Interview with Stephanie Rose Wood - In Love, Light and Truth
Since when and how did you develop an interest in spiritualism?
Spiritualism appeared in my periphery in a peculiar way a few years ago. It began with a leaflet through my door at a time when I was considering the relationship between photography and performance. The leaflet advertised the work of a spiritual healer who could “solve all problems, money problems, health problems, jealous lovers, mischievous children…”. These advertisements were quite common in London - where I was living at the time. I called the number on the leaflet and, unsurprisingly, was met with a negative response to my quite naive question about taking his portrait. I put this idea to the side until I came across a book called The Perfect Medium: Photography and The Occult. This took me down a wormhole of research. I emerged a few weeks later having discovered Spiritualism and with ideas about the relationship between the parallel histories of photography and the religion. By this point, I had a fairly good understanding of the history of spiritualism and how it began, but little knowledge about contemporary Spiritualism. This is when I decided to go to a Spiritualist church to find out more. It turned out there were quite a few not too far from where I lived. I chose to go to Edmonton Spiritualist Church, which was down a dead end road on the outskirts of London.
How did you feel/what went through your mind when you first entered the church of spiritualism?
My first experience completely convinced me that there was no way I could make work about this community. I attended something called an open circle, which is where people can learn about how to make contact with the Spirit World through meditation. The two hours I spent in a pitch black room with ten people whom I had never met, left me feeling pretty spooked. Up until this experience, I had considered myself a fairly rational individual… Again, the idea was dismissed out of slight fear. However, it wouldn’t leave me alone and would rear its head at strange times. My everyday conversations were being dominated by the supernatural and my dreams were inundated with the otherworldly. Eventually, and with a little encouragement, I made a call to Sylvia, the medium who had run the open circle I had attended. Sylvia agreed to meet with me, and although was a little skeptical at first, she became a pillar of knowledge throughout the entire project.
Have you had any type of encounters with spirits while photographing or otherwise?
I think that most people have a ghost story to tell. The story acts as their piece of evidence that there could be something that lies beyond our immediate perception. This work encourages people to tell these stories, but I’m not concerned with proving or disproving the existence of spirits.
Are you looking into practicing the religion of spiritualism / and or documenting it any further?
Spiritualism is a subject matter which encourages much inquisitiveness and upon my response to the question, ‘what are you working on at the moment?’, I’m usually asked the same follow up questions; ‘have you been converted?’ or, and I think more interestingly; ‘what do you believe?’ This is a question that I have asked myself throughout the making of this work- although it was never my intention to address it and nor was it my motivation. The question still confronted me on each day that I spent taking pictures, interviewing people, and on the many times when neither of these things happened, and I was just drinking tea, eating biscuits and having a chat. I wouldn’t say that I am a practicing Spiritualist. Whether or not I believe, it is a question that has been left unanswered.
I plan to continue with this work in Australia. My practice is firmly research led, which is the stage I’m in at the moment. I’m considering different ways of telling the next chapter in the story. I would like to use a number of different platforms and find new ways to encourage viewers to participate and engage with the subject matter on a first-hand basis, rather than just through the experience as I have documented it. This is why there is a participatory aspect to the exhibition. A medium will be hosting an ‘open circle’ within the exhibition space. This is an opportunity for participants to learn the processes of harnessing their own psychic powers and meeting their spirit guides through meditation. One’s feelings toward life and death are intrinsically personal and through a more interactive mode of storytelling, I hope to allow for such a space where they can be explored.
The psychology of belief in the supernatural will continue to fuel the kind of work that I make- those intangible and uncanny aspects of human existence, which arise from unexplainable almost invisible experiences.
Interview by Izz Baumann.
Displaced - Dates and Times
2nd May 2018 - 12th May 2018
Closing Event - May 11th 6pm-8pm (RSVP HERE)
Wednesday - Friday 11:00am - 5:00pm
Saturday - 11:00am - 3:00pm