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The mysterious process of photographing spiritualist transformation

Spiritualism, the American-born religion, attempts to demonstrate through the intercession of a medium that death is not the end, but a transition. I first became aware of Spiritualism as a teenager, after my cousin received a reading from a medium who revealed a secret about my grandfather’s death that proved to be true. Since then, I have been deeply curious about how a total stranger could have learned something my family had kept confidential.

In 2001, I began photographing at the place where my grandfather’s message was received: Lily Dale, New York, the town which is home to the world’s largest Spiritualist community. I quickly immersed myself in Lily Dale’s world, receiving readings, experiencing healings, joining in séances, attending a psychic college and sitting in a medium’s cabinet, always with my camera. I expected to spend one summer figuring out the tricks of the Spiritualist trade. Instead, Spiritualism’s mysterious processes, earnest practitioners, surprising cultural history and bizarre photographic past became a resource and an inspiration for my own work. I began a sixteen-year quest to document contemporary Spiritualism and to find and photograph ‘ectoplasm’ – the elusive substance that is said to be both spiritual and material.

Photographing Spiritualism presents a unique challenge: how do you photograph the invisible? Sitting in the charged atmospheres of the séance rooms I encountered, I wondered how to approach the exchange between a veiled presence and a visible body? Technical mistakes led me to explore the inherent imperfections within the photographic process. Unpredictable elements (blur, abstraction, motion, flare) seemed to insinuate, or refer to, the unseen. I began to use conventions that are considered wrong, messy, or ‘tricky’. I crossed the boundary of what is commonly considered unprofessional in the practice of photography: I invited anomaly. In playing with the process, the invisible was automated. My camera rendered some striking synchronicities. The resulting images consider the conjuring power of photography itself. I include these pictures that use photography’s own mechanisms to question spiritual realities: photographs that contain both mechanical and spiritual explanations and require an interpretation.

My book on Spiritualism will merge ethnographic study, journalism and art. I will contextualize Spiritualism’s history and highlight its surprising connections to nineteenth-century social reform, scientific inquiry, artistic practice and popular culture.  Ultimately, this work seeks to amplify the reflexive relationship between Spiritualism and photography and to explore the ideological, material, geographical, historical and metaphysical correspondences between the two. Erik Davis, author of media studies cult classic TechGnosis and expert on the intersection between technology and the religious imagination, will contribute the foreword.

N.B. If you live in the United States, choosing a pledge level "With Postage to the USA" will ensure lower shipping rates. 

Each generation produces a very small number of artists, researchers and seekers who bring great integrity and critical realism to study of the occult and paranormal. Shannon is one of the very few in our time. As a photographer and critically sympathetic researcher, Shannon demonstrates the most rare of traits: ability to think beyond given categories and never, ever to sacrifice intellectual integrity for drama or hasty conclusions. Shannon would be a stellar researcher in any field; but in this one, so fraught with pitfalls and blind alleys, she is a worldwide resource.

Mitch Horowitz, PEN Award-winning author of Occult America 

SHANNON TAGGART is a photographer and independent researcher based in Brooklyn, New York. Her photographs have been exhibited and featured internationally, including within the publications TIME, New York Times Magazine, Discover and Newsweek. Her work has been recognised by Nikon, Magnum Photos and the Inge Morath Foundation, American Photography, the International Photography Awards and the Alexia Foundation for World Peace. From 2014 to 2016, she was Scholar and Artist-in-Residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York. Shannon lectures internationally on her work.

www.shannontaggart.com

Sample photographs from the book:

Table-Tipping Workshop at Rev. Jane’s House, Erie, Pennsylvania, 2014

First Photo Anomaly—Dorothy Pries with a purple orb that she interprets as her deceased husband Bob’s presence, Lily Dale, New York, 2001

Fifth generation Spiritualist medium Gretchen Clark laughs as her deceased brother interrupts a client reading to tell her a joke, Lily Dale, New York, 2001

Read more...

SÉANCE Book Sample + Recent Press

Friday, 31 March 2017

Hello SÉANCE Supporters,

I'm happy to share a book update today on the anniversary of Spiritualism's very first séance, conducted by the Fox sisters in Hydesville, New York on March 31,1848.

Here's a sneak peek at some sample layouts from the book:

And, some recent interviews have appeared in Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, Feature Shoot and on The Big Séance

Thank you for being patrons…

Boris Balkan
Boris Balkan asked:

Regarding the Gravestone Rubbing edition: You should check on the state and local laws about gravestone rubbing. In many areas gravestone and monument rubbing is illegal. Even where it is legal it is still considered controversial, as it can lead to the deterioration of the marker over time. You may want to consider if this is something you want to promote.

Shannon Taggart
Shannon Taggart replied:

Hi Boris, Many thanks for your comments. I have been given full permission to do these grave stone rubbings. They will be executed with the greatest amount of care. Thanks again, Shannon

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