“Part of my aim with these portraits is to dignify my subjects,” Denny explained. For this reason, she chose not to incorporate photographs of rituals (though she has attended two, she noted, one in New Orleans and another in Brooklyn). This choice, Denny believes, allows for more mystery in her work—showing witches in the midst of their gatherings would be “too big of a reveal.”
Indeed, ambiguity is one of the series’s major strengths. There’s little to distinguish Maja, for example, as a mystical healer. Maja, the “White Witch of L.A.,” stands against a tree, sheathed in a flowing white dress. Likewise, Ande, photographed wearing a blank tank top against a teal wall and gray door, could be of any vocation.
But that’s because “Major Arcana: Witches in America” is more than a snapshot of fringe counterculture characters. Denny privileges the women themselves over their practices—their occult considerations are only part of their identities. Whatever the roots and shapes of their particular beliefs, Denny’s subjects are part of a growing feminist resistance to the patriarchal politics that lurk just outside of her frames.
Not only does Denny subvert tired witch tropes, she undercuts more widespread misogynistic views, as well. “What ties all my work together is that I’m thinking about female selfhood and identity,” she said. As Denny further dissects the subject, she enlarges our ideas of what it means to be a woman living in America today.