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Trance Mediums and New MediaSpirit Possession in the Age of Technical Reproduction$
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Heike Behrend, Anja Dreschke, and Martin Zillinger

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823253807

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823253807.001.0001

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Spaces of Refusal: Photophobic Spirits and the Technical Medium of Photography

Spaces of Refusal: Photophobic Spirits and the Technical Medium of Photography

(p.201) Spaces of Refusal: Photophobic Spirits and the Technical Medium of Photography
Trance Mediums and New Media

Heike Behrend

Fordham University Press

In the West, photography and spirit, far from being opposites, have been seen as peculiarly analogous and adapted to one another. Since the beginning of spirit photography in the 1860s, the camera, photographers, spirits and their mediums have built up various alliances. In contrast, spirit mediums in Africa and other parts of the world have shunned photography and refused the presence of the camera during their séances. In my contribution, I will explore the negative relationship between spirits, spirit mediums and photography in Africa, in particular on the East African Coast. This negative relation is connected not only with the political and historical specificity of spirit mediums’ ambiguous position in relation to Islam and the postcolonial state but also with characteristics of the photographic medium itself - freezing, fixation, and serialization - that seem to endanger the auratic power of spirits. While photography has been refused, video technologies have appeared to be more suitable to mediate spiritual power. In fact, in locally produced videos photography and the reasons for its refusal themselves become part of the ways in which the work of spirits and their mediums is represented.Whereas they built up alliances with various technical medias as extensions and intensifications of the capabilities of their bodies and worked out new media “utopias”, they interdicted the doubling of their bodies in photographs. This refusal raises important theoretical questions about the often assumed “innocence” or “neutrality” of Western technical media and the epistemologies they carry within them. Obviously, the “visual programm” of photography (Flusser) that always gives something “more” to see and centers on transparency may clash with other visual regimes that attempt to mediate much more secrecy and concealment.

Keywords:   Heike Behrend, East Africa, Mediumship, Spirit Possession, Trance, Media, Photography, Spirit photography, Refusal of photography

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