Theaters are hubs of energy, places where the veil seems to lift, allowing us to step into other worlds. In theater tradition, a “ghost light” is a single bulb left burning near the center of the stage once everyone has gone home for the night—leaving the empty space shrouded in darkness. The practical purpose of the lamp is to prevent anyone who might enter the theater from falling off the stage. But those who believe in the supernatural—and thespians are a superstitious bunch—say that the light wards off the mischievous ghouls. Others believe that the light is intended to guide the theater’s resident spirits, helping them move through the deserted playhouse. With empty seats illuminated by a single light, the phantoms are invited to take the stage and perform in the spotlight.
In her most recent project, Ghost Light Theaters, Rachel Phillips explores this mysterious tradition in a series of hand-crafted, tabletop theater lanterns. Created to resemble those produced by Treadwell Press in the 1930s, each one of her Ghost Light Theaters features a beautiful Art Deco exterior, a single electric bulb, and a series of interchangeable slides that play out a narrative authored by Phillips. To create these slides, she transforms snapshots by layering them with paper silhouettes. Combined with a brief narrative intertitle, each of her montage sequences captures the “ghost of a moment”—those fleeting memories or experiences that can only be preserved and shared though photography.