A New Kind of Spirit

The immaterial world has been a recurring fascination throughout photographic history. Beginning in the mid nineteenth century, countless attempts were made to use photography to capture proof of ghosts, auras, and other “unnatural” presences. Nearly a decade ago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted a large scale exhibition surveying photographic occult phenomena from the 1860’s onward in an attempt to “seek not only to present these extraordinary documents to the public, but to understand their raison d etre: to retrace the circumstances in which they were produced and to explore the prevailing hopes and beliefs to which they responded” (Montebello, Philippe de and Monterosso, Jean Luc. The perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult 2004 Yale University Press). The exhibition showcased hundreds of photographs ranging from literal depictions of ghosts, to abstract representations of the spirit emerging on x-rays, cyanotypes, in fluids, and on various other materials. As technology, media and general attitudes about the medium have shifted in more than a century, how does this fascination manifest itself today?

With Occultisms, our aim is explore how today’s generation of photographers address an expanded world of spiritual, ritual, and paranormal phenomena. While early occultist photographers may have used the medium as an attempt to prove the existence of supernatural entities, the photographers included in this exhibition largely use photography to comment on spiritual presence with some nod to, or recognition of how this was done in the past.  Their process and approach is as varied as photography’s early days, but now expands to digital techniques, acknowledging, and correspondingly playing with photography’s inability to capture any sense of objective truth. The work in this exhibition tackles the spirit as it materializes in historical events, politics, pop culture and photographic process.