This week for my course on visual culture and history, I wrote my paper on the images associated with spirit mediums and seances in the late 19th century. The reason I chose this topic is because we were assigned to work with images about death or the spectacle of horror at the end of the 19th century.
Here’s my first paragraph, the whole paper is attached if anyone is interested.
In Cara Finnegan’s book, Making Photography Matter, she noted that the time period between the Civil War at one end, and the Great Depression on the other, was “a period when photography became a dominant medium of cultural life.” Finnegan provided several examples of the way this photography grew out of the acute absence felt by Americans of their lost loved-ones to the Civil War. Because so many were lost and because it took so long to learn their fates, spirit photography became very popular. But it was not just the war and sense of loss that interested Americans in the spirit phenomenon. Finnegan also noted, “In the case of battlefield and spirit photography, viewers were forced to confront the stark novelty of photographs that pictured death (and perhaps even the ghostly afterlife) in a time of national upheaval.” It is this very upheaval Finnegan mentioned that gave rise to the American Spiritualist Movement.