Last October 2021, we gathered some friends, historians, a museum curator, and fellow spectrophiles to run an experiment at the Museum of the Home in London. We wanted to see if we could recreate spirit photographs using historically accurate Victorian methods.
This post contains three parts. First, a short history of spirit photography. Second, an interview with our photographer Selina Mayer. And finally, our Spirit Photography Album with the outcomes of the experiment.
***If you want to skip straight to our Spirit Photography Album first, scroll to the bottom of this post.***
Throughout history, using legend and lore, we have sought to understand this night-time adventure. Witches have been condemned as the conjurers of nightmare sleep paralysis and faeries blamed for time loss or sleep-walking; we convince ourselves that ghostly spirits visit us at night with messages of hope or portents of danger.
In this illustrated lecture, Dr Romany Reagan will explore the creatures and meanings that fill our dreamscapes, from mediaeval British horrors to 19th-century curiosities and theories—and how these nocturnal happenings can play out in our waking lives.
Dr. Romany Reagan is an Arts Council England-funded research fellow with Museum of the Home, studying the hidden histories of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, from mediaeval cunning women and herbal witchcraft to 19th-century feminist botany. Her research has explored the layers of heritage within Abney Park cemetery and an occult literary heritage of London’s Stoke Newington area, as well as ‘earth mystery’, psychogeography and folklore, legends and lore from the British Isles.
This event is part of the Museum of the Home’s Festival of Sleep, running from June through September 2022.
Why do the dead return? Why, in the darkness of the night, when all activity has been reduced to a trembling in the distance, do the dead disavow their rest and return to the living? Those who pass from the land of the dead to the living carry with them the promise of a place to come, and that place is haunted. –Dylan Trigg
We love our ghost stories. We love to share them, analyse them, hunt for them, and hopefully even capture them with our cameras. But therein lies the troublesome aspect of ghosts—because our search is the pleasure, there is no joy in the answer.
There is in an excitement in these feelings; as a child, many of us remember the sudden horror, then the thrill, of walking through a cemetery and imagining a hand creeping out of a cracked grave. Or walking through an old ruin, forgetting the heritage of the place to instead imagine deep tragedies of our own invention, wishing for glimpses of the ghostly Grey Ladies who cry for justice amongst the stones.