Shannon Taggart  

For a period of three years, Shannon Taggart has been photographing two of the major modern psychic communities. As such, she has developed a level of trust as participant-observer, receiving unprecedented access to these fascinating, significant locales in Spiritualism's history. Just across the "tracks" from the turn-of-the-century educational center of Chautauqua and about an hour away from Buffalo, Lily Dale has enjoyed visitors such as Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Susan B. Anthony. Taggart was inspired to undertake this project in part because of a personal experience at a séance as well as her former teacher Bill McDowell's early 1990s investigations in the village.

Taggart's work provides a thoughtful, aesthetic and philosophical complement to the historical images by combining the best elements of documentary and art. Taken in available light, Taggart's images often feature blurred and abstracted color and motion, mirroring the experiences and emotions occurring before her. These elemental effects of camera language represent something only photography can see and thus create, much like the syntax of spirit photography. Brian in the Medium's Cabinet, for example, shows not only the psychic using an important historical accoutrement, but also acting as camera obscura, darkroom, and sensitized conduit in the "safe" red light of the séance.

Currently, a MFA student at Rochester Institute of Technology, Taggart was named one of PDN Magazine's "Thirty Under 30: Emerging Photographers to Watch" in 2001 and one of Nikon's "Shooting Stars". Taggart has been showcased in Blind Spot twice, most recently in January 2003 with selections from this series.

Shannon Taggart, Brian in the Medium's Cabinet, Arthur Findlay College at Stansted, 2003, C-Print, 21 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist

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Artist Statement

Spiritualism is a religion based primarily on a belief in the ability to communicate with spirits of the dead. The photographs presented here were taken at Lily Dale and the Arthur Findlay College, two important hubs for this faith.

Lily Dale, New York is home to the world's largest Spiritualist community. Founded in 1879, it began as an exclusive summer camp for Spiritualists, Suffragists and Free Thinkers. Today, it is a small town with its own post office, museum, hotel, churches, fire department and 150 residents, most of whom are psychic mediums. The Arthur Findlay College, located in Stansted, England is a center where students can study Spiritualist philosophy and religious practice, Spiritualist healing, psychic unfoldment and kindred disciplines. The college takes place in Stansted Hall, a Victorian mansion built in 1871. The residence was bequeathed to the Spiritualist National Union under the will of J.Arthur Findlay and in accordance with his wishes is administered by the Union as a College for the advancement of Psychic Science.

The images presented here represent part of a current work in progress on modern Spiritualism. As a complete collection, my photographs are meant to document this religion's practices, to illustrate what it means to be a Spiritualist, to attempt to manifest the unseen and to pose the question "What if?"

Copyright © 2002, Photographic Resource Center, Inc.