For the past twenty years American artist Shannon Taggart (born 1975) has documented Spiritualist practices and communities in the United States, England, and Europe. The resulting body of work, Séance, examines the relationship of Spiritualism to human celebrity, its connections to art, science, and technology, and its intrinsic bond with the medium of photography. This exhibition presents forty-seven haunting images from the series, revealing the emotional, psychological, and physical dimensions of Spiritualism in the 21st century.
© Shannon Taggart
Spiritualism is a religion born in nineteenth-century America whose adherents believe in communication with spirits, often transmitted through the figure of a medium who receives psychic messages from the dead. Not coincidentally, photography was invented at the same historical moment, when the new technology was revered for its ability to faithfully record reality. Photography thus became a preferred medium of scientific documentation capable of rendering invisible phenomena visible, such as in astronomical photography, X-Rays, and microscopy. For Spiritualists, photography was a tool for revealing the existence of spirits, but for non-believers the ghostly forms that materialized in spirit photographs proved nothing more than darkroom trickery. While this double-sided coin of belief and skepticism haunts the histories of both photography and Spiritualism, Taggart’s photographs do not take sides. The images that comprise Séance are characterized by open-mindedness and empathy toward their subjects, many of whom are brought to Spiritualism through grief and a desire to reconnect with lost loved ones.
The photographs on display explore the communities and phenomena associated with Spiritualism, including séance circles, mediumship, and the objects and technological devices used to aid communication with spirits. Among the most arresting images are those that chart the artist’s quest to capture ectoplasm, a supernatural substance that is paradoxically both spiritual and material. Often made in darkened rooms, the photographs are characterized by otherworldly blurs, chance flares and orbs, and entrancing portraits cast in glowing colors. Taking on the role of participant observer, Taggart bears witness with her camera to an unseen world of belief lying just beyond the fringes of everyday reality.
Shannon Taggart is an artist and author based in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. Her photographs have been exhibited and featured internationally, including within the publications TIME, New York Times Magazine, Discover, and Newsweek. Her work has been recognized by Nikon, Magnum Photos and the Inge Morath Foundation, American Photography and the Alexia Foundation for World Peace. Taggart’s monograph, SÉANCE (Fulgur Press, 2019) was listed as one of TIME magazine’s ‘Best Photobooks of 2019.’
This exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Pensacola Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Beth Saunders, Curator and Head of Special Collections at UMBC, and Anna Wall, Chief Curator of the Pensacola Museum of Art. The presentation of this exhibition at UMBC is supported by an arts program grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the Libby Kuhn Endowment Fund, as well as individual contributions.
Séance: Photographs by Shannon Taggart
until December 17, 2021