VICE Horror Show

Thirty-One Photographers Share Their Spookiest Images in Time for Halloween

Curator Jon Feinstein compiles some of his favorite contemporary occult images.
31 October 2018, 6:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Ghosts, specters, and the occult have mesmerized photographers since the beginning of photographic history. More than a century before digital manipulation, there were countless attempts to use the "medium" (see what I did there?) to prove the existence of spiritual phenomena. Early images ranged from depictions of phantoms and janky, ghost-like blobs to abstract representations of spirits on X-rays, cyanotypes, and other light-sensitive materials. In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art curated The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, an exhibition and corresponding book surveying occult photography from the 1860s through the 1940s, a period in which photographs were often used as "evidence" of the spirit world.

As a kid, before falling in love with photography, horror movies shaped much of my visual language and how I thought about the construction of narratives. Ultimately, they paved the way for a more recent obsession with occult-ridden images—everything from representations of ghosts and auras to the "unnatural" world of spiritual symbolism and the mystical unknown. (I'd even include campy, intentionally faked images of blood and guts.)

With Halloween here, decades into the digital world, I've compiled 31 contemporary photographs ranging from apparitions and dark matter to witchcraft as a metaphor for our current political climate. While many of them nod to classic traditions of spirit photography, they also come from a now long-standing acceptance of photography as flawed in its representation of truth, and—often with a heavy dose of self-aware irony—function more as theater than any attempt to prove that ghosts are real.


Elaine Bezold, Untitled, 2013

Amelia Bauer and Elizabeth Perks Kibbey, Book of Shadows

Rachel Stern, Vision and Her Scribe, 2018

Anna Morgowicz, Untitled, 2014

Barbara Diener, Shadow Figure

Chase Middleton, from the series "Nostalgia for the Mud"

Tereza Zelenkova, The Unseen

Laura Larson, Untitled (Green Room) from the 2009 series "Asylum"

Christine Schiavo, Mother (Insomnia)

Jacob Haupt, Untitled, from the series Did I Scare You

Sue Debeer, still from her film "The White Wolf," 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery

Robert Hickerson, Sure, We Can Keep It Casual

Ellen Jantzen, Diverting Apprehension

Dylan Hausthor, Blue Smoke Rolling

Wendy Given, The Ghost, 2018

Riley C. Goodman, Cornerstone (2018) from his Yonder Wooded Hill series

Michael Marcelle, In the Leaves II

Paul Guilmoth, Web Submerged

Tasha Lutek, Sean

Alec Kaus, Bless Your Heart and Soul, Honey!, 2018

Elin O'Hara Slavick, My Daughter's Hands and Son's Feet, 2015 (Diptych)

Kathrin Guenter, Victoria Beckham

Frances Denny, Deborah (Nyack, NY) Courtesy of ClampArt, New York

Kensuke Koike, Chamber_of_Awakening. Cut Vintage Photo. 2016

Carla Jay Harris, Teresa Cooper Diptych 1905


Tim Pearse, Nebula, a Portrait of Phillip

M. Apparition, Memento Mori

Michael Buhler Rose, Rose-Eye (Brown/Brown)" 50"x40" C-Print in artist's frame, 2014 and "Eye (Blue/White" 50" x 40" C-Print in artist frame, 2018

Rana Young, Mom's Teeth, from the series "Lie and Smile" 2018

Tommy Kha, Aura Photograph with My Mask, 2018

Tommy Nease, Untitled, 2012

Follow Jon Feinstein on Instagram.