Wednesdays at Noon October 31, 2012


Every Wednesday in October at Noon join NOMA’s Curator of Photography, Russell Lord, for an informative and engaging talk focusing on one object from the exhibition, Photography, Sequence, and Time (on view through December 2, 2012).

The talks will begin at Noon on the second floor in the Templeman Galleries.

10/31: “There’s a Ghost in My Photograph: Photography and Spirit”

From the curator, Russell Lord:

“On October 31st, 1931, a group of people sat around a table in a darkened room and conducted a séance, in the hopes of conjuring up spirits. A small box of glass negatives, unwrapped and unopened was placed at the center of the table. It remained there for six consecutive sittings, completely unexposed to light. At the end of the day, the negatives were removed from the box and developed immediately. The photograph shown here was made from one of those negatives. At first glance, the photograph seems to be almost subject-less: it is nothing but an abstract arrangement of lines and shapes. But upon closer inspection, these shapes appear to be the result of bright flashes of light. If we are to believe the inscription on the back of this photograph, which insists that this negative was not exposed to light, then how did these flashes come to be recorded on the glass plate? As the members of the séance would tell you, these flashes must have been the result of spirits, dancing across the surface of the negative in the dark.

Photography’s relationship to spirits and the otherworldly goes back to the origins of photography itself. The strange and sudden appearance of an image on a metal plate or a piece of paper was so perplexing to many early viewers that it is common to see photography described as a “black magic” or a “dark art” during its earliest years. As photography came to be seen as a reliable and faithful recording tool, photographs of ghosts were put forward as “evidence” of the existence of a world invisible to the human eye. As early as the mid-19th century, spirit photographers became embroiled in debates and lawsuits about the truth or falsehood of their works. These debates continue today. Spirit photography, therefore, raises several important questions that are central to photography’s history as a whole (photography’s relationship to truth or reality). They also engage with our own inclinations to accept or to doubt, as if each spirit photograph dares us to ask ourselves: What do I believe?”

Wednesdays are FREE admission days for everyone, courtesy of the Helis Foundation.

About Photography, Sequence, & Time
Individual photographs are powerful but open-ended messages. The photograph gives us a single moment, ripped from the relentless march of time and stripped of its narrative context. Without the before and after, this moment is re-staged as a timeless icon: no past, no future, only an eternal present. Throughout the history of photography, photographers have sought to overcome the limitations of the single photographic image by embedding it within series of sequential photographs. These sequences return the single image to a visible time line and attempt to fix its meaning within the context of others.

This September, NOMA will present an exhibition that will examine the ways in which meaning, narrative, and time intersect in photographic sequences from the nineteenth century to the present. Professional photographers, clever amateurs, and artists alike have produced photographic sequences to address issues from the mundane to the profound. Some explore the principles of physics, capturing movements too quick for the human eye, while others were conceived of as works of art. Some are humorous examples of “trick” photography; others are serious meditations on life and death. In these works, time can be measured in fractions of a second or decades, and it can be created fictionally-for example spending an hour to fake a split second fight scene in a portrait studio – or recorded factually, as in Eadweard Muybridge’s famous motion studies of animals and people.

In all of these examples, what is not shown is just as important as what is: the empty space between each picture becomes a threshold for thought as our minds naturally seek to fill in the void, blending these discrete moments into a seamless continuum of space and time. This exhibition will consider the concept of sequential photography broadly, including multiple exposure images (sequential images made on the same negative), the role of sequencing in picture book production, and sequences that were conceived as such from the very beginning, as well as those that were gathered together after the fact.

The constant assembling and re-shuffling of images has become an organizing principle in our lives, with image sequences that reach us with greater speed and frequency dictating the tenor and flow of the stories we tell. The works in this exhibition mirror this fragmented and multi-faceted nature of our increasingly visual culture. At the same time, they demonstrate that sequencing, fragmentation, and the manipulation of time have been central to photography from its origins to the present.

This event is related to the exhibition Photography, Sequence, & Time.