March 10, 2006
The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult
By Clement Cheroux, Andreas Fischer, Pierre Apraxine, Denis Canguilhem, and Sophie Schmit
Publisher: Yale University Press (October 2005)
Pages: 288 - Price: $65.00
Review by Chris Richardson - firstname.lastname@example.org
The perfect overview of photography mediumship's birth. The Perfect Medium chronicles the rich and colorful early history of this unique form of "spirit communication."
Spirit photography was born shortly after the Spiritualist movement which began with the Fox Sisters in Hydesville, New York, March 31, 1848. The concept still continues today, but you won't find mention of orbs, ectoplasmic mists, or ghost hunters in this book. In fact, there are only a scant few examples of photos that were taken past the late 1920s. You also won't find mention of the famous "Brown Lady of Raynham Hall" photo first published in Country Life Magazine in December of 1936. The reason these types of photos weren't covered is because The Perfect Medium focuses solely on the people who claimed (and often guaranteed) they could capture a spirit in a photograph, on-demand (usually for a fee).
Some of the photographers whose famous and infamous works have been wonderfully reproduced in this full-color coffee table book include William Mumler -- the Boston-based spirit photographer who is often credited with starting the movement; Frederick Hudson -- the man who brought the subject to prominence in Europe in the early 1870s; John Beattie, Reeves, John Trail Taylor, Edouard Isidore Buguet, Ada Emma Deane, William Hope, and many other mediums from the United States and Europe.
The authors do not try to prove nor disprove any of the claims or photographs within. When specific photographers (like Mumler) were discredited in the courts or the courts of public opinion, it's mentioned, but not dwelled upon. The book is broken into three sections: Photographs of Spirits -- which covers photographs of living people with a spirit or multiple spirits surrounding them mostly in semi-translucent form; Photographs of Fluids -- a look at some of the creative ways photographers used liquids to manipulate their pictures and obtain "supernatural" results when the images were developed; and Photographs of Mediums -- a look at bygone mediums and psychics in action at séances levitating tables, chairs, and even themselves.
The Perfect Medium was created in conjunction with the "The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult" exhibition that was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York September 27 - December 31, 2005. There are over 250 images in this book. Though some of these images can be found on various Internet sites, you won't find a more handsome collection of early "spirit" photos that will raise your eyebrow and offer up a few big questions to ponder.
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