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Ghostly Spirits:
Three Cases of Experimentation on Life and Death
in Late-19th-Century Science.

Katrin Solhdju



The notions ghost and spirit are often described as equivalents. The Oxford English Dictionary describes "ghost" as, among other things, "the spirit, or immaterial part of man, as distinct from the body or material part; the seat of feeling, thought, and moral action." "To ghost" and "to haunt" also have similar meanings, related to the dead disturbing someone still alive in an uncanny way.

From daguerreotypes to Talbot's negative photography

The production of a photographic negative can be described as the transformation of strong light into weak effects and vice versa. An unexpected and new mode of objects could be made visible with the help of this new technique, not only in terms of freezing quick movements — in the way, for example, that Muybridge used photography for his motion studies — but also in terms of producing a new, negative reality. The discourse surrounding developments in photography can be seen as analogous to the 19th-century discourse on electricity, starting with the invention of alternating current and the inductor by Michael Faraday at the beginning of the century. Here negative and positive charges induce each other similarly to the photographic negative constituting its reverse – the photographic positive. The following three closely related examples elucidate the historical conjuncture between the notions of negative and positive and the different roles they play within photographic and electrically based practices surrounding the human body and its otherwordly "doppelgänger".

Reference: Solhdju, Katrin. 2004. Ghostly Spirits. Three Cases of the Experimentalization of Life and Death in late 19th-Century Science.. The Virtual Laboratory (ISSN 1866-4784), http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/references?id=art29