I love Angela Deane’s joyful little ghosts.

ghost_joy_angela_deaneghost_joyGhost_Images_Angela_Deane_03My favorite images from Angela Deane‘s excellent series of ghost photographs (in which she takes vintage pictures and paints little white ghosts over all the people) have one thing in common: they all feature water. Perhaps that’s because swimming, for me, is such a joyful act, and these ghosts seem like oddly happy creatures, despite their featureless, faceless nature. Or maybe it’s because water has a strange, reality-bending property (as well as light-bending abilities) and ghosts inhabit that in-between place of real and not-real. Or maybe it’s because I’m craving summer and dying to shed some layers. Or maybe because it feels so irreverent, combining that spooky blankness with such standard images of All-American Summer Fun.

Or maybe who cares! Deane is a clever, funny artist with a great visual style and a wonderful collection of old photos to draw from (and upon!). See more here. 

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Because they’re beautiful: Here are three neon love letters.

fionna banner be there saturday
1. Fionna Banner – “Be There Saturday Sweetheart” 

This 30-foot-tall neon sign was constructed in 2000 on the top of the New Art Gallery in Walsall, UK. I don’t think it’s there anymore, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is this: The simple statement comes from the love letters of artist Jacob Epstein to Kathleen Garman. Although she was married to another man when she met Jacob, Kathleen fell in love with the sculptor and eventually left her husband for him. They stayed together until his death. Despite the rocky start (or perhaps because of it?) their letters are filled with sweetness and light. “With you I have every joy and every happiness,” Jacob wrote to his lover. “My nights are my worst time. I lie awake and think of you. Last night, Sunday, was wonderful moonlight and I thought of you, picturing how you were, how fascinating you looked on the balcony beside the lake in the moonlight and the lantern lights… I am always yours Kitty. Be there Saturday sweetheart.” Neon art about ghosts
2. Robert Montgomery – “The People You Love”
 

Truth time: I’m making this list today because I’m in a melancholy mood. I have a migraine hangover and my brain is fuzzy and unwilling to focus. I feel like a ghost of myself. I’m being lazy and wallowing—I’ll admit that.

But don’t let that take away from the art, because all three of these pieces are wonderful, lovely and haunting, modern and retro, sweet and sad. Artist Robert Montgomery created this piece after the death of a close friend. For him, ghosts are a positive force, a way of keeping in touch with the people he has lost. “I find the idea that love can somehow triumph over death an idea I need to keep sane,” he said.

But you know what I really love about this piece? It’s not just the ghost-y-ness or the eerie setting or the sparse and square font. It’s the way it turns light into a metaphor for humanity, for that elusive thing we call the soul or the spirit. Stare at a neon sign, then look away. The afterglow remains, spots on our vision. An imprint of what was. A visual ghost. More than a memory, less than a presence.

Tracey_Emin_neon_art
3. Tracey Emin – “I Listen To The Ocean And All I Hear Is You”

I saved my favorite for the finale. I find Tracey Emin so inspiring, both as an artist and as a human being. I love her brash attitude and her feminist message. I love her sensitive, neurotic, erotic works (I stumbled across “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With” when I was in college and that piece blew my freaking mind). I particularly love her neon ladies, all naked and glowing with legs spread and toes pointed. I would have shared one of those, but I try to keep my blog SFW, so instead here is one of her text-based pieces (another good one reads: “People like you need to fuck people like me”—not as poetic, but pretty damn funny). Emin’s extremely prolific and likes to work with light-up letters, so if you like this as much as I do, you can see more of her work here.

And you know what? After writing all this and doing the work of inserting images and googling details, I find myself feeling much, much better. I think it’s Tracey’s good influence (or I’m just going to pretend that’s it and not the glass-and-a-half of wine I drank while waiting for my internet to catch up to my thoughts). Thanks, lady.

A few thoughts on death, photography, and Ghost Busters

med_fuss_af-0462-jpgA fascination with ghosts can be written off as whimsical. Often, people imagine Casper or Bill Murray fighting ectoplasmic globs, when one mentions the g-word. True believers might find it a bit more sinister, but even then, they tend to speak of odd occurrences with windows, breathy sounds heard in the night, a persistent shadow that falls without light, old objects found with no point of reference. All things that are possibly spooky, but never truly threatening. As someone who writes frequently about ghosts, I tend to hear a lot of ghost stories. But even when the storyteller is uncomfortable, I find it’s more often out of embarrassment than fear.

But a fascination with death? That’s an entirely different kind of beast. Even the word trails off with fear, lingering consonants that dryly hang in the air. Death is threatening. It is real. It is ugly and universal and either entirely unfair or ruthlessly just, depending on who you ask.

Though I don’t like to think about death, I tend to do it a lot anyway. This helps explain one of my weirder possessions: a book of images from The Burns Archive. The Burns Archive, as you’ll see if you click that link, is a collection of photography that focuses primarily on the grotesque. There are images of soldiers and their gun wounds, portraits of the mentally ill, and lots and lots of postmortem photography.

Why would anyone take a picture of a dead person? Well, this used to be the thing to do when your relative died. It was a curious practice, and often involved propping the deceased up in a chair, pushing their eyelids open, and doing everything possible to make them appear alive. It’s the strangest masquerade; the dead posing as the living in a medium that has been described as a metaphor for death itself. Though I’ve never found the pictures particularly creepy, this idea freaks me the heck out.

And if I’ve just creeped you out, maybe this will bring you some peace: the New York Times recently ran a piece on their Wellness blog about German photographer Walter Schels, who captures his subjects in the days before death, and then again soon after. Instead of being sinister, manipulated and a little bit weird, these pictures are oddly peaceful.

“People are almost always pretending something, but these people had lost that need,” he said in an interview. “I felt it enabled me as a photographer to get as close as it’s possible to get to the core of a person; when you’re facing the end, everything that’s not real is stripped away. You’re the most real you’ll ever be, more real than you’ve ever been before.”

About the image: I didn’t want to clutter up my blog with pictures of dead people, so instead I simply linked to them, and used this gorgeous photograph by Adam Fuss, an extremely talented artist, to illustrate the point. It’s from a series call “My Ghost,” so I thought it was rather fitting.