Sara Press, “Our Specters”

Sara Press
Sebastopol, CA

Our Specters
Artist’s Book: Inkjet prints of photographs of gouache paintings overprinted with letterpress symbols and text. Blind-embossed and letterpress printed pull out legend to the bedevilments. Codex bound in blue and black bookcloth.
8″ x 3/4″ x 11″

Artist Statement

Click here to read partial book text as printed.

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, an absurd attempt to map 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 & the Great War claimed 70 million lives. Spirit photographs – in which the Glorious Dead appear mysteriously next to the living sitters – surged in popularity. Spirit photographers passed their creative works off as documents of reality, and people willingly believed that a camera couldn’t lie.

In the old spirit photos, I see sitters haunted by loss, enchanted by technology and 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.

Many of us are, individually and communally, ready now for an exorcism.

Edition of 20 copies, 8” x 11”