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Spiritualist Photography - An Influence on Italian Futurism

Fotografie di Fantasmi [Photographs of phantasms].

Turin: Fratelli Bocca, 1912. Large octavo (25.7 × 17.8 cm). Original printed cream wrappers in translucent calque; recent cloth-backed card folder and slipcase by Devauchelle with printed title to spine. With 48 tipped-in gelatin silver prints and one halftone by G. Simoni of Rome, ranging in size from approx. 7.5 × 7.6 to 16.5 × 11.6 cm. This copy includes the pink label on page 88, as issued, in lieu of a fiftieth small photograph not available at the time of publication (a later facsimile copy is laid in). Light wear; overall a very good copy in a fine slipcase.

Rare first and only edition of this important work of spiritualist photography, based on Dr. Enciro Imoda's study of the young medium Linda Gazzera (1890-1932). "The daughter of a chemist from Turin, Linda Gazerra, a well-educated woman, had a high repute from 1908 to 1912 for violent physical phenomena, apports, and materialisations. Dr. Imoda studied her for nearly the whole of that period, and his book Fotografie di Fantasmi (1912) gives numbers of photographs of her ghosts... Baron von Schrenck-Notzing, a medical man of the psychic school, made a more thorough study of her at Paris in 1911, and he had little difficulty in showing that she was fraudulent..." (Joseph McCabe, Spiritualism: a Popular History from 1847, p. 225).

Imoda's study relied on photographic evidence gathered during a series of one hundred séances at the palais of the Marquise de Ruspoli, during which multiple cameras were deployed. A diagram and photograph in the first chapter, which describe the house, document this setup. All séances were conducted in total darkness, enabling a magnesium flash to supposedly document ectoplasmic forms and telekinetic phenomena materialized by Linda Gazzera. Notably, rather than relying on reproductions, all photographs were printed directly from Simoni's negatives, in order to enable readers to discern important details.

Some of Simoni's images capture the medium in a trance state, surrounded by séance participants in dramatic arrangements and compositions reminiscent of theatrical scenes. Dr. Imoda himself occasionally appears in the photographs, pulling back a curtain or staring in amazement at a levitating birdcage.

The work appeared posthumously and with an introduction, in French, by Imoda's collaborator Dr. Charles Richet. A famous physiologist, Dr. Richet received the Nobel Prize in 1913, the year after publication. A number of the séances in 1909 were conducted under Dr. Richet's supervision at his home in Paris, and photographed by the French occult researcher Gillaume de Fortenoy (who wrote the aferword to this volume).

In his preface and in later writings, Richet insists that these photographs of Gazzera's "ectoplasmic forms" depict true psychic phenomena, because the scientific protocols employed were too strict to allow trickery. But de Fortenoy, in his afterword to this volume, casts doubt on Gazzera's mostly two-dimensional manifestations. He suggests that if Dr. Imoda had lived longer, he would have shared these doubts. But regardless of their scientific accuracy, Simoni's photographs also had a broader effect on Italian culture. Recent scholarship has suggested, for instance, that Umberto Boccioni was acquainted with the book and that his work reflects his belief in the ectoplasm and other forms of manifestation. The pioneer of Italian Futurist "photodynamism" Anton Giulio Bragaglia (1890-1960) also referred to Imoda's work in his writings.

See Lisa Hanstein, "Der Geist der Materie," in Futurismus: Kunst, Technik Geschwindigkeit und Innovation zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 2016), p. 111. Also: Giovanni Lista, Futurism and Photography (New York, 2003). Two images pictured in: Im Reich der Phantome: Fotografie des Unsichtbaren, Cantz, 1997.

As of August 2019, KVK and OCLC show no copies in North America; we can only trace the copy at the Met's Watson Library.

Book ID: 50109

Price: $19,500.00