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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Photography and Spirit

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 alternately have been derided as hoaxes or, at the other extreme, held up as irrefutable proof of the otherworld. Photography and Spirit examines these mesmerizing images of phantoms, psychical emanations, and religious apparitions.

            Drawing upon 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 he considers were taken by scientists, others by amateur and commercial photographers, and still others by robotic surveillance devices. The diverse origins of the spirit photographs have inspired a multiplicity of interpretations and engendered, in some cases, high levels of skepticism. Harvey’s analysis probes the connections between the images, human imagination, and larger cultural traditions. 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 cultures’ enduring fascination with the supernatural.

            Photo images of ethereal spirits render the border between what is real and what is fantastic indistinguishable. Photography and Spirit challenges our pre-conceived notions and offers an intriguing new perspective on the nature of photography.

176 pages | 20 color plates, 60 halftones | 7 1/2 x 8 2/3


Art: Photography

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"Judicious, sympathetic, and richly illustrated."

Marina Warner | Art Newspaper

"A rounded picture of the phenomenon. . . . Overall Harvey has done an excellent job in outlining how the three domains fed into the phenomenon of spirit photography, and how its fascination endures."

Tom Ruffles | Fortean Times

"This book will fascinate readers with its photographs of spirit contact and spirit presence. If you want to look at ghosts on film, these 80 illustrations will more than satisfy your interest . . .  This is a journey through the surreal, an active and in-depth examination of the numerous myths and cultural history surrounding spirit photography. . . . For the general reader, those interested in the paranormal, or the experienced ghost hunter, this is an ideal book to have in the home library. . . . Literate, well-written, and highly entertaining are the three words to best describe this book by John Harvey. Highly recommended!"– Lee Prosser,

Lee Prosser |

"Harvey captures a modern technological zeitgeist, a literal ghost in teh machine that mixes and merges the mystical, the artistic, and the scientific. At once a primer on optical advances and art history, Photography and Spirit is also about religious devotion and the ways new visual technologies affect teh beliefs and behaviors of religious people."

S. Brent Plate | Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Table of Contents

Spirits: Before the Camera

The Spirit of Religion
Visions and Visitations
Relics and Representation
Iconicity and Continuity
Crossing Over: From Service to Séance
After Image: Departing and Desire
After Life: Destinations and Demons

Passing On: From Séance to Science
Exposure: Testing the Spirits
The Photographic Medium

The Spirit and Art
The Photographer and Spirit
Phantom and Fabrication
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be
Legion: Revision and Diversification

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