Alien abductions make for a good sci-fi plot devices, but it's easy to forget that we walk among people — in the real world — who claim to have been visited, beamed up and probed by little gray men.
New York photographer Steven Hirsch, 63, has met many of these people face to face. He visited this year's International UFO Conference to meet, photograph and interview people who avow close contact with extraterrestrials.
"I don't want my audience to have any preconceptions about these people before they see my images and read their words," says Hirsch of his Little Sticky Legs project. "My interviews barely break the surface of what is going on in their lives ... or in their minds."
Hirsch, who has freelanced for the New York Post for 18 years, makes a habit of shooting fringe members of society and gleaning their thoughts. Past subjects have included those leaving the Manhattan Criminal Court Building and Crustypunks in the parks of NYC.
For his profile photos and interviews, the fast-talking New Yorker actually shuts up and listens.
"I'm not an analyst, my questions are not intended to find answers but to allow people to tell us their stories. Courthouse Confessions, Crustypunks and Little Sticky Legs are all about storytelling. Their stories, not mine," says Hirsch. "We've become desensitized to the TV sound bite. With these projects we can stare at the picture. Stare into their eyes. Feel their angst. It's a very simple approach. There's no distractions."
Reports of alien abduction are a relatively new phenomena, with regular accounts emerging only in the 1960s. Estimates on the number of abductions vary wildly, from millions (unlikely) to thousands (more likely). It's safe to say there are hundreds of reported cases in any given year.
Due to a lack of any substantial physical evidence, abduction testimony is widely dismissed. In The Abduction Experience: A Critical Evaluation of Theory and Evidence (.pdf), the late Dr. Stuart Appelle, Professor of Psychology at SUNY Brockport and specialist in perception, wrote, "no theory yet enjoys enough empirical support to be accepted as a general explanation for the abduction experience." Appelle listed psychopathologies, sleep abnormalities, and personality traits such as a proneness to fantasy and suggestibility among potential reasons for the persistence of abduction narratives. Hypnosis treatments, intended to bring details of suppressed memories of abduction back to the surface, also come under criticism for actually implanting false memories in patients instead.
Encounter tales are not told only by people in the margins of society. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former leader of the Russian republic of Kalmykia claims he was visited by a UFO on his balcony in 1997. Last month, Simon Parkes, a British town councilor, told the press his mother was a nine-foot alien.
Hirsch, who has also trained his lens on the homes of sex offenders living on Long Island, is not looking to sugarcoat our world.
"I don't like people to feel comfortable. My whole life has been edgy. I live in the East Village. [In years gone by] there were drug dealing stores downstairs," he says.
As a kid, Hirsch didn't know the names of Weegee or any street photographers, but his worldview was likely shaped by their images.
"I'm a hardcore New Yorker. I grew up in Brooklyn. I grew up with the tabloids," he says. "You'd go down to the corner store at 9 p.m. and that's when the Daily News and the Daily Mirror were on the stands with the day's news. Murders, robberies, fires; papers full of graphic images of mayhem."
Coming full circle, it was through photographing for the popular news himself, that Hirsch first started thinking about alien abductees.
"Many years ago I photographed a UFO convention in Connecticut while on assignment for one of the supermarket tabloids," says Hirsch. "The experience was mind-boggling and stuck with me for decades." This year, he was finally able to get out to Arizona and follow through on his own project.
Much of American UFO lore is based in the southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico, and Hirsch has traveled many times through desert towns full of unique characters. For him, the distance between New York City and way out west is measured in more than just miles; it's measured in attitude and psyche.
"The Southwest landscape effects the way people think. It's trippy out there," he says. "In New York you have no sense of the universe, but in the Southwest you can't avoid the sky; you get a sense of scale of — and an intimacy with — the universe."
"I've met Salamander beings and I've met various different types of Greys. I've also met the Blue Arcturians which are incredible. They all have their own personalities and their own purposes. I've met Andromedans, the Assyrian Warriors of Light. I've met the Sirius Nephrons. I've also met the Cat People that are from Sirius. I've actually seen people that can shape shift from human looking to Reptilians. [...] Part of my mission is to help people get to the ships that need to be on the ships. […] Many of the Starseeds that are here on Earth on special missions are taken to the ships where they are then informed of the changes in the strategies. I've never yet ever met a being that was malevolent. I've always meet the benevolent ones. I'd never experienced unconditional love till I've met them face to face and had conscious contact with them."
"It happened eleven years ago in St. Louis, Missouri at an exotic dancing bar. I went in there to just have a few drinks and look at some strip-girls dance around the pole. And this guy comes in out of nowhere and he was black in color but he had a very strange voice. And he knew things about me that no-one in the bar knew. Like how many trips I took. He knew things I was doing. He knew when my parents were going to die and what they were going to die of. Then he tells me he's here to abduct me and replace forty nine chips [in my body]."
"Dr. Lewinsky one of those Grey hybrids was going to do the operation. And they were going to take me aboard a flying saucer. […] I was swept up for like three hours and they did exactly what they said they were going to do to me and then took me back to the bar and woke me up and I lost three hours in time."
"It looked like a little kid except it had big eyes, it looked just like a little kid except it had big eyes, small nose and a little mouth. Albert EInstein was right about something. How there's different dimensions and different realities and stuff. I'm thinking they went through time if you will you know. If they're out there if they know all this and they have all this technology and all this stuff, what are the odds of them coming back you know?"
"They didn't probe me, they didn't do nothing. They just opened up my eyes. It was kinda crazy because before that I just asked for something like that to happen just for proof and I just got it you know? It was there. It happened. I was a little bit scared at the moment. It was something crazy.
How did it leave? Just like that it disappeared. You think what you want but that's what happened to me."
