Kirlians (from the altar of Madeline de Jesus), 2016
Jesus blood, oil, holy water, pyrite
Kirlians (From the Altar of Madeline de Jesus)
The technology that later became Kirlian photography, a form of photography that uses high voltage electricity to produce an image as opposed to a light source, was developed at the turn of the 20th century. This was a formative time for photo mechanics – the same few decades brought about the development of high-powered telescopes, microscopes, X-rays and early cinematography. The camera’s impartial, mechanic eye extended our vision and allowed one to scrutinize details that were otherwise beyond the limits of our sight. From the pockmarked surface of the moon, to the inner structures of our bodies, the camera froze time – immobilizing, for instance, the galloping of a horse.
With these seemingly impossible visual feats, the same tools and lines of logic were co-opted into the service of the spiritual and the fantastic. Spiritualists, scientists and crooks alike took to the camera as a means of photographing the immaterial. The photograph stood as “objective proof” of auras and apparitions, transfigurations and the spirits of the deceased.
My interest in this historical moment came about circuitously during a critical moment in my personal history. After my brother passed away suddenly, I had an existential crisis with photography. Until that point I had invested my faith in the camera as a magical object of sorts. It had, in my estimation, the ability to create (photographic) talismans that would crystallize time and keep my loved ones safe. After his passing, my heart and creative practice were broken; all I had were worthless copies of a subject lost forever.
The turn towards researching spirit photographs, mediums, paranormal photo-chemical experiments, etc. was initially superficial. I was drawn in by the visuals: the moody ambience of the darkened Victorian séance parlors, the strange double exposed phantoms. But at another level, operating subconsciously was the desire to find in the photographic something meaningful that was lost after the death of my brother. At that particular historical moment, photography offered possibilities; it offered something inexplicable and wondrous. Imbedded in photography is something inherently romantic and mysterious, this alchemical production of the invisible (latent) image made tangible. Like so many bereaved before me, here I was seeking out mysticism, be it academic and historical, to redeem my faith.
Madeline de Jesus is a contemporary healer in the Catholic tradition. She lives in Guavate, Puerto Rico and is loosely connected to my family. The first year after my parents relocated to the island, my mother mentioned in passing that there was a woman, a “relative” of ours, who performed miracles and had a priest from the Vatican assigned to her. She had an altar, my mother said, religious photographs and statuettes that bleed blood and oil. These substances are said to heal wounds, cure the sick, give sight back to the blind.
Kirlians (from the altar of Madeline de Jesus and the archives of Elena C) are images made largely from the metaphysical substances found on Madeline’s altar: Jesus’ blood, oil, holy water as well as pyrite, or fool’s gold.
Large scale and draping loosely down like a tapestry or scroll, the Kirlians are part indexical object and cosmic drawing. On the paper’s surface appear dark clustered masses surround by trailing explosions of deep warm color and particulate matter. Like a nebula seen through the lens of a telescope or an enlargement of molecular combustion, the image oscillates between the macro and micro, between internal and external.
A gaping wound, a black hole void, a contact print of collected detritus, this image and all images are slippery, regardless of their source or whether they are representational or abstract. It is what it claims to be and so many other things all at once. Window, projection, fantasy. Its construction lives in our minds more than on the page.
The years have accumulated since that abrupt departure, and my anger towards photographic production has softened to ambivalence and maybe even a tentative circling back towards hopefulness. My expectations and concerns are different, and though I should know better, I find myself still engaging. Now it’s the desire to put into form this mix of histories and narratives, bending the tools to surprise myself and produce something unexpected and possibly magical.