CULTURE & ARTS
03/27/2017 10:25 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2017

Haunting Photos Transport You To The World’s Largest Spiritualist Community

Photographer Shannon Taggart spent 16 years trying to capture the essence of Lily Dale, New York.
Shannon Taggart

In 2001, photographer Shannon Taggart visited Lily Dale, New York, home to a community of healers, mediums and other practitioners of Spiritualism ― the belief that we can communicate with the dead.

Established by Spiritualists in the 1870s, the town is now the practice’s center, attracting over 20,000 visitors each year to convene with its residents, and to witness or participate in their practices, including healing circles and séances.

Taggart thought she’d only stay for one summer, but was entranced by the movement’s followers, who she describes on her site as “earnest” and “surprising.” That summer was the beginning of Taggart’s 16-year effort to capture Spiritualism on camera.

“Early on in the project I became frustrated photographing Spiritualism, because much of what I was supposed to be recording was invisible,” Taggart told The Huffington Post in an interview. “I was surrounded by people who were describing intense interactions with unseen spirits ― not your standard documentary situation. I felt that my straightforward photographs were not doing justice to the psychological reality of these events.”

Shannon Taggart

So, she was excited when an accident gave her the idea for a new aesthetic, and a new approach to the project. While photographing a séance using a long exposure, she captured a blurred image of a woman’s face, one that made it look like she was floating above herself. It just so happened that attendees claimed to see the woman’s doppelgänger floating beside her that night, and so Taggart felt that the effect mirrored the mood of the event.

“I embraced conventions that are considered wrong, messy, or ‘tricky’, and crossed the boundary of what is commonly considered unprofessional,” Taggart said. The resulting images are often grainy, blurry, or otherwise distorted, meant to capture the otherworldly quality of the material itself. 

Taggart explores Lily Dale ― the subject of a 2010 HBO special, which described the assembly as the world’s largest community of mediums ― both as an observer and a participant; she says she aims to blur the lines between art, journalism and ethnographic study. 

“My ultimate goal would be that these images create a mysterious experience for the viewer,” she said.

  • Shannon Taggart
  • Shannon Taggart
  • Shannon Taggart
  • Shannon Taggart
  • Shannon Taggart
  • Shannon Taggart
  • Shannon Taggart
  • Shannon Taggart

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