Photographing the Unseen in Haunted Houses - Atlas Obscura
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Photographing the Unseen in Haunted Houses

article-imageBermuda Inn, Staten Island, New York (all photographs by Corinne May Botz)

For over a decade, photographer Corinne May Botz traveled to over 80 spaces around the United States that were supposedly haunted, from the numerous historic homes that have made their purported spirits into an attraction, to private residences where the ghosts remain a personal story. The photographs don’t capture any strange specters or unusual orbs of light, but they show the details and eerie emptiness of the domestic spaces.

Botz told Atlas Obscura more about the Haunted Houses project:

The project was inspired by Victorian ghost stories that were written by women as a means of articulating sexual politics and domestic discontents. Continuing the tradition of female sensitivity to the supernatural, I opened myself to the invisible nuances of a space when photographing. I am particularly interested in the attachment between ghosts and houses. The overdetermined relationship between environment and self is epitomized by ghosts that are thought to be eternally bound to physical structures.

In 2010, a book version of Haunted Houses was published by The Monacelli Press/Random House, and some of the recorded ghost stories Botz collected during her travels are on her site. The project is part of her continued focus on photographing that which is invisible, and documenting the unnerving histories of what appears mundane. For example, her Murder Objects series documented the household objects used as instruments in violent deaths on display at the Baltimore Forensic Medical Center, and in Objectophilia she met with people whose sexual and emotional attraction is trained on an object rather than a person, such as a steam locomotive or the Berlin Hauptbahnhof railway station. And in Parameters, she talked to agoraphobics who have intense anxiety about leaving their homes, and photographed the interiors that give them comfort.

Yet her best-known project is likely The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deathin which she photographed the crime scene models built by criminologist Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s and 50s to train detectives on seeking evidence in violent crime scenes. Although in Haunted Houses the history of the spaces is absent as something of a secret, there is still that similar recording of what has occurred, with the chips of paint or unsettlingly still arrangement of furniture definitely haunted by some memory, even if it is of the idea of a ghost rather than a real visiting of the supernatural. 

Some selections from Haunted Houses are below, from famous locales like Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore house to private residences, and you can view more on Botz’s website

article-imageEdgar Allan Poe House, Baltimore, Maryland

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Vealtown Tavern, Bernardsville, New Jersey

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Abandoned House, Frankfort, Maine

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La Petite Theatre, New Orleans, Louisiana

article-imagePrivate Residence, Bernardsville, New Jersey

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Duke Mansion, Charlotte, North Carolina

article-imageThe Roehrs House, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey

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Private Residence, Rhinebeck, New York

Haunted Houses by Corinne May Botz is available from The Monacelli Press/Random House.