"My consciousness was in the middle of this huge dome like structure. The inside of the structure was white and then there were coves in it that were big enough for people to sit in meditation and they were sitting cross legged. Some of them wore white robes. Some of them had long hair. They were all humanoid."
"There were some I couldn't quite tell what they were. But I got the feeling they were a type of human. The atmosphere in this place was absolutely beautiful. It was golden light and the background was white, like it was whitewashed and it was a place of meditating on peace and love."
"They said they had been coming to me ever since I was a child and they were not doing anything against my will and I used to be one of them and I had agreed to be this bridge between the pleiades. They had been teaching me things that I was supposed to bring through and teach to others here on Earth and I hadn't been doing a very good job of it. So they were giving me a review of what they'd taught me. They were telling me things about cleaning up the environment, being nicer to each other and having more brotherly love. And also the big thing that was important to them was getting rid of nuclear power plants. They said it was contaminating the earth. And it also had the potential for harming them too."
"This being handed me a small baby. I looked up to him and he handed me a second one that shouldn't have been there. I woke up screaming and so angry. Came back with bruising that shouldn't have been there. I had a hole in the back of my head that under black light glowed with a triangle around it. I like to tell myself that they were dreams but somewhere inside myself I know it was more than that."
"I awakened in the middle of the night with feeling this weird heat down around my sexual area […] I could feel these long skinny bony fingers drawing circles on my right ovary and I felt the paralysis and I thought, 'Oh shoot. they really are here. Oh, my God.' I'm not sure how I saw them. If it was, you know, tuning in and seeing them on what level. So when I'm realizing they're with me the energy feels different. It was totally unnerving to me to recognize that they really were visiting with me and I could see there was a smaller Grey on my right hand side and a slightly taller one on my left and I remember telepathing to the Grey, 'Please stop doing that, I don't want you to touch me.' I asked him three times."
"It didn't stop so I'm not sure if it was my astral arm that came out and I reached over and I grasped his long skinny bony fingers with my left hand and said, "I asked you not to touch me, please do not touch me." And then I noticed the Greys on each side of my bed looked at each other and I thought, 'Ah shoot, they're gonna knock me out with that white light again.'"
"It was an auditorium and with stadium seating. There was a podium down at the bottom and he led me to a seat. All around me were some humans here and there but there was a lot of all different types of alien beings."
"Next thing I'm leaving, bringing me down the aisle again. I'm telling them, 'I want to stay, I don't want to go.' I start crying. I say, 'I like it here, I belong.' And they said, 'No it's not your time. You have to help save this planet Earth.' That's all I remember."
"We were taken to an underground base near the Sedona area. […] There was this little teardrop, kind of looked sort of like a pendulum upside down. What they wanted me to do was move it with telekinesis through this hoop - literally jump through this hoop - and I couldn't do it so the mantis helped me do it."
"Then they did this blue flashing thing and then they said 'Now, you try it,' and I was able to move it through the hoop. I was told at that time they were upgrading my pineal gland for intuition, so I have more physic ability."
"It started rocking back and forth and Travis stands up. A blueish green light comes out and zaps him. He flys back about twenty feet where it zapped him I said, 'It got him.' When I said, "It got him" Mike takes off and leaves him. We were going down the highway. We stopped down the road. [...]"
"The light that came out and zapped him was blueish green. I didn't see nobody. We stopped down the road a little bit to talk about what happened. And we back to look for him and couldn't find him. So we went into town. Kenny Peterson called the cops and the cops came out there and we told them the story. He didn't believe us. He thought we were drunk or something."
"I did not know what had happened all I knew is something had happened. And about a month later out of nowhere I experienced what I later called a data dump or a download of information into my mind which I also couldn't explain. I believe I have implants. Up my nose. Because I've had nose bleeds since a particular date in time. Every time I get one of those I feel as if I've been upgraded. And I become a little more clairvoyant and aware of whats going on around me."
"November 5, 1975, me and six other men were leaving work in a remote forest and we encountered an unidentified flying object and I was taken aboard. My co-workers were accused of murdering me and making up a story to cover up for why I was missing. The state police gave them a lie detector test, but even though they passed ever since then it's been one sort of attempt to explain it away anyway they could. If you're going to pass judgement on it, get the facts first. When I regained consciousness on board, I encountered some definitely non-human entities and also some beings that resembled humans to a high degree. It was a very traumatic experience."
"I would see them come through a wall or through a door and I would just mentally say 'Do what you have to do as long as you don't hurt me,' and I'd pass out. Then about four years ago I just got tired of it. I said, 'Look you guys you shouldn't be doing that.' because I felt like they're down in areas they shouldn't be in you know. Down around the genitals and stuff. They said, 'We have the right.' I don't know what they meant by that but. Then I said to the one that was working on me which was a taller one with the big head and big face which he always puts it right up against my face. All I could see was his big black eyes. And I said, 'But why are you doing all this all the time?' And he said, 'You will know when it's time.' And that was the only message I got. From then on, they stopped coming. I'm disappointed; I liked them coming. I was hoping to learn something. But they never talked to me or anything except to give me a message if I asked something. And the message was basically, shut up."
"The messages from the Zetas are basically that they're helping us in our evolutionary process. All of these events that are happening - that people are experiencing - such as abductions are to help us evolve. Help us evolve as a species into more luminous beings, lighter beings."
"Our actual DNA is being shifted so our physical bodies are actually becoming lighter in frequency and they're helping us to do this. And to activate abilities that we have inherently but that have been basically been shut off. Not activated. So we have this extra DNA that we're not using."
All Photos: Steven Hirsch
This post originally appeared on Wired's Raw File. Wired.com has been expanding the hive mind with technology, science and geek culture news since 1995.