Sara L. Press – Our Specters


© 2020
edition of 20
dimensions in inches: 11 x 8 x .75

About this piece:

Our Specters is built around a series of psychological portraits, envisioned through the lens of early 20th century spirit photography.

The book honors some of the demons we face individually and collectively during these trying times. It contains 19 archival pigment / letterpress images, and a fold-out, blind-stamped guide to our bedevilments. The guide is (intentionally) as difficult to parse as the human mind itself, mapping the experience of complex emotions and compound struggles.

I photographed my original gouache paintings in light and shadow using (at times) selective focus, bringing them back into the language of photography. Letterpress text and symbols root the pages in the tactile, mechanical realm.

A century ago, Spanish Flu & WWI claimed 70 million lives in just a few years. Spirit photographs – in which the Glorious Dead appear mysteriously next to the living sitters – surged in popularity. Spirit photographers passed their creative concoctions off as documents of reality, & people willingly believed that a camera couldn’t lie.

In the old spirit photos, I see sitters haunted by loss, enchanted by technology & manipulated at the hands of their own credulity. The “ghosts” (now obvious as double exposures) are embodiments of the sitters’ grief and their longing for a gentler world.

These paintings borrow compositions and colors from the old photos, but under my brush the original subjects have morphed into friends & strangers. The “luminous manifestations” are our psychological haunts. As such, they are ever-changing.

These images function as a mirror for the viewer: what you see are the concerns that you carry with you. I hope it will be of benefit to see it made manifest.


paper, ink, cloth, thread, glue, board

About the artist:

Lives and works in Sebastopol, California.

Sara L. Press is a photographer, printmaker and book artist. Under her imprint Deeply Game Publications, she has published fourteen book works in editions that range in size from 3 to 50 copies each. Her work is widely collected by institutions and individuals. Past projects have looked at peculiar areas of overlap between nature and culture; constructions of masculinity and femininity in our culture; and the relationship between emotional and scientific reasoning.


Sara L. Press – Our Specters