by Christopher Schneberger
I've always been a storyteller as much as a photographer. A little over ten years ago I began making narrative images dealing with spirits that revisited the spaces, and sometimes the people, that were important to them in life. My spirits were not really the scary ghosts of horror movies or campfire lore, but ethereal interlopers that would visit lonely souls among the living. A lost daughter would appear to her still living mother, a husband might return to his widow, or a vaporous ballerina would dance for a lonesome janitor in her former studio.
I would often include specific names and dates (birth & death) for these spirits. Viewers and collectors find these specifics curious and ask me if there was some historical, factual basis for the imagery. At a certain point I decided I would create a much more ambitious project - somewhat of a whodunit mystery in the form of an installation. The project revolved around a pair of twins from the early 20th century, one of whom had mysteriously died but returned in spirit form to cavort with her sister. I wrote an elaborate backstory for this involving their family and a scientist cum photographer, Dr. Charles Addison. The exhibition took the form of an installation - the "recreation" of Dr. Addison's studio where (as I posit) Addison photographed Regina Crosswell and her ghostly twin, Lydia. The room had period wallpaper, curtains and the same furniture pieces seen in the photographs. I treated the installation as a museum exhibit, replete with curatorial text recounting the story. Not much gave any indication that it was a fictitious artistic work. To my great surprise, and joy, many people took it as fact and wondered how I had discovered this story.
Since that time, my work has continued to explore the supernatural in ordinary life, and particularly in America in the early 20th Century. The next story was about Frances Naylor, a legless girl who briefly developed, at the age of 13, the ability to levitate. She floated about her home in Evanston, Illinois, and was photographed by her father, an amateur photographer. Her mother saw the ability as a sinister manifestation and forbade her from levitating in public. The first exhibition of the work took place in the house where the images were made. The public could, at once, see the photographs and the exact spot where they had occurred. As in the previous installation, this created an immersive environment that brought the audience into the story. Again the accompanying text treated the story as fact and allowed the audience to suspend disbelief. This further immersed them in the story.
The following tale came about through historical research. My gallery in Chicago, Printworks, is housed in a rehabbed warehouse building that was once home to the National Candy Company. National was even owned by Vincent Price Sr., father of the well-known actor (no kidding!). So, I decided to tell the story of something that could have happened at the factory. In this case, the story was that of Anna Sula, a young orphan worker who was found murdered at the factory. Photographs later surfaced showing that Anna had telekinetic powers and participated in meetings of a private circle at the factory. Could this have something to do with her brutal murder? I leave it for the viewer to decide.
In addition to the elaborate story and the installation, I also immerse the viewer in the imagery by using stereo photography (3D). My work is primarily exhibited in 2D form, but I have the ability to display it in 3D as well. Sometimes this is in the form of View-Master reels and viewers, sometimes as antique-style stereo cards, and sometimes as anaglyph prints that require the paper red/cyan glasses. This is the form they are currently in at "Digital Darkroom" at the Annenberg Space for Photography.
All of my major narrative works can be enjoyed at the Annenberg Space as narrated 3D slide shows. There is a monitor booth near my framed work with displays for shows, complete with music and narration.
I am currently at work on a new series which is in color and set contemporarily. It involves a family (husband, wife, son, daughter) who live in an older house that has a ghost who looks in on their lives. This show will debut at Printworks in October of this year. And I hope to show a few preview images at my IRIS Nights lecture at Annenberg on Thursday, February 16th.
Christopher Schneberger is a traditionalist and an iconoclast. He has created photographic series of both infrared and mural-sized photographs. His work often weaves a narrative tale incorporating supernatural elements. See his work in "Digital Darkroom" which runs from December 17, 2011 - May 28, 2012.