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Santa Muerte

Literally ‘Saint Death’ and similar to our Grim Reaper, this female sacred figure venerated in Mexico is a syncretism between Mesoamerican and Catholic beliefs. She is usually seen with a scythe but her iconography is personal and no two images are alike. This is a powerful saint who can grant favours including harming or even killing others but only in the name of justice. The white signifies loyalty or purity and the red signifies passion. Her worship is generally clandestine and practised by those living outside or on the edges of the law, including drug traffickers, prostitutes and gangs. In the last decade her cult following has grown massively.

When Cynth turned up with all her fetish gear and donned the rubber stockings and gloves I wasn’t sure how I would portray her. When she put on the rubber hood it reminded me of a skull and the concept began to form. I happened to have a scythe at the studio (don’t ask!) so, playing prop master to her wardrobe, we styled a shot of this unusual saint. The model’s fetishism mirrors Santa Muerte’s underground nature and hovering in space against the dark background she makes an imposing figure. Compositionally I used the scythe to draw the viewer’s eye up and around the head and back down the arm to her feet and then up the scythe handle again, reflecting the never-ending circle of life and death. In contrast, her gloves, nipples and lips make a red zigzag across the image to break up that circle.

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