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31 Photographers Capture Ghosts, Witches and Other Occult Phenomena

Curator Jon Feinstein compiles some of his favorite contemporary occult images.
October 30, 2018, 9:35pm

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 gore.)

For Halloween, 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.

@elainenettlesbezold

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Elaine Bezold, Untitled, 2013

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Amelia Bauer and Elizabeth Perks Kibbey, Book of Shadows

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Rachel Stern, Vision and Her Scribe, 2018

1540491685716-04_Anna_Morgowicz

Anna Morgowicz, Untitled, 2014

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Barbara Diener, Shadow Figure

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

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Tereza Zelenkova, The Unseen

1540491942716-08_Laura_Larson-Untitled-Green-Room-from-the-2009-seires-Asylum

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

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© Christine Schiavo, Mother (Insomnia)

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

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

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Robert Hickerson, Sure, We Can Keep It Casual

1540492664465-13_Ellen_Jantzen_Diverting-Apprehension

Ellen Jantzen, Diverting Apprehension

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Dylan Hausthor, Blue Smoke Rolling

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Wendy Given, The Ghost, 2018

1540493073794-16_Riley_Goodman-Cornerstone-2018-Riley-C-Goodman-From-Yonder-Wooded-Hill-series

Riley C. Goodman, From Yonder Wooded Hill

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Michael Marcelle, In the Leaves II

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Paul Guilmoth, Web Submerged

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Tasha Lutek, "Untitled"

1540494996669-20_Alec_Kaus_Bless-Your-Heart-and-Soul-Honey-2018

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

1540495055439-21_Elin_OHara_Slavick-My-Daughters-Hands-and-Sons-Feet-2015

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

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Kathrin Guenter, Victoria Beckham

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

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Chamber of Awakening, cut vintage photo. 2016, Courtesy of the artist and Postmasters Gallery, New York

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Carla Jay Harris, Teresa Cooper Diptych 1905

@timpearse_photo

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Tim Pearse, Nebula, a Portrait of Phillip

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M. Apparition, Memento Mori

1540496852702-28_Michael_Buhler_Rose-Eye-BrownBrown22-5022x4022-C-Print-in-artists-frame-2014-and-22Eye-BlueWhite22-5022-x-4022-C-Print-in-artist-frame-2018

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

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

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Stillmore (Aura Reading), 2018

1540497019237-31_Tommy_Nease_Untitled-2012

Tommy Nease, Untitled, 2012

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