The Perfect Medium
Photography and the Occult
Yale University Press | ISBN 9780300111361
Hardback – 288 pages
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Given its subject matter, it's no surprise that this massive volume is more than a little spooky—and this despite its eschewing cheap sensationalism in favor of a sober, art historical tack. Focusing primarily on images from the late Victorian era through the 1930s, the authors tackle three major categories in exploring the long relationship between the photograph and occult phenomena. The first, "Photographs of Spirits," explores the appearance of otherworldly beings and objects in photographic images. The second section, "Photographs of Fluids," reveals how the discovery of the effects of radiation on the photographic plate coincided with an explosion in the photography of radiances, auras and other "effluvia." Rife as they are with obvious trickery and manipulation of the film itself, these two sections offer a fascinating perspective on the photographic medium's early formal and technological development, but the final section, "Photographs of Mediums," provides genuine visceral impact and aesthetic depth. Depicting mediums and onlookers in the midst of séances, these images capture the essentially human face of occult occurrences, be they actual or fraudulent. Levitation, the appearance of the "ectoplasmic veil" and other "materializations" pale beside the awe and ecstasy pictured in these photos' earthly subjects.