Ursula Frederick asked me to be in a show to accompany an ANU conference on love. I resurrected some of my Ada Deane spirit photographs which I had printed on silk some years ago, and draped then onto model hands I brought from Lincraft. This is what I wrote for the catalogeue:
The 1920s was a big decade for love, loss and yearning, as a host of loved ones were lost to cataclysmic events like the First World War and the flu epidemic. The 1920s was also a big decade for new media, as amateur photography became pervasive and electronic media like the radio connected people across vast distances. In this climate gnawing absences could often become ghostly presences in certain over active imaginations, and Spiritualism was in heyday.
In the 1920s the char-woman and pedigree dog breeder Ada Emma Deane conducted photographic séances at London’s Society for Psychical Research. People yearning to reconnect with their lost loved ones once more would send in a box of photographic plates which she would magnetize to the psychic spectrum by placing the box beneath her blouse against her chest. When they arrived for the séance the plates would be further sensitized as they placed their hands on the box, and she placed her hands on their’s. They would then sit on a wicker-work settee and, as Ada fussed around with her rickety old camera, think of the face they longed to see once more. Later, in the alchemical cave of Ada’s darkroom they would slip the plate into the developer and watch as their face appeared in the glass, to be followed shortly by another face, an ‘extra’ returned from beyond the grave.
I’ve had a long-standing interest in spirit photographs, which I see as simply an extreme amplification of the way all of us use portrait photographs of our loved ones. I’ve mainly written about them, but occasionally I have experimented with them too, trying to get right into the slippery, mucousy, labile, placental, ectoplasmic, ephemeral secretions of the photograph. These details from Ada’s spirit photographs are printed on expensive wedding dress silk which I brought from a shop in Sydney. It’s designed to shimmer as it flows around the body of the bride.
Ursula has a great catalogue too.