirituality, and the ever-evolving self.
Inside "Necromania": An Interview With Photographer Eliza Jouin And Model Lilian Zancajo-Lugo On Their Vampyros Lesbos-Inspired Series
Honeysuckle caught up with photographer Eliza Jouin and model Lilian Zancajo-Lugo to learn more about how they brought “Necromania” to life. (Hint: Psychedelics helped!)
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: What was your first experience like watching Vampyros Lesbos? Why did that film and its themes or imagery inspire you?
ELIZA JOUIN: The first time I watched this film, my friends and I were indulging in one of our ritual “ketamine movie nights.” We pick an arthouse film, do a couple bumps, and allow ourselves to be transported by whatever audiovisual journey the film has in store for us. Personally I’ve found that ketamine deepens my understanding and connections to art, whether it be music, photography, film, etc, and always results in a deep euphoric love for the creative and the abstract.
So, sitting on the couch with my friends watching Vampyros Lesbos, 1971, I felt profoundly inspired–my jaw literally dropped on the floor seeing these gorgeous cinematic shots play out in front of me. In all honesty, I can’t even remember too many details about the plot–I was just so incredibly awestruck by the interplays between sapphism, darkness, mythology, religion, romance, sexuality, and the corporeal. I took dozens of photos while the film, projected onto a wrinkled bed sheet, ran. The whole time, I couldn’t stop telling my friends about how deeply I wanted to recreate some of the shots–and so I did. [Some of those photos can be found on my personal Instagram page here.]
Did anything from the story of this shoot pull from your own experiences? How was the working relationship between you two in putting this together?
JOUIN: Funnily enough, Lilian and I are exes that were actually brought together in part by our love for the romanticism of this aesthetic. The themes of darkness, sexuality, sin, religion, and beauty played a big part in the fuel for our former romantic passions. So after having watched the film, which beautifully depicted the aesthetic themes of our history together, I knew she had to be the model.
Personally, I have always been drawn to all that is moody and brooding, and the obscured yet pulsing dark sexuality that often runs beneath it. Though raised Jewish, I was also partially raised in pastoral rural France, where the aesthetics of Catholicism are ubiquitous. There, I developed a deep love for the drama and passion that surrounds Catholicism, spending hours playing in the tiny 1000-year-old chapel down the dirt path from my Grandmother’s cottage.
Catholicism certainly has its problems, but you cannot deny the artistic impact that the religion had on Western art. And you can’t deny the palpable sexuality that it breeds as a result of repression and denial.
LILIAN ZANCAJO-LUGO: As Eliza mentioned, part of what drew us together initially was our mutual interest in the romance of the sublime. Personally, I’ve always felt misunderstood by my traditionally Catholic family members. Both my mother’s Puerto Rican side and my father’s Spanish side are devout Catholics, and being anything but was never an option. My view of Catholicism was much more related to its iconography and mysticism rather than their rules of sin. They understood Catholicism as a service to a higher truth–a white dove if you will–and as an openly queer woman, I see Catholicism as a vehicle for my truth and transformation- a snake shedding its skin and continuously regenerating. This shoot allowed me to dabble in my intrigue without fear of being misunderstood. I would say this was the best part of working with Eliza, they understood my background and we enmeshed ourselves in shameless dark gluttony.
In "Necromania," you are challenging traditional Latinx Catholicism with modern femininity. How do you believe that the vampire mythos enhances both these arenas?
ZANCAJO-LUGO: Since I was little I was always more drawn to the Catholic figures that were discarded from grace as I somehow felt akin to them. I remember thinking that they were probably misunderstood and that perhaps one day that would be me. As a little girl I didn't quite understand that those feelings arose from my own lesbianism and the apprehension I had to come out. Regardless, I was drawn to the lore of vampires and succubi for their carnal nature and beautifully unhinged freedom. As a teen, I remember reading an article on Lilith - the original Eve in the Garden of Eden. If my memory serves me, Lilith refused to lay with Adam and wanted to eternally frolic in the garden and live her autonomous life. God struck her down to Hell and created Eve from Adam’s own rib so that she would forever be subservient. In Hell, Lilith married Lucifer as he gave her the room to live her life as she pleased. Beyond the similarities in our names (Lilian//Lilith), I feel deeply akin to her story and commitment to herself. To me vampires are the wild feminine, free to follow their carnal instincts in direct contrast to pious nuns who reject sex and anything outside their sense of duty.
What was your creative process in shooting and producing "Necromania"? Were there special photography techniques or post-shoot tricks you implemented?
JOUIN: In all honesty, we started the shoot by smoking a spliff beforehand, so the process was intrinsically based on feeling and instinct rather than just technique and form. We had generally outlined our references from the film and gathered gothic props from our homes. The shoot was entirely self-styled by Lilian including her Catholic grandmother's very own “Rebozo” (a traditional Spanish scarf used historically to cover your head and shoulders when entering a church).
In my editing process, I incorporated a glow that is a through-line in a lot of my work. To me, the glow creates an ethereal atmosphere, almost ghost-like, that functions best when applied onto dark shots. I am also generally obsessed with the corporeal, the tactile, what can be touched, and so I also made sure to add a bit of texture and grain on top of the image. I do this often because to me, it makes the digital image feel a little more physical, a bit more tactile. I feel like adding that enhances the physicality of our project.
What aspects of the main character's journey in "Necromania" do you hope that viewers will take on for themselves?
JOUIN: Probably just the general hedonism and physicality of it all. I generally live my life in the interminable pursuit of inspiration, love, and pleasure. It’s just all about understanding the human experience, and pushing life to its limits, taking in all it has to give, the good and the bad. For me, following this bodily and creative instinct is my personal secret to life, and Vampyros Lesbos is essentially an ode to that. I hope that viewers of both the film and our project are able to feel that love and passion that drives me and many other artists.
"Necromania'' is such a fascinating series to explore in October, which simultaneously celebrates Latinx Heritage Month, LGBTQIA+ History Month, and Halloween / Dia De Los Muertos. What do you think the merging of all these celebrations says about the evolution of our culture? Was this something you thought about when creating "Necromania''?
ZANCAJO-LUGO: I like to think that I’ve made my peace with Catholicism by creating my own self-serving fraction. My version of Catholicism celebrates individualism through venerating not just my heritage, but additionally my present self and future generations. As an artist myself, I can't deny the impact visual arts have on the psyche and my biggest hope is that young queer people who were raised religious can look at these photos of spiritual indulgence and say, “Hell yeah, that's someone I would pray to.”
What else should we know about “Necromania”?
JOUIN: The title “Necromania” actually comes from a song on the film’s soundtrack [called "Necronomania"]. The album is aptly titled Vampyros Lesbos (Sexadelic Dance Party). [Also,] the snake is my pet, her name is Yven, and I feel like she’s just the perfect embodiment of the aesthetics that drive me.
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Featured image: Lilian Zancajo-Lugo in NECROMANIA (C) Eliza Jouin @elizajouin