The Art of Ectoplasm

Encounters with Winnipeg's Ghost Photographs

Overview

The legacy of the Hamiltons’ psychic archive

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.

Reviews

“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

"[These] issues are literally life and death, with art and ideas that explore the strange liminal spaces between the material and immaterial [and] call up the ghosts that haunt us now."

Alison Gillmor, Border Crossings

"This collection offers fascinating photos from [the Hamilton Family Fonds] as well as a range of essays about the meetings, notes and images from the encounters and ruminations on the ways in which the work continues to capture the imagination today."

Ben Sigurdson, Winnipeg Free Press

"Whether Hamilton's work is evidence of ghosts, documents intangible phenomena, or illuminates a society grappling with loss, is ultimately up to the reader to determine. But one thing is clear: a century later, these photos still have the power to fascinate."

David Jón Fuller, Prairie Books NOW

"With a collection as rich as the Hamilton Family Fonds, the question becomes what kind of impact did these images have on the world over the last 100 years? This question is explored in the new book The Art of Ectoplasm: Encounters with Winnipeg’s Ghost Photographs [which] examines and contextualizes the influence and impact Hamilton’s ectoplasmic images have had and continue to have on the world."

Kitty Wong, Winnipeg Free Press

About the Author

Serena Keshavjee grew up in Kenya and Toronto and now lives in Winnipeg, where she teaches modern art and architecture at the University of Winnipeg. Her academic research focuses on the intersection of art and science in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Other contributors: KC Adams, Brian Hubner, Esyllt W. Jones, Murray Leeder, Walter Meyer zu Erpen, Katie Oates, Shelley Sweeney

Table of Contents

Introduction: Science and Sentiment in the Hamilton Family Fonds

Ch 1: Ghostly Pandemics: Speaking to the Dead in the Hamilton Family

Ch 2: Experiments and Experiences in Psychical Research: Scientific Séances in Winnipeg

Ch 3: Seeing and Feeling, Science and Religion: Negotiating Binaries in Lillian Hamilton’s Photographic Albums

Ch 4: The Cast of Characters Defending the T.G. Hamilton Family Psychical Research Legacy

Ch 5: Life after Death: New Uses of the Hamilton Family Fonds

Ch 6: “Weird Winnipeg”: Or How the Hamilton Family Fonds Helped to Make Winnipeg an Unlikely Centre of the Paranormal

Ch 7: “Mere Symbolic Ectoplasm”: The Ectoplasmic Screen

Ch 8: Journey to the Spirit Realm

Ch 9: Embodying the Dead: The Science and Art of Ectoplasm

Appendix: Hamilton Family Publications