Séance: Photographs by Shannon Taggart

August 31–December 17, 2021

For the past twenty years American artist Shannon Taggart (born 1975) has documented Spiritualist practices and communities in the United States, England, and Europe. The resulting body of work, Séance, examines the relationship of Spiritualism to human celebrity, its connections to art, science, and technology, and its intrinsic bond with the medium of photography. This exhibition presents forty-seven haunting images from the series, revealing the emotional, psychological, and physical dimensions of Spiritualism in the 21st century. 

Spiritualism is a religion born in nineteenth-century America whose adherents believe in communication with spirits, often transmitted through the figure of a medium who receives psychic messages from the dead. Not coincidentally, photography was invented at the same historical moment, when the new technology was revered for its ability to faithfully record reality. Photography thus became a preferred medium of scientific documentation capable of rendering invisible phenomena visible, such as in astronomical photography, X-Rays, and microscopy. For Spiritualists, photography was a tool for revealing the existence of spirits, but for non-believers the ghostly forms that materialized in spirit photographs proved nothing more than darkroom trickery. While this double-sided coin of belief and skepticism haunts the histories of both photography and Spiritualism, Taggart’s photographs do not take sides. The images that comprise Séance are characterized by open-mindedness and empathy toward their subjects, many of whom are brought to Spiritualism through grief and a desire to reconnect with lost loved ones.

The photographs on display explore the communities and phenomena associated with Spiritualism, including séance circles, mediumship, and the objects and technological devices used to aid communication with spirits. Among the most arresting images are those that chart the artist’s quest to capture ectoplasm, a supernatural substance that is paradoxically both spiritual and material. Often made in darkened rooms, the photographs are characterized by otherworldly blurs, chance flares and orbs, and entrancing portraits cast in glowing colors. Taking on the role of participant observer, Taggart bears witness with her camera to an unseen world of belief lying just beyond the fringes of everyday reality.

Public Program

Artist’s Talk: Shannon Taggart

Thursday October 14, 2021

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Free and open to the public; registration is required. Attendance will be limited.*

*Registration for the in-person event is now full. Please use this form to be added to the waitlist.

This event will also be livestreamed on the UMBC YouTube channel. Follow this link to join the livestream.

Portrait of artist Shannon Taggart

Shannon Taggart is an artist and author based in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. Her photographs have been exhibited and featured internationally, including within the publications TIME, New York Times Magazine, Discover, and Newsweek. Her work has been recognized by Nikon, Magnum Photos and the Inge Morath Foundation, American Photography and the Alexia Foundation for World Peace. Taggart’s monograph, SÉANCE (Fulgur Press, 2019) was listed as one of TIME magazine’s ‘Best Photobooks of 2019.’

This exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Pensacola Museum of Art.

The exhibition is curated by Beth Saunders, Curator and Head of Special Collections at UMBC, and Anna Wall, Chief Curator of the Pensacola Museum of Art.  

The presentation of this exhibition at UMBC is supported by an arts program grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the Libby Kuhn Endowment Fund, as well as individual contributions.

Other venues: Pensacola Museum of Art, Pensacola, FL, September 16–December 4, 2022


Press for Shae McCoy: West Baltimore Ruins

Follow the links below to listen and to read more about West Baltimore Ruins.


Shae McCoy: West Baltimore Ruins

As described by the artist, West Baltimore Ruins is “a visual story told by West Baltimore’s daughter.” McCoy created the series between 2018 and 2020 as a means of documenting the architectural landscape of the neighborhood in which she was raised, where an estimated one third of buildings are now abandoned. In addition to her digital camera, McCoy also used a cell phone camera to record her impressions, noting that its mobility and discretion enables photographs to be made easily while on the move. The resulting images take the viewer on a walk through the neighborhoods of West Baltimore as viewed through McCoy’s observant eyes,  capturing the vibrant colors of empty row house facades, the charm of the area’s neglected historical architecture, unruly vegetation reclaiming empty houses, and signs of encroaching gentrification.  

