The Art of Ectoplasm
Encounters with Winnipeg’s Ghost Photographs
In the wake of the First World War and the 1918–19 pandemic, the world was left grappling with a profound sense of loss. It was against this backdrop that a Winnipeg couple, physician T.G. Hamilton and nurse Lillian Hamilton, began their research, documenting and photographing séances they held in their home laboratory. Their extensive study of the survival of human consciousness after death resulted in a stunning collection of hundreds of photographs, including images of tables flying through the air, mediums in trances, and, most curious of all, ectoplasm—a strange, white substance through which ghosts could apparently manifest.
The Art of Ectoplasm invites readers to explore the Hamiltons’ research and photographic evidence which has attracted international attention from scholars and artists alike. Notable figures like Arthur Conan Doyle participated in the Hamilton family’s séances, and their investigations garnered support among the psychical scientific community, including renowned physicist Oliver Lodge, the inventor of wireless telegraphy. In the century since their creation, the Hamilton photographs (now housed at the University of Manitoba) have continued to perplex and inspire as the subject of academic study, comedic parody, and artistic and cinematic renderings.
This fascinating collection reflects on the history and legacy of the startling and uncanny images found in the Hamilton Family archive. As contemporary society continues to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Art of Ectoplasm offers a compelling look at a chapter in social history not entirely unlike our own.
The first dedicated essay collection on a wholly unique and highly significant Canadian psychical research archive. I have no doubt that the volume will inspire a new generation of artists, academics, local historians, and paranormal researchers.
– Christine Ferguson, University of Stirling
The dialectical relationship articulated in The Art of Ectoplasm between the current COVID-19 pandemic and the Spanish Flu of 1918, so crucial to the Hamiltons’ engagement with spiritualism, is fascinating and makes the book timely indeed.
– Jennifer Fisher, York University
About the Author
Serena Keshavjee is Assistant Professor at the University of Winnipeg where she teaches Modernist Canadian art, architecture, and design.
Other contributors: KC Adams, Brian Hubner, Esyllt W. Jones, Murray Leeder, Walter Meyer zu Erpen, Katie Oates, Shelley Sweeney