Shannon Taggart is a professional photographer who also captures images of the ineffable world of spiritualism. A visit to the Spiritualist community of Lilydale in upstate New York and an incredibly specific psychic reading started her on a years-long quest to interface with and photograph the people of the town, their beliefs, and their practices.
The experiences and pictures she was getting surprised Taggart and blurred the lines between documentation, objectivity, and art. Unexpected lights, images, and “mistakes” in her photos called into question whether she was really just a chronicler of the rituals or was beginning to act as a participant and partner. For those used to photography as a form of pure representation, this interview may be either a revelation or an exercise in frustration. As Shannon said during the interview, “photography is a trickster medium.”
Before the show, Shannon described her frustration with explaining her attitude towards the paranormal and encapsulated a perfect approach with the phrase “I take this seriously, but not literally.” This should be a commandment to those who pursue an understanding of the unexplained.
We discussed the history and amazingly parallel development of photography and spiritualism: the first public seances were held less than a mile from the first Kodak facility in New York state within a few years of each other. Taggart also described her working method and how it allows for random events and results to enter the process – which may allow some effects that are meaningful to the subjects of her work. She recently attended a seminar which championed a return to the original methods of spirit photography, even the use of vintage equipment and rituals. She also described one Spiritualist who is using a movement tracker from an X-Box to achieve better results. She also described ectoplasm and her attempts to document this controversial phenomenon.
Finally, we discussed the crossover between her world and UFO study, and how a creative approach may be used in concert with a scientific mindset to explore new areas of research.
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