July 18, 2003

Gallery Preview: Roomfull of Phantoms

roomfull.jpg
Roomfull of Phantoms, 2002-2003, 26 x 35, collage of digital photographs.

by Catherine King

This piece began for me before I realized I had started. A little collection of paranormal photographs banded together, and by the time I noticed it, the recreation of a haunted room was composing itself.

It was my second photo session after I discovered orbs in our living room. In my excited need to reassure myself about the presence of supernatural beings in our old apartment, I rushed from room to room taking digital photographs.

When I clicked the camera shutter from the hallway facing into the bedroom, I captured an intense burst of electronic energy. It was like a room-sized light display suddenly flashed before me. There were also photographs taken in the bedroom during that session that show inexplicable blue light anomalies and hot white smears.

I would not photograph in there again for months after I captured these phenomena. I wouldnít look at the pictures, and generally tried to avoid acknowledging that ghosts were in our bedroom with us. It was challenging enough to accept them in the living room and den. I needed for just one room to be spirit-free. Besides, I couldnít see them or feel them. Why, if it werenít for all of the photographs, one could almost feel normal in the apartment.

It was awfully dark in there, though. And kind of oppressive feeling, if we really stopped to think about it, which we didnít. I often experienced very sad feelings for a long time before sleep would finally come. Hours and hours of strange noises, every night. They could just be the thin walls of a huge old apartment building. (Even though the echoes of kids playing outside in the middle of the night never did sound right.)

The seasons wore on, then turned, and I felt compelled to continue with digital spirit photography in more areas of the haunted apartment. I could no longer compartmentalize in my life and mind between my personal space and my paranormal laboratory. But I was sure not to begin the photographic series that was to become Roomfull of Phantoms until I could handle the breaking of that boundary.

So it was that late one winter afternoon I decided that I may as well see what I could capture in the bedroom, since by this time I had to concede that the entire apartment was haunted, anyway. The visual evidence was just undeniable. I was in a very curious frame of mind and felt ready to deal with anything and everything that was in our bedroom. With camera in hand I could now document it all.

In order to get most of the room in the frame, I had to back up clear into the far corner. Right on my side of the bed as a matter of fact -- just where I lay my head down at night -- that was the point of view in the Roomfull of Phantoms.

Crouching in the corner of the bedroom, the view that I saw between several open door frames was spellbinding. There was the Haunting Lamp, just sitting up on the dining room table, perfectly framing itself in the crack between the worlds -- thatís what it looked like. Seen through the length of the dark bedroom, past the shadowy alcove that was the little vanity room, through another doorway and there it was -- shining with its eerie glow from two gloomy rooms away.

I became riveted by that slice of pink light that beamed to me from some other dimension, just the other side of the furthest doorway. How impressive of the Haunting Lamp to present this unforgettable imagery, I thought. Once again, this so-called inanimate object had expressed itself with powerful poignancy.

Thus I found my focus and my vantage point at the very place where my mental world intersected with the collective unconscious -- the pillow on my bed. I photographed that scene, between the doorways, across the apartment and into another world, many more times over that long winter.

The orbs, as can be seen in this piece, appeared in the bedroom photographs from the beginning. And every downloaded vision was hinging and hanging on that pink portal in the middle of the frame. Day after day, I would gaze at the array of uncanny images on my computer screen until I realized that I was already assembling them in my mind. Maybe I could create a physical representation of the supernatural -- to freeze and make visible the image of my own beaming, bubbling bedroom.

I decided to print out sections of many of the bedroom pictures in order to construct a single image. That way I could show the repetitive appearances of the orbs. It quickly became confusing, with all the layering and the editing of hundreds of orb images out of hundreds of photos. The juxtaposing was really complicated because of the sheer volume of material that I had to somehow condense.

I tried to cut and paste in the computer, but the results didnít look right when I printed them out. The resolution was all wrong in dozens of images. This was a major setback for me -- hours of wasted work. But if I didnít figure out a solution, I felt that Iíd be wasting weeks of photographing and editing.

I was devastated. It could also have been the haunted apartment, intensifying my sense of despair. For weeks I left the Roomfull of Phantoms photos out on the work table, but covered up. So they were always there to remind me of my failure, but more than that, because I had already given so much to that piece that I could never get back. I hated Roomfull of Phantoms, but I knew I had to finish it, which made me hate it more.

I was resisting, hanging back psychologically before going into another phase of struggles with this piece. To physically splice every orb into the bedroom scene would be insanely labor-intensive, as any reasonable person would determine. But at the same time it would look and feel so irresistible, an obsessive person would say. I had told myself I wasnít going to do anymore of the kind of art that Roomfull of Phantoms would surely be (if it werenít already) if I allowed myself to actually cut and paste and then splice every orb into the scene.

Spring arrived; things seemed brighter and I felt a little more accepting of my artistic impulses. I told myself then that the piece would just be an artifact, for my own self. That way I felt free enough to be unforgiving with my own material, because my methods were very difficult to do well and so easy to mess up. But I got back on the horse, as they say, and figured out how to give it my very best from there on out.

I thought I was making a great start of it. I got far enough along in the difficult work of splicing that I felt as though a rhythm was emerging. Maybe the piece was going to look all right after all, even if it was going to take me many hours of hard concentration to accomplish it. As I labored over that uncanny bedroom and handled all those ghosts, my thoughts wandered to sad and serious places. I knew that no matter what might happen in the near future (here I hoped that nothing horribly, earth-shatteringly bad would), nothing was going to prevent me from finishing Roomfull of Phantoms.

Again, it very well may have been the haunted apartment somehow amplifying the dismal outlook. But anyway, suddenly when I looked at the artwork before me, I could see and had to admit that in spite of all my good intentions and hard work, it just looked embarassingly funky. I HATED ROOMFULL OF PHANTOMS! Now I cried, a lot and for a long time. Looking back, as through a black cloud, I seem to remember a foreign-feeling depression that grew and spread throughout the apartment and over my entire outlook for days.

I rode out that black mood, because there never was any question but that I would finish the piece. With as much detachment as I could muster, I returned to Roomfull of Phantoms. I worked in an automatic way, determining that triumph would come simply with completion -- regardless of the pieceís imperfections. it was an embarrassment and a thorn in my side, but I had to put it all together.

There it lay on the dining room table for weeks as I humbly persevered. One morning, when I lifted away the tissue protection -- another nightmare -- wine drops on the foam core base! And I was almost done with the cursed artwork!

For a few days I stressed and fussed about how to splice clean patches into the foam core. But we were getting ready to move from the old haunted apartment, at last, and I finally understood -- these wine stains, the tears, the imperfections -- all are part of Roomfull of Phantoms -- a hard-lived and hard-won piece.

Posted by Jerome at July 18, 2003 05:57 PM
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