For my séance self portrait I referred to the images taken in the Victorian period when spiritualism was at its height. The technique for faking the ghostly visitation photographs was fairly straight forward. The human figure would be photographed against a grey – black background when if shot on film would render the background semi transparent once processed as a negative. The ‘ghosts’ would then be photographed against a black background and processed the same way. Sandwiching the two negatives together and then printing the result would add semi transparent ghosts to the original image.

I wanted to try and reproduce this effect but make my ghostly ‘Fontcuberta’ fake using just modern digital techniques. (Film was considered but the dark room at the Uni wasn’t ready).  I also wanted to make my ghosts look a bit more horrific, in line with my intention to reproduce my Cindy Sherman ‘fake movie poster’ look.

Shoot 1 involved me dressing up as the medium (suit and tie) and being photographed against a grey / black back ground. This was achieved using a studio back drop and pole supports. The light source was a LED video lamp with a makeshift card surround forming a snoot. This was positioned above the chair I was going to sit on, giving the impression of a high standing lamp shining down on the medium.

To add some illumination to the back drop I laid a desk lamp with a 30 watt bulb on the floor pointing the head up the curtain. I wanted most of the curtain to remain black so I could position my ghosts later all around the medium.

Equipment used was a Nikon D800 and a 24-120 mm lens set to a focal length of 50mm. A rating of ISO400 was used with an aperture of f7.1 and a shutter speed of 1/2 second. This is probably as close as possible to the original camera settings used on the fake Victorian photos as the old cameras were very primitive in their design and a 1 to 1 lens (i.e. 50mm) was the norm. This would allow a sharp picture to be taken between 5-8 feet away to infinity. Most likely camera for the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fake was the Box Brownie, a very simple box camera with a fixed-focus lens and single shutter speed, or possibly one of the very first 35mm compact cameras such as the Leica 1 made in 1925. (http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/cameras.html , http://www.brownie-camera.com/articles/petelutz/article.shtml

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One of the final selection for the medium base shot.

The above shot would be de-saturated to turn it black and white, in line with the early Victorian photos, before adding in my ‘ghosts’. A smoky effect will be added in also and this will be strips of pulled cotton wool photographed against a piece of black velvet.




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