Ghosts and Museums

If you know me at all — even if you only know me through my fiction and blog posts — you’ve probably realized I go to museums in search of inspiration. Sometimes I strike it lucky and come home from a museum or gallery with an entire story. Other times, I’m simply struck by some odd, little tidbit that may, eventually, find its way into my fiction.

Last week I went to MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art in New York City) to see the Bill Brandt exhibit. It’s a marvelous show. If you are in NYC and you have any interest at all in photography you must go. If you are interested in WWII era London, in portraits, street scenes, in the way the world has changed since the mid-20th Century, you should see this show.

I was enchanted, fascinated and charmed.

I discovered that a scrapbook of Brandt’s early photos (on display in the first room of the show), collected by a young girl who traveled with Brandt and his soon-to-be wife in the late 1920s, was donated by a Tango dancing friend. I’ve got to talk to him about it the next time I see him at a dance!

I was drawn into a very pleasant conversation with a perfect stranger — one with an excellent eye for the composition of photos.

AND, I stumbled on a ghost story!

In the section of the show that featured Brandt’s portraits of writers, I went directly from the portrait of Robert Graves (best known for his novel “I Claudius”) to the article in “Picture Post” the British magazine that used the photo to accompany an article entitled “What I Believe About Ghosts.” There I was, bending over the cabinet with the old magazine, straining to read the article written by Graves.

I scribbled the following from the text:

“Interpretation is difficult partly because scientists no longer agree on the old distinction between subjective and objective experiences, party because ghost are not good subjects for laboratory experiments.”

It was from an article Graves wrote about Christmas holiday ghost stories. As I ‘m a huge fan of  “A Christmas Carol” I started to muse about Scrooge as a scientist. A new take on Jacob Marley…what do YOU think?

MoMA Brandt Show Link


    • Candy

      Yes, the opening to Robert Graves’ article is interesting. Going straight to “science” is not the usual ghost story POV. But his “I Claudius” was not the usual historical novel.

    • Candy

      Yes… good idea. If I’m stumped in November, I’ll remind myself. Museums are FULL of that kind of inspiring tidbit!

  1. Metan

    That sounds like a great exhibition and what a coincidence, the tango-connected scrapbook. Hmmm… photos, ghosts, Tango, and a conversation with a stranger. Surely there is a story in that! 😀

    • Candy

      I have one of those open faces that, unless I CLOSE IT, people find me approachable. Very strange in a NY’er… LOL

      The guy I know from Tango is a serious collector. It wasn’t entirely surprising that he’d have a scrap book from the 1920s filled with snap shots by a prominent photographer, once I thought about it. He has a marvelous collection of antique bicycles that was on display at a gallery a while back. They put out a coffee table book with photos of the bikes. They were wooden and like beautiful curved sculptures. Wild!

  2. Museums are such great places to find inspiration! My visit to MoMA was surreal since I went late in the day and then had to stand in line with the masses to view The Scream. I have pictures of people thronging Munch’s masterpiece. My favorites are a couple of pictures mimicking the pose in the painting. I found his other works that were on display even more inspiring. Good luck with your ghost story idea.

    • Candy

      So funny! I also spent time enjoying the throngs gathered to see The Scream! They were a scream. I love Munch and much prefer The Vampyre, The Lonely Ones and The Storm. I went to an extensive retrospective of his work a couple of years ago and was very surprised that at a certain point in his life he experienced a transformation. The paintings from that later period were positively cheerful! Very un-Screamish.

      I’m not sure where that ghost story idea will lead, but then, I never know when the ideas generated in one moment will make their way into a story many, many moments (or years) later.