The Perfect Medium

Photography and the Occult

Clément Chéroux, Andreas Fischer, Pierre Apraxine, Denis Canguilhem, and Sophie Schmit; With contributions by Crista Cloutier and Stephen E. Braude

View Inside Price: $75.00


October 1, 2005
288 pages, 9 x 11
280 color illus.
ISBN: 9780300111361
Cloth

Gallimard

The mesmerizing photographic history of occult phenomena, from levitations and apparitions to spectres, ghosts, and auras.

In the early days of photography, many believed and hoped that the camera would prove more efficient than the human eye in capturing the unseen. Spiritualists and animists of the nineteenth century seized on the new technology as a method of substantiating the existence of supernatural beings and happenings. This fascinating book assembles more than 250 photographic images from the Victorian era to the 1960s, each purporting to document an occult phenomenon: levitations, apparitions, transfigurations, ectoplasms, spectres, ghosts, and auras. Drawn from the archives of European and American occult societies and private and public collections, the photographs in many cases have never before been published.


The Perfect Medium studies these rare and remarkable photographs through cultural, historical, and artistic lenses. More than mere curiosities, the images on film are important records of the cultural forces and technical methods that brought about their production. They document in unexpected ways a period when developing photographic technology merged with a popular obsession with the occult to create a new genre of haunting experimental photographs.

CLÉMENT CHÉROUX is a historian of photography and assistant editor-in-chief of the review Études photographiques. ANDREAS FISCHER is the Curator of Photographs at the Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene in Freiburg, Germany. PIERRE APRAXINE is director of the Howard Gilman Foundation in New York. DENIS CANGUILHEM is an art dealer living in Paris. SOPHIE SCHMIT is a film editor and screenwriter.


EXHIBITION SCHEDULE

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (September 26 – December 31, 2005)

"Many rare and seldom seen photographs from both private and public collections make this an important contribution to the history of photography."—Art Times

"A spectacular compendium. . . . These experimental, documentary and promotional pictures of supernatural practices . . . are accompanied by informative essays . . . providing essential context, yet even the most colorful history is but a footnote to this arresting imagery. . . . No matter how cleverly they’re explained, or how thoroughly their occult origins are discredited, the pictures are no less beguiling to see. At once perfectly specific and perfectly vague, they are in fact some of the first experiments in photographic abstraction, and remain some of the most compelling to this day."—Jonathon Keats, Artweek

'The absolute runaway triumphs of the year were the levitations, apparitions, ectoplasms, spectres and mediums featured in The Perfect Medium. Utterly unputdownable, and guaranteed to haunt you for weeks.'---Lucy Davies, Daily Telegraph

"An intriguing new book. . . . Besides photographs, the Yale book contains fascinating stories."—David Bowman, Free New Mexican

"Thorough and fascinating. . . . Generously illustrated. . . . This book is as entertaining as it is enlightening."—Library Journal

"Here's a tome no cloak-wearing rogue taxidermy enthusiast should be without. . . . A spooky yet hilarious record of the Victorian era's obsession with auras, spirits, mediums, and those hard-to-get-out "ectoplasmic residue emissions."  All, of course, the result of some unintentionally funny but oddly cool-looking double-exposure work."—Tim Gideon, Men.style.com (Online Home of Details & GQ)

"An amazing compendium of historical photos. . . . The scholarly text puts it all into fascinating perspective."—People

"[This volume is] substantial—as opposed to sensational. . . . Thankfully, it is nevertheless full of freaky stuff. . . . One can also delight in the sheer beauty and incomparably spooky clarity of faces rendered on glass-plate negatives. . . . This body of work becomes more poignant, though, when we consider the human hopes invested in these endeavors."—Joanna Lehan, Photo District News

"The Perfect Medium is an excellent work about a slice of photographic history that is alternately intriguing, ridiculous, disgusting, astonishing and touching. The essays get to the point; the reproductions are the 'must-see' variety. If you ask the magic 8-Ball whether you should check out this volume, it would say, 'Signs point to yes.'"—James Kaufmann, Photographer's Forum

 

"This massive volume is more than a little spooky. . . . Focusing primarily on images from the late Victorian era through the 1930s [to] . . . explor[e] the long relationship between the photograph and occult phenomena. . . . A fascinating perspective on the photographic medium’s early formal and technological development. . . . The final section . . . provides genuine visceral impact and aesthetic depth."—Publishers Weekly

"...beautifully printed... The articles accompanying the photographs are detailed and well researched... This is what makes this book more a reference work than a mere catalogue... [A] valuable volume to possess." - Maurice Gross, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research

Beautifully produced. . . . Intriguing essays illuminate the practices and beliefs of occultists who used photography to visualize the invisible, such as spirits, auras, feelings, and dreams. . . . Though addressing a seemingly bizarre subject, the volume explores seriously the intersections of the history of photography with that of the occult. Readers may find it a refreshing escape from rationalist daily practices of 21st-century science."—Science

“Beautifully produced…[this book] documents the fascinating history of occult photography with scores of captivating images…[and] intriguing essays… Though addressing a seemingly bizarre subject, the volume explores seriously the intersections of the history of photography with that of the occult. Readers may find it a refreshing escape from rationalist daily practices of 21st-century science.” - Donna C. Mehos, Science

"A remarkable production that presents over 350 photographs of a variety of phenomena and topics related to spiritualism and psychical research. . . . Simply astounding in the quality and variety of its photographs. It is a unique document in the literature on the subject and one that will do much to inform the new generations of the existence of this rich psychic iconographic past."—Carlos S. Alvarado, Journal of Scientific Exploration

"The scholarly articles that accompany these images are thorough and provocative, and it is a testament to their own imaginative powers that the authors were able to raise such serious questions with material that is so rarely taken seriously."—Anthony Enns, Leonardo Reviews

"With its temperate prose, compelling pictures, and thorough notes and bibliography, The Perfect Medium suggests itself as an exemplary photographic reference."---Janet S Tyson, The Art Book

Selected by Photo-Eye Magazine for its best of 2005 round-up
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