Conference Review: Sights and Frights – Interdisciplinary Conference on Victorian Visual Culture, Horror and the Supernatural
The Sights and Frights conference took place at the University of Sussex on Thursday 19th June 2014. The conference was sponsored by The Centre for Visual Fields at the University of Sussex & supported by the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative (RLI) Fund. Today’s blog post has been written by the organisers of the event.
The aim of this one-day conference was to explore and interrogate cultural cross-currents between nineteenth-century visual culture and the literature, science and social practices of the period, particularly where these were concerned with attitudes to and instances of, the supernatural and horrific.
The conference attracted a variety of international delegates, including research students and academics, as well as professionals working in such diverse fields as museum curating, fiction writing, publishing and contemporary art – evidence that the ghostly and ghoulish is a widely popular area of interest.
Professor William Hughes of Bath Spa University commenced proceedings with his keynote lecture Talking Heads: Reconfiguring Post-Mortem Testimony in the Ghost Story. This fascinating talk discussed how the supernatural and evidential converge in the ghost-story trope of the re-animated corpse.
The six panel discussions showcased the inter-disciplinary nature and exciting range of research being conducted in the field. The topics covered included spiritualism, ghost fiction, werewolves, mummies, phantasmagoria, enfreakment, miasma and spirit photographs – to name but a few.
A very special and unique addition to the conference was a magic lantern demonstration (pictured above), delivered with great humour and erudition by Trevor Beattie. Delegates were treated to an hour of genuine nineteenth-century slides, including ‘chromatropes’ or fake fireworks; a ‘smoking monkey’ and a ‘man swallowing rats’(!) – a spectacular and memorable show that was definitely one of the highlights of the day.
The final keynote speech of the day was given by Dr. Tatiana Kontou, a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Sussex alumnus. In The Haunted Lens: Mourning and Proof in Post-Mortem and Spirit Photography, Dr. Kontou examined how the aesthetics of the post-mortem photograph permeated other kinds of nineteenth-century imagery. A particularly sensitive and touching observation was how the post-mortem photograph – particularly those featuring children – facilitates mourning by reconfiguring bereavement as a new kind of relationship – one with a dead, rather than a living, loved one.
We are very grateful for the support of the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative Fund, which enabled this conference to take place. For more information and full abstracts of all papers please see www.sightsandfrights.com.