As physical remains of the past, ruins are typically associated with disuse and decay. McCoy’s photographs point toward the causes behind this deterioration in West Baltimore: housing discrimination, urban blight, voucher programs that have relocated residents rather than reinvigorated neighborhoods, and lack of investment in commercial renewal that has benefitted other parts of the city. By turning attention—and her camera—to this landscape, McCoy also enlivens it. Her connections to the area and interviews with residents that helped shape the project invest the photographs with a personal perspective, preserving the memories and histories embedded in the vanishing architectural structures of West Baltimore.

This virtual presentation displays a selection of images and interviews from the project. Photographs from the series have been presented both in black and white and color on the artist’s Instagram and the entire series is published in McCoy’s 2021 book West Baltimore Ruins.  

Public Program

Virtual Artist’s Talk: Shae McCoy in Conversation with Dr. Ashley Minner (UMBC)
12:00 noon
March 11, 2021

Register here (via Webex)

West Baltimore Ruins

West Baltimore has aggressively opened my eyes to the irresponsibility and disservice of city officials done to urban black communities. Ironically, these communities once thrived with culture and now they decay as new developments await.

Shae McCoy, West Baltimore Ruins (2021)

This project is an in-your-face first account of what Baltimore residents in these mentioned communities experience everyday. It is an artistic call-out for city officials to see the cause of their neglect.

Shae McCoy, West Baltimore Ruins (2021)

In 2018, then mayor of Baltimore Catherine Pugh targeted corner stores in West Baltimore as sites of drug dealing and crime that did little to benefit the community. However, corner stores and convenience stores often provide basic necessities to residents in areas defined as food deserts and where commercial service establishments are otherwise lacking. McCoy notes that the first sign of gentrification in her neighborhood was the closure of the corner stores.

In the 1950s and 60s, Sandtown was known as “Baltimore’s Harlem” where musicians like Diana Ross and Billie Holiday performed and where jazz legend Cab Calloway was born. After riots in 1968, the population began to decline and now one third of buildings in the neighborhood stand vacant. The neighborhood was locus for the 2015 Baltimore Uprising in response to the arrest and death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Residents of the area report feeling harassed by police presence. 

I am no stranger to vacant houses. As a matter of fact, I still live next door to one in my current neighborhood of Park Heights. Many of the vacant houses in my old neighborhood of Sandtown served as playgrounds and meeting places for my friends and I as children.

West Baltimore Resident Otis Eldridge in Shae McCoy, West Baltimore Ruins (2021)

*Click images in galleries above to enlarge

Black and white portrait of Shae McCoy

Shae McCoy is a photographer based in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has been featured in major publications such as Teen VogueCosmopolitan, EssenceBaltimore Magazine, and BMore Art and displayed on the Baltimore Museum of Art website and in the Joan Hisaoka Gallery in Washington DC. Shae is founder of the cultural blog and has interviewed actors, activists, community leaders, and politicians to creating a spotlight for local artists. Uncommonrealist was nominated for The Inaugural Southern Blogger Impact Awards in 2016 and featured on local platforms such as Docs Castle Media, and Undaground Radar Magazine. In 2018, the blog won an award for Best Entertainment Website.


McCoy interviewed current and former residents of West Baltimore during the making of this project. Their words and recollections appear in her book, creating a dialogue between her images and the community that calls these neighborhoods home.

Unique Mical Robinson, 31, Woodland Park Apartments.
Score Swayze, 29, 1411 Division Street.

About the book

Filmed by Shae McCoy. Edited by David Sebastiao. Music by Zadia.

West Baltimore Ruins is available to purchase here.


Artist’s Talk with Zachary Z. Handler/ ERRANDS in UMBC Magazine

UMBC Magazine features ERRANDS, the first in a series of online exhibits offered by the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery this spring. The artist, Zachary Z. Handler, will give a virtual artist’s talk for the public at noon on February 18. Read the article.

Virtual Artist’s Talk: Zachary Z. Handler
12:00 noon
February 18, 2021

Register here (via Webex)

Sign language interpreter will be provided
Sign language interpreter will be provided
Still life of flower in vase, iPhone with woman on screen, and projected image
Zachary Z. Handler, Abhilasha. Delhi, India. 2020, from series ERRANDS