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The Role of Women in Victorian-era Spirit Photography: A New Narrative

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The Role of Women in Victorian-era Spirit Photography: A New Narrative

Hamer, Felicity Tsering Chödron (2015) The Role of Women in Victorian-era Spirit Photography: A New Narrative. Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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Abstract

Borne by the same ideas that founded Spiritualism in the nineteenth century, spirit photographs are joint-portraits achieved posthumously, without use of a corpse, wherein the bereaved are visually united with the deceased. These enchanted mementos are said to have been ‘invented’ in 1861, in Boston, Massachusetts, by William H. Mumler. Spirit photographers typically worked with individuals who claimed mediumistic qualities in order to enable the appearance of the magical ‘extras’ of the deceased. The majority of mediums were women and it is not surprising that the contributions of women to the production of spirit photography have been limited almost exclusively to such enabling activities. I will argue for a more foundational placement of women within the narrative of this innovative development within personal mourning rituals, shaped largely by women’s expertise and practice. Not only is the readiness to dismiss women as active participants in the invention illogical, but Mumler’s position as sole inventor has been maintained notwithstanding inconsistencies, and outright contradictions. My investigation of his involvement with this genre of photography is fueled by the acknowledged proximity of two women – Helen F. Stuart and Hannah Frances Green (later Mumler) – to the invention. With Stuart generally presented as owner of the studio in which Mumler stumbled upon his invention and Green as a secretary and medium in the same studio, scholars tend to refuse these women any larger roles, pushing them rather quickly to the periphery. This text establishes the viability of a new narrative that addresses these concerns, making the heretical suggestion that these women were in fact one in the same, and proposing that this woman was in fact the ‘author’ if not ‘co-author’ of spirit photography.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Fine Arts > Art History
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Hamer, Felicity Tsering Chödron
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Program:Art History
Date:September 2015
Thesis Supervisor(s):MacKenzie, Dr. Catherine
ID Code:980537
Deposited By: FELICITY T. C. HAMER
Deposited On:26 Oct 2015 19:07
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:51
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