Photograph by Frances F. Denny, “Leonore (Montpelier, VT),” from the forthcoming book Major Arcana: Witches in America (Andrews McMeel, fall 2020). Image courtesy of the artist and ClampArt (New York, NY).

I’ve spent the last three years traveling around the U.S. photographing women who identify as witches.

At one point, I spent several summer days in Montpelier, Vermont making portraits of some witches local to the area. I especially looked forward to meeting Leonore, a sexuality practitioner addressing mythology, spirituality and witchcraft in her work, and who happens to be an avid deer hunter and archer. In person, Leonore was direct and matter of fact, conveying a fierce self-possession I quickly knew that I’d want to capture in her portrait. Soon after meeting, we set off into the woods toward a hidden cave Leonore knew about. She wore a black hooded cloak, and carried her bow. 

I photographed Leonore sitting on a fallen log in a beam of late-afternoon sunlight sluicing through the cave’s entrance. The golden light was magical, but the scene felt staged somehow and we decided to keep moving. We made our way out of the forest and into a meadow as the sun set behind us. Tall grasses bordered a narrow walking path that carved its way up a gentle hill. Suddenly, Leonore stopped and turned towards the setting sun, opened her mouth, and let out a long, lilting cry. (Kulning, she later called it; a Scandinavian pastoral herding call traditionally used by women to beckon animals back from the mountains.) The next moment, I snapped my last frame of the day, which became Leonore’s portrait. 

Celebrate your everyday witchcraft and check out our Season of the Witch collection!

Frances F. Denny

Frances F. Denny is an artist and photographer whose work investigates the development of female selfhood and identity. Her art work is represented by ClampArt in New York City. Frances’ first monograph, Let Virtue Be Your Guide, was published in 2016 by Radius Books, and her second monograph, Major Arcana: Witches in America will be published in October 2020 by Andrews McMeel. She received an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2014. Frances is also the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts 2016 Fellowship in Photography, and has won numerous awards, including PDN’s 30, LensCulture Emerging Talent, Magenta Flash Forward, and Critical Mass. Her editorial work appears in the New Yorker, The New York Times, ELLE, Cherry Bombe, and Architectural Digest. Bio image by Jessica Sample.

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