31 Photographers Capture Ghosts, Witches and Other Occult Phenomena

Curator Jon Feinstein compiles some of his favorite contemporary occult images.

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Oct 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

@ameliabauer

1540491313348-02_Amelia_Bauer_and_Elizabeth_Perks_Kibbey_BookOfShadows_05
Amelia Bauer and Elizabeth Perks Kibbey, Book of Shadows

@msrachelstern

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Rachel Stern, Vision and Her Scribe, 2018
1540491685716-04_Anna_Morgowicz
Anna Morgowicz, Untitled, 2014

@barbaradiener

1540491726270-05_Barbara_Diener-Shadow-Figure
Barbara Diener, Shadow Figure

@chase_c_middleton

1540491815469-06_Chase_Middleton-From-the-series-22Nostalgia-For-The-Mud22
Chase Middleton, from the series "Nostalgia for the Mud"

@terezazelenkova

1540491881227-07_Tereza_Zelenkova_the_unseen
Tereza Zelenkova, The Unseen

@larson.laura65

1540491942716-08_Laura_Larson-Untitled-Green-Room-from-the-2009-seires-Asylum
Laura Larson, Untitled (Green Room) from the 2009 series "Asylum"

@rivetgirlschiavo

1540492013009-09_Christine_Schiavo
© Christine Schiavo, Mother (Insomnia)

@jacobhaubt

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Jacob Haupt, Untitled, from the series Did I Scare You
1541022296470-UPDATED_debeer_whitewolf_02_2018
Sue Debeer, still from her film "The White Wolf," 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery

@roberthickerson

1540492507500-12_Robert-Hickerson_Sure-We-Can-Keep-It-Casual
Robert Hickerson, Sure, We Can Keep It Casual
1540492664465-13_Ellen_Jantzen_Diverting-Apprehension
Ellen Jantzen, Diverting Apprehension

@dylan.hausthor

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Dylan Hausthor, Blue Smoke Rolling
1540492854817-15_Wendy_Given-The-Ghost-2018
Wendy Given, The Ghost, 2018

@rileycgoodman

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

@michael_marcelle

1540493268374-17_Michael_Marcelle_In-The-Leaves-II
Michael Marcelle, In the Leaves II

@paulguilmoth

1540493343333-18_Paul_Guilmoth_WEB-SUBMERGED
Paul Guilmoth, Web Submerged

@peggyguggenheim

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Tasha Lutek, "Untitled"

@aleckaus

1540494996669-20_Alec_Kaus_Bless-Your-Heart-and-Soul-Honey-2018
Alec Kaus, Bless Your Heart and Soul, Honey!, 2018

@elinohara

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)

@house_of_hamelin

1540495124659-22_Kathrin_Guenther-VictoriaBeckham
Kathrin Guenter, Victoria Beckham

@francesdenny

1540496139342-23_Frances_Denny-Deborah-Nyack-NY-Courtesy-of-ClampArt-New-York
Frances F. Denny, Deborah (Nyack, NY) Courtesy of ClampArt, New York

@kensukekoike

1540496225424-24_Kensuke_Koike_Chamber_of_Awakening-cut_vintage_photo-2016-133x86mm_3000px
Chamber of Awakening, cut vintage photo. 2016, Courtesy of the artist and Postmasters Gallery, New York

@carlajayharris

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Carla Jay Harris, Teresa Cooper Diptych 1905

@timpearse_photo

1540496677054-26_Tim_Pearse_Nebula-A-Portrait-of_Phillip
Tim Pearse, Nebula, a Portrait of Phillip

@m.apparition

1540496782570-27_M_Apparition_Memento-Mori
M. Apparition, Memento Mori

@mbuhlerrose

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

@rana.young

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

@tommykha

1540496963702-30_Tommy_Kha_2018-Stillmore-I-NYC-2018
Stillmore (Aura Reading), 2018

@tommynease

1540497019237-31_Tommy_Nease_Untitled-2012
Tommy Nease, Untitled, 2012

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