The Image Spectre
A work in progress: artist’s book, film and exhibition
The Image Spectre is a meditation on spiritualism, memory, and family photography. Co-emergent, the paths of photography and spiritualism crossed in the search for meaning beyond death, a process that became increasingly entangled with the rise of positivism, and the drive to create optical systems of representation capable of ordering and quantifying measurable, verifiable proofs. But despite the existence of alleged ‘spirit photographs’, falsely produced by spirit photographers and psychic investigators, most practicing spiritualists did not use photography as a visual means of recording spirit encounters. For spiritualists like my grandparents, the photograph was not pictured but spoken, and the relationship of photography to death, disembodiment and the afterlife, was played out through mediumship and the circle (seance). It was a familial relationship, as much about life as death. The indexical properties of the photograph elicit a world of spectral presences, ephemeral enchantments and technological transformations.
As an evocation of the ‘living dead’, the photograph is a suspension of time, space, and belief. But for the spiritualist death is not merely signified, it is the signifier. My spiritualist grandmother believed that the dead walk among us and that we need only learn to read the signs to find them, to sense their auras to see them. My father ran away from the ghosts of his childhood, though he never escaped them. My mother embraced the doctrine of the ‘end-time’ living not for life but death. Pinioned between these supernatural worlds, I sought rationalism through science, only to find that even the most ‘objective’ optical processes are subject to uncertainty and spectacle. Within my family photographs the image spectre s a constant if elusive presence: a photographic revenant, a spiritualist entity, or simply a memory, forged, forgotten and remade.