Photos of Spiritualism – The Washington Post

Photos of Spiritualism - The Washington Post


When photographer Shannon Taggart was younger, a medium revealed a family secret surrounding the circumstances of her grandfather’s death. That set in motion a lifelong fascination with Spiritualism.

Taggart would eventually spend some 20 years documenting Spiritualist communities around the world, specifically in the United States, the U.K. and Europe. The results of her fascination have been brought together in a fascinating group of photographs in her book “Seance” (Atelier Editions, 2022).

“Seance” was originally published to wide acclaim in 2019 (it was named one of Time’s best photo books that same year). This year, a revised edition of the book has been published.

The photographs mirror the quirky nature of the Spirtualist communities that Taggart visited while delving into the people and activities practiced by the people involved in those communities.

Taggart’s images are rife with mystery. There’s a poetic bent to them as well. Looking at the images throws you into this unique world.

Some of her earliest images were made in the world’s largest Spiritualist community located in Lily Dale, N.Y. An afterword to the book tells us:

“Taggart, then a practicing photojournalist, found herself obsessively drawn to Lily Dale, New York — the world’s largest Spiritualist community. Her transformative experiences there catalyzed a 20-year odyssey documenting Spiritualist communities throughout the world in search of “ectoplasm” — an emanation exorcised from the body of the medium, believed to be both spiritual and material.”

I remember the first time I became aware of Taggart’s work. It was 2002, one year after the fall of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York.

I was still trying to make it as a photographer at the time and had made the decision to attend the prestigious Eddie Adams workshop. It just so happened to be that Taggart was also attending the workshop that year.

All of us new photographers would pass our work to each other, eager to hear what kind of feedback we’d get. I had done some political and conflict photography by that point and showed that around.

When I looked at Taggart’s work, I froze in my tracks. It was far more unusual and interesting than just about any work from anyone at that workshop.

Taggart had already begun working in Spiritualist communities and the work, much like what you see here, was full of passion. It was clear then, as it is now, that this subject not only fascinated her but had real meaning for her.

Whenever those things come together and shine through in a body of work, you’ve got something very special.

When I stumbled across an announcement that “Seance” was being republished in a new version, all of those memories of first being exposed to Taggart’s work came rushing back.

Her work has stood the test of time. It is just as fascinating and pulsating with life and passion as it was that day I saw it for the first time.

You can find out more about the book, and buy it, here.