The photographic process transforms all it describes. It can change objects, images and ideas that contribute to their meaning. Similarly in witchcraft, magic is practiced to bring about transformation and sometimes objects are made or charged with magical intent for this purpose. During my recent artist residency at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall I photographed one hundred magical objects including wax dolls, wands, statues, daggers, pendants, robes and amulets. I chose to photograph at night, enabling the objects to emerge from the darkness, where it is said magic begins. Reflecting on this process, I found parallels with photographic practice. Superstition and magic have encircled photography from the beginning. In many cultures, the word for photography/photographer translates as ‘soul taker’, ‘shadow catcher’, or ‘face stealer’. The camera itself was perceived as a magical object, and photographs were thought to possess supernatural powers, or be amenable to witchcraft. I became fascinated to explore how light and darkness define and articulate our relationship to enchantment and if this mechanism can be employed to suggest narrative and significance. Using torchlight for illumination provided a methodology that is open to chance and spontaneity enabling the imaginative possibilities of the object to assert itself. The results have prompted me to investigate further the blurred boundary between performance and ritual, and the production of art and occult practices. Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic will be published by Strange Attractor Press in 2016.
Sara Hannant is a photographer and author whose work over the last ten years has explored magical belief, seasonal cycles and folklore. Her first book Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey through the English Ritual Year (2011) received the runner-up Katharine Briggs Folklore Award in 2012. Sara has exhibited widely including at The Royal Society of Arts, The Horniman Museum, The South Bank Centre and Towner Art Gallery. Her photographs have been featured on the BBC, and in The Guardian and The Sunday Times among others. Since 2010, she has lectured in photography at City University in London.