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Rory Mulligan: Sam I Am

Exploring violence and masculinity in New York through revisiting sites of horrible crimes committed by men.

This morning I received a message from photographer Rory Mulligan, sent to friends and colleagues to mark the event of his 30th birthday. The note explained that as he entered a new decade of his life, he felt a small slice of an ongoing project was ready to be shared. When I clicked the link to his website, I found this series of bizarre and somewhat subtly horrific images, titled Sam I Am. This seemed odd, because birthday imagery is usually stuff like cakes and balloons, not devils and blood graffiti. I was immediately entranced by the beauty of these monochrome images, but also shocked by sudden interjections of violence, and unusual insertions of the male nude. In my mind, the pictures began to coalesce into a language of darkly mysterious symbols and gestures. I called Rory to find out more, and he gave me this statement:


"This group of photographs is part of an ongoing project exploring the physical geography and mythical history of the lower Hudson River Valley of New York. My approach to photography has always walked a line between reality and fiction, using the raw material of what I find and scenarios I orchestrate to create a nebulous visual world. This area is teeming with history—from the fiction of Washington Irving and John Cheever to the real life horror of the Son of Sam murders, to more contemporary incidents like the train derailment at Spuyten Duyvil (“Spouting Devil”) and a macabre scene this April in which the cadavers of 25 cats were found in plastic bags hanging in a park in Yonkers. For me, these incidents and the landscape are all strongly connected. I am in the process of creating a body of work dealing with the way photography can utilize the history and fiction of a particular landscape to reveal connections between past and present."

"All of the aforementioned incidents are not just connected by this particular area, but by another issue I have been exploring in my work for several years now. Most of my photographic output up to this point has dealt with my own issues pertaining to other men and masculinity—namely my sense of dislocation stemming from my discomfort with the rampant machismo that both the real and art-historical worlds are dominated by. I see this project as continuing that train of thought in a more severe and direct, yet abstract manner. These violent and traumatic acts are all committed or narrated by men. The strong connection between men and violence is complicated, but undeniable. I am deeply committed to this project and envision myself working on it for years to come."


Rory Mulligan is a Hastings-on-Hudson, NY-based photographer. He is a graduate for Fordham University and the Yale School of Art. 

Matthew Leifheit is photo editor of VICE. Follow him on Twitter