Spirit Photography

When photography was first introduced, there was a popular practice and consumption of “Spirit Photography” which produces a ghostly image of a deceased loved one or ancestor.  This was done with models standing in for the ghosts and using extended exposures with the models then stepping out of the frame.  People were literally bringing the ghost into the machine and arming themselves with the past in the uncertainty of the new medium.  The photograph is already an archive, a means of preservation, and a double, but even more so with spirit photography as it archives something which is already archived. It reproduces the ghost with a double and brings it out of its past in order to freeze it again in a new production of the past.

Photography contains the same paradox as the New.  It promises to capture life and the living but produces a dead copy of the live original.  This was even more true in early photography since photographs took generally between ten to fifteen minutes to create, requiring special devices to keep the body rigid and in place. With spirit photography, the live sitters mimicked death more so than the hovering ghost, which expresses a sense of movement.  Even further, a photograph is about preserving and archiving memory, but the archive while it produces memory, also produces forgetfulness. These images become a closed circuit of life and non-life, memory and forgetting, circulated beneath the flatness of the photograph. Photography in its preservation circulates the loss of the original event. We see that that the copy or the double of the original loss is repeated.  This repetition occurs because it is not possible to get back to the original loss, so it is attempted through the copy.


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