Panoptic Phantoms: The Uncanny Gaze of the Spirit in Nineteenth Century Photography

Ashleigh Black* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to Kaplan, spirit photography can be perceived as another way of interpreting the camera’s ability “see the invisible and reveal truths beyond the powers of the naked eye.” Photography was a medium born using light and as such was believed to render the invisible, visible. Through the camera, Spiritualists sought tangible evidence and confirmation of their belief in life after death. Spence defines spirit photography as “the production of photographs on which alleged spirit-forms are visible.” This paper examines the application of panopticism to spirit photographs from the nineteenth century. The purpose of this paper is not to debate the existence of spirits or the authenticity of spirit photographs, instead it provides an analysis of the phenomenon through the lens of panopticism and the ‘uncanny gaze’ of the spirit in nineteenth century photography.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-64
Number of pages9
JournalExclamat!on Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Journal
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


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