Caught in the mirror, Sir John Soane’s ghost (2019)

The plethora of mirrors in John Soane’s interconnecting rooms, automatically engender an ambiance of nostalgia, with the resultant syncopation of light and image reflections making space for the imagination and afterimage. My photographs build on this, referencing nineteenth century photography particularly the blurring evident when sitters moved during their lengthy poses. The effects made by the body whilst using a fixed focus lens and taking a portrait, are mimicked by my shifting silks.

…”As for the ghosts, they usually appeared opposite me, in a corner of the ceiling, on the same side as the reddened glass-panes; they advanced in steady waves in the pale part of the wall, between a cornice of acanthus leaves and the picture rail bordering the green wallpaper. The recurrent hallucination moved from left to right in a series of spirals or little waves, or more accurately, like the ornamental frieze sculptors call Vitruvian scrolls”.

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s text, (Ghosts in the Mirror, John Calder, London, 1988. p.18-19) has a synchronicity with the atmosphere of the Sir John Soane Museum.

Within this idiosyncratic set of buildings, vestiges of Soane’s personal touch are palpable throughout, evidence of his personality having accumulated throughout his life in this memorial to his work and passions.

My work seeks to enhance his presence further by photographing swatches of cloth caught in motion that pretend to catch his fleeting passage in the rooms where once he trod the floor boards. I photographed gossamer thin fabric flying up the spaces that he had opened up to the sky, and also plunging down into the Monk’s Parlour. This real but fleeting matter suggests his former presence, exploiting the mirrors that pepper the internal spaces of the buildings. These glasses play their part as myriad reflectors catching ‘his’ shifting shape, as ‘his’ image is echoed and thrown back to the spectator. The altered self, becomes fractured through the gaze.

The three Soane buildings fold in on themselves, their mirrored spaces reverberating their distinct purposes. The secret doors and cabinets open and close, perspectives are elongated and then truncated. I spent time tracking the resident ‘ghost’ and enticing him to manifest himself by exploiting the various angles in the spaces through photography. By obscuring objects and parts of rooms with the veiling fabrics, the amorphous cloth echoes his ‘appearance’, suggesting that he is conjured back into his home.

Thanks to the John Soane Museum for allowing me access in order to take these photographs in situ.