Xpstva in Vogue, Joseph Triscari's exotic fashion photographs of his muse, Xpstva, is hanging in the very non-exotic back room of Stella's Coffee House. But look closely at "Spirit and X at Jefferson Memorial." Exactly what is streaking through the bottom left corner?
Triscari says that blur is a ghost, no doubt about it: "When I saw the proof sheet, I cried."
Triscari and Xpstva were in Washington, D.C. "It was about 10 p.m., and it was freezing, so there were no people coming through the memorial," Triscari recalls. "I swear there wasn't a speck of wind, but all throughout the shoot, I could see her gown moving."
He pulls out the proof sheet of the shots he took with a 35-year-old Nikon that night. "Don't you see it?" he asks. "The spirit acted as the invisible prop man."
Defying all skeptics, supernatural photography has been a developing field since the mid-nineteenth century. Triscari believes his photographs focus not merely on the supernatural, but on the spirituality in all of us.
By day a 53-year-old loan officer in Cherry Creek, Triscari has been photographing sacred Native American sites since 1988, when he found a petroglyph carved high on a cliff in a remote southwestern Wyoming canyon. Considering it a message from a higher being, he began traveling the West with the Eastern Shoshone, participating in tribal ceremonies and photographing dozens of petroglyphs.
Triscari believes that he encountered his first spirit in the summer of 1995, at a Shoshone sweat-lodge ceremony. "I didn't see, as much as feel, my first spirit," he explains. "It was an energy, a bunch of beautiful singing. Every supernatural experience is extremely comforting to me. They are an incredible confirmation of everlasting life."
Since then, he says, celestial apparitions have made themselves visible in five of his photos, including "The Spirits and the Band," a shot of a blues band jamming in Civic Center Park with three misty blobs hanging in front of the stage. "Spirits don't only appear at sacred sites," he says. "They make themselves visible in contemporary urban settings as well."
The culmination of Triscari's various explorations, Journeys of the Spirits, consists of 33 photographic images -- elderly chiefs, rock paintings and hallowed Indian locations -- as well as three oil paintings, a lithograph, an 1890 print and a feather. And while Triscari's photos are currently displayed only in a coffee shop, Journeys was seen by over 100,000 people when it was hanging in the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building for two months earlier this year.
"I think that the quality of his photographs is very good, and the show itself is very interesting," says Betsy Robinson, project coordinator for the Smithsonian. "We'd never done anything like it before."
"It was just so cool, it was like Great Expectationscome to life," Triscari says of his Smithsonian experience. "But here in Denver, I'm a well-kept secret."
He's hoping that will change soon. "This show has mass appeal," Triscari says of Journeys. "It's real -- it is not a fabrication. I know that I'm going to be extremely famous someday, even if I'm fifty years dead. There aren't many people out there shooting the supernatural."
And in the meantime, he just keeps shooting. "He has a passion about these spirits," says Carol Dickinson, the former director of Foothills Art Center, where Journeys was shown. "He sees them, and he believes in them 100 percent. Some people go along with him and some people disagree, but Joe simply doesn't tolerate doubt."
Not even from those who believe that Native American art should be created only by Native Americans. "I'm not a white guy trying to be a red guy," he says. "Nobody has a moratorium on spirituality -- it's in all of us. I'm a Native American now. That's my religion.
"I don't care if they call me 'new age,'" he concludes. "When you know in your head and in your heart that something is real, that is enough."