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Thursday, 24 June 2010



File:HerdenkingVuurgrensRotterdam1940 2007  edit1.jpg

Each ship was as a wraith
in a spirit photograph

Fireline above Rotterdam, commemorating May 1940 aerial bombing by Germany: photo by Y.S. Groen, 2007


Curtis Roberts said...

Spirit photographs summon up profound memories.

TC said...

Here's one.

As you probably know, Curtis, these things were pretty popular until it dawned on people they were being manipulated, and that the appearance of the dead in the photos was a hoax, calculated, much like table tapping, to play upon people's sense of loss and longing for those gone. And of course upon people's gullibility. But while it lasted, good American business, gulling and being gulled, a sucker born every minute, Mundus vult decipi & c.

Of course the wispy spirits of the dear departed of the nineteenth century and the ghosts of the Luftwaffe in the sky over Rotterdam in the millennial non-spirit photograph are distinct (non-) entities.

TC said...

BTW, Curtis, in the comment chain on that post to which I've just given a link, there's a bit about William H. Mumler, the inventor of spirit photography. (He discovered the process accidentally by coming up with an interesting double exposure.)

There's also a link to his masterpiece, The Ghost of Abraham Lincoln.

Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you. I will pursue this with great interest. My favorite "near" or "pseudo" spirit photograph, which I think about quite often, is a picture taken by the 19th century French photographer Arthur Batut of his son, which Penguin Books used as the cover illustration for its edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales. Batut, who I read is considered to be the father of aerial photography, was fooling around (apparently for expressive purposes) with double-exposure images and he achieved a haunting photograph, which Penguin adapted quite effectively for the cover of the Stevenson collection. I will always have a sentinmental attachment to the Batut image and the Stevenson story because (among other things) it was the first real work of literature that moved my daughter Jane. In school, they tend to assign her flat, didactic, obvious books. In Dr. Jekyll, she gasped at the "gasp" places, felt the characters' feelings and saw London streets she had already seen as they were over a century ago. I think that was a fine spirit perception.


Tom (and Curtis),

Thanks for this, and for the 'conversation' that follows (something here that seems to resonate) ---


first grey light in fog against invisible
ridge, blue jay landing on redwood fence
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

in which existential reality
is figured, as expected

picture, turned into a thing,
frame of mirror surface

sunlit cloud in pale blue sky above ridge,
grey-white plane of fog across from point

TC said...


For me the image on the post was moving because it re-created (or created) a sensation of watching the searchlight beams seeking out German bombers in the night sky -- an experience which of course I never had, though in the nights of my WW II era childhood such images often haunted.


In a fog here too... punctuated brightly by

blue jay landing on redwood fence

picture, turned into a thing,

figured, (not quite) as expected...

aditya said...

A wonderful poem Tom and a wonderful follow up conversation to accompany it.

Mundus vult decipi & c.

Always have liked how you at times link up posts and comments at multiple different places. Thanks for the poem..

Anonymous said...

A mesmerizing poem, Tom. You have made me think of the Caleuche

TC said...

Yes, Lucy -- ghost ships, sirenas y brujos en el cielo.

~otto~ said...