The Perfect Medium

Photography and the Occult

With essays by: Clement Cheroux, Pierre Apraxine, Andreas Fischer, Denis Canguilhem, Sophie Schmit


Spirit Photography

Psychic Photographs


Auras, Ectoplasm, and Spirits

The Perfect Medium covers a fascinating movement in photography that will be familiar to many visitors to the American Museum of Photography: our online exhibition "Do You Believe?" has been exploring spirit photographs and the associated issues of faith and fraud since 1999.

Based on a wildly popular exhibition shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, The Perfect Medium includes images from the 1860s to the 1960s. In addition to photographs depicting spirit mediums, seances, ghosts and ectoplasm, this book includes photographs of "fluids" and auras that tread the line between scientific experimentation and abstract art. There are camera-less thought-o-graphs that appear to show glowing shapes and other-worldly faces in a swarm of bubbles. Levitations are recorded, too -- both in the form of leaping mediums caught in mid-air, and objects like folding snack tables that are supposedly defying gravity.

288 Pages
9 x 11.5 inches
More than 250 color illustrations

The book is divided into three sections: "Photographs of Spirits," "Photographs of Fluids," and "Photographs of Mediums." Each section is accompanied by essays and portfolios of images. The section on "Fluids" covers a range of odd ideas, from Kirlian photography to "thoughtography" to the concept of a universal life-fluid or "ether" that invisibly snakes through everything in existence. The essay by Clement Cheroux catalogues all of these invisible rays and mysterious emanations and explains how they fit into scientific thought a century ago. Cheroux's comments are especially helpful in helping the reader understand the weird blobs and glows seen in the photographs accompanying this section, which are often reminiscent of abstract art.

In the studies of mediums, Pierre Apraxine's essay on "The 'Margery' Case" recounts the cat-and-mouse game played by magician Harry Houdini and a clever Boston socialite/spirit medium known to the public as "Margery." Other writings cover familiar ground: the spirit photographers William Mumler and Frederick Hudson, and the adamant insistence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that photographs of both ghosts and fairies were genuine.

After an exhibition completes its tour, the photographs come down from the walls and are returned to the institutions and private collectors that loaned them. Even the best exhibitions leave little more than impressions and emotional memories for those who have seen them in person. But when an exhibit is accompanied by a fine illustrated work like The Perfect Medium, it can live on for many years and reach wider and wider audiences... to educate, amuse, and share the experience of seeing these rare and often beautiful works of faith and fraud, hope and deception, belief and intrigue.

 Click here to purchase a copy of The Perfect Medium: Photography & The Occult
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