Can film capture what our eyes can't see? There are many examples both historical and contemporary of photographs of spirits or ghosts. These images have been both derided as hoaxes or, at the other extreme, held up as irrefutable proof of the otherworld. One of two books in Reaktion's new series "Exposures", "Photography and Spirit" examines these tantalizingly blurred images of phantoms, psychical emanations and religious apparitions. Drawing on eighty images taken between 1860 and today, John Harvey explores spirit photography from the various perspectives of religion, science and art. Some of the photographs were taken by scientists, others by amateur and commercial photographers or mediums, and still others by robotic surveillance devices. The diverse origins of spirit photographs have inspired a multiplicity of interpretations and engendered, in some cases, high levels of scepticism. Harvey's analysis probes the connections between the images, human imagination, larger cultural traditions and scientific thought.
"Photography and Spirit" transforms what are often fringe objects of kitsch into revelatory artifacts of cultural history, drawing from them thought-provoking insights into the historical connections between the material and spiritual worlds, representations of grief, and human culture's enduring fascination with the supernatural. Uniquely blending art, science and human imagination, photo images of ethereal spirits blur the border between what is real and what is fantastic. "Photography and Spirit" challenges our preconceived notions and offers an intriguing new perspective on the nature of photography.