Last year at this time, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an incredible exhibit titled "The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult." The exhibit consisted of pictures from the late 19th century that were used to trick people into believing that the new-fangled cameras could capture the paranormal. The picture above was taken by a French gentleman who became wildly wealthy from his extra-sensory photos (he was also arrested for fraud later in his life). The photos were often created by double exposure, creating the ghostly, haunting image next to a much more solid one.
This is all fine and good and interesting, but what was really fascinating was the other pictures in the exhibit--pictures of people with their ghostly loved ones looking over them, protecting them, it seems. In this case, the photographer would either use a nondescript enough model that it could pass for anyone, or he would take a picture of the actual person and fade it enough that the ghost looked related, but different. He would then put one plate on top of the other to create the full, final image.
The aspect of this that really captivated me was this longing for your loved ones, a pressing, burning desire to know that when they died, they didn't disappear. Photography was a new enough medium that it was still surrounded by superstition and mysticism, and it was not such a far stretch to believe that it was possible to capture parts of the world that are uncapturable to the naked senses, particularly the world of spirits and paranormal phenomenon.
This desire is perfectly understandable. It's horrible to lose those you love, and incredibly reassuring to discover that they are still there, just over your shoulder--unseen, but present. Of course, this was just an illusion. A particularly cruel one, and the photographers were punished for their role in the trickery.
I remember after my grandmother died, my mom found a tape from the answering machine that had a recording of my grandma's voice on it. For a brief, delightful moment, it seemed as if my grandma was still there--unseen, but present. Then, of course, the realization that it was only a recording set in, along with the fresh pain of her absence. I also have a tape of my friend speaking at his mission farewell; the talk delivered a few weeks before he died. I've never worked up the courage to listen to it, but it's reassuring to know that his voice is still there, just the same. And perhaps it is this melancholy reassurance that makes the photographs so interesting to me as well.
Friday, October 27, 2006
We love Halloween, a ridiculous amount. My little sister hates it, and never dresses up, which I just cannot understand. P and I wait all year for the one night that we .can dress up and relive our high school drama glory days, yet still blend right in with the Wall Street crowd. All of us, anonymous, goofy, enchanting; pretending that it's acceptable for grown-ups to go out in public dressed as angels, sexy inmates, vampires and the rest.
Along with the dressing up, we decorate every year. October 1st (P made me wait), we pulled out our old lights, and went to Target to stock up on webs, gummy mice, and spiders. The spiders promptly invaded the lamp, while the mice nested on top of the television and on the window.
Our hearth (by hearth, I mean television console) is a dark menagerie of candles, pumpkins, and candy corn.
And this ghoulish display, craftily engineered by P, greets visitors from the street:
It would be nice if we had children, and could blame them for this obsession.
I guess we'll just have to own up to our demons.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
So, who do we think we are? I've been thinking about blogging and what I think I would say and about what and about who, and the pressure to be witty almost crushes me. But then from the back corners of my mind comes a mothers voice, calm and sweet, gently nudging me that she has not seen the Halloween lights in our window or the pumpkins picked from a mowed field. Well, it is to that voice I write, that lovely high pitched swaying voice, asking what color our hair is, or what the dog is being for Halloween. So if you find yourself reading and find yourself wondering, "Meeah" just remember someone out there is thinking, "Really!"