Willy Conley 🖼️
Having been born profoundly Deaf, I need to use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate in my daily life. ASL is a three-dimensional, mobile, visual language, which cannot be written or spoken. During my travels in America, it is seldom that I meet other people who know ASL, so communication with people who can hear is often inaccessible or difficult, unless I write back and forth with them in English on paper. What I have come to appreciate and document are symbols or written English language on signs and surfaces in the American landscape. These images are part of an ongoing series titled Human Sign Language. Handwritten, manufactured, or printed texts and symbols are little windows of access where I understand the language of a particular environment, no matter how coherent, incoherent, congruous, or incongruous it may be. [Dis]enchanted Forest, is from the Decaying Signs section of this series, focusing on my fascination with the patina and texture of aging, abandoned signs.
When I was a child, my parents took me to Enchanted Forest, an entrancing storybook adventure park built in 1955, nestled in the woods of Ellicott City, Maryland, USA. I remember running wild among a variety of colorful sculptures and figures, imagining popular fairy tales coming to life such as Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Bears, Snow White, and etc. Sadly, it closed in the early 1990s and was left to the elements. Many years later, I learned that the forest and all its manmade denizens were still there, deteriorating among overgrown weeds and trash, perhaps cursed by the witch from Snow White. This park’s entrance sign was the only visible landmark from the highway when one passes by. A shopping center with a grocery, liquor store, pet store, and the like has now taken its place. With the way malls have been going out of business, I would not be surprised if this one ends up getting bewitched.
About the Artist
Willy Conley is a retired professor / chair of theatre at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. He used to be a medical photographer at some of the top hospitals in the U.S.: Johns Hopkins, Yale, University of Texas Medical Branch, and Cedars-Sinai. He became the first and only deaf person to be certified as a Registered Biological Photographer. His photos are featured in the books Photographic Memories, Plays of Our Own, The World of White Water, Listening Through the Bone, The Deaf Heart, No Walls of Stone, and Deaf World. Other publications include: American Photographer, DRIFT Travel Magazine, Arkansas Review, Baltimore Sun, Carolina Quarterly, Big Muddy, Folio, and 34th Parallel.