Table-tipping workshop with mediums Reverend Jane and Chris Howarth. Erie, Pennsylvania, 2014. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
Forever fascinated by the occult, we were immediately interested in the work of American artist Shannon Taggart, first brought to our attention by the ever-inspiring Pam Grossman. Taggart specializes in documenting contemporary Spiritualism, which she first discovered in her teens when her cousin received a message from a medium that revealed details about her grandfather’s death.
“In 2001, while working as a photographer, she began taking pictures where that message was received – Lily Dale, New York, home to the world’s largest Spiritualist community – proceeding to other such communities as England’s Arthur Findlay College. Taggart expected to spend one summer figuring out the tricks of the Spiritualist trade. Instead, Spiritualism’s mysterious processes, earnest practitioners, and neglected photographic history became an inspiration. Her project evolved into an eighteen-year journey that has taken her around the world in search of ‘ectoplasm’ – the elusive substance that is said to be both spiritual and material.”
Susan Barnes’ medium’s cabinet. Lily Dale, NY, 2015. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
Back in 2017 I wrote about a crowdfunding campaign to publish an extraordinary photography book created by Taggart, documenting 18 years of contemporary manifestations of Spiritualism in the United States and exploring its history. Last year that campaign was cancelled and contributions refunded, but for a wonderful reason – Taggart’s book had found a publisher.
Now we’re thrilled to share the news that marvelous UK-based Fulgur Press is publishing Shannon Taggart’s breathtaking and profoundly haunting book, SÉANCE. Part documentary, part ghost story, the book comes out on October 17th as a gorgeous, 300p hardcover edition and is currently available for preorder.
Instrumental-transcommunication and smoke-scrying experiment outside the se?ance room. England, 2013. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
Psychometry experiment with Helen Duncan’s crystal ball. Arthur Findlay College, England, 2013. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
“Séance is a photography book that documents the contemporary practice of Spiritualism – the American-born religion that believes in communication with spirits of the dead. Over a period of eighteen years, professional photographer Shannon Taggart was given privileged access to the Spiritualist communities of Lily Dale, New York and The Arthur Findlay College, Essex, England. Her images, often candid and searching, provide a rare insight into a community and process that seems little changed since the artist Hilma af Klint consulted her spirit guide at the turn of the last century.”
Medium Stanislawa P. emission and resorption of an ectoplasmic substance through the mouth, 1913
Nightwriters 1. Constance Delong, 2018. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
Automatic writing experiment using a planchette. Arthur Findlay College, England, 2012. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
I was fortunate to get a look at this book in PDF form and, even without having it in my own hands, it gave me goosebumps. Taggart’s captivating photos and their captions are each enthralling in their own right, but made all the more powerful thanks to the rich essays and historical information that precede them. This book is a marvel and I can’t wait to experience it in person.
Medium Kai Muegge emits an ectoplasmic hand. Basel Psi Association, Switzerland, 2018. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
With SÉANCE Taggart offers us haunting images exploring Spiritualist practices in the US, England and Europe: 150 of her original photographs, many of which have never been published, as well as rare historical photographs. Supported with a commentary on her experiences, a foreword by Dan Aykroyd, creator of Ghostbusters (1984) and fourth-generation Spiritualist, and illustrated essays from curator Andreas Fischer and artist Tony Oursler, SÉANCE examines Spiritualism’s relationship with human celebrity, its connections to art, science, and technology, and its intrinsic bond with the medium of photography. The book concludes with the debate over ectoplasm and how Spiritualism can move forward in the twenty-first century.
Woman said to be overshadowed by either the spirit of her grandmother, the Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, or her own doppelgänger. Lily Dale, NY, 2003. Photo by Shannon Taggart
Swan on Lake Cassadaga. Lily Dale, NY, 2010. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
Medium Annette Rodgers participates in a direct radio voice experiment led by medium and tutor Kim Moore-Cullen, in a circle that includes other bereaved parents. Arthur Findlay College, England, 2018. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
“Photographing Spiritualism presents a unique challenge: how do you photograph the invisible?”
Medium Sylvia Howarth’s trance spirit-art demonstration. England, 2013. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
Bent spoon apport gift from medium Anders A?kesson. England, 2013. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
Medium Kevin Lawrenson sits in the cabinet. Montcabirol, France, 2014. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
“Sitting in the charged atmospheres of the séance rooms I encountered, I wondered how to approach the exchange between a veiled presence and a visible body? Technical mistakes led me to explore the inherent imperfections within the photographic process. Unpredictable elements (blur, abstraction, motion, flare) seemed to insinuate, or refer to, the unseen. I began to use conventions that are considered wrong, messy, or ‘tricky’. I crossed the boundary of what is commonly considered unprofessional in the practice of photography: I invited anomaly. In playing with the process, the invisible was automated. My camera rendered some striking synchronicities. The resulting images consider the conjuring power of photography itself. I include these pictures that use photography’s own mechanisms to question spiritual realities: photographs that contain both mechanical and spiritual explanations and require an interpretation.”
Medium Sylvia Howarth enters a trance. England, 2013. Photo by Shannon Taggart.
SÉANCE is currently available for pre-order directly from Fulgur Press, also available as a deluxe, signed edition, and will be published on October 17, 2019.
All photos shared here with kind permission.