Tag Archives: Photo

Ghost in photography

Me: Have you ever heard some ghost stories from your parents or grandparents?

S: Yes. I once heard a scary story from my parents.

Me: Why did they tell you this story?

S:You know, adults like to make fun of kids by telling them ghost stories and see how they are terrified.

Me: What is the story then?

S: It happened in a ‘Village-In-The-City’. A boy died of traffic accident and a funeral was held for him. Several girls passed by and one of them picked a flower from the wreath for the boy. She was going to a photo studio, hence she put the flower on her hair and took the photo. When the photographer developed the film, he barely saw a boy’s face behind the girl. He waited for the girl to come back and take the photo, but the girl never returned. He managed to get in contact with the friends of the girl, only to be told that the girl had died due to another traffic accident.

Context: The information was collected in a informal private conversation.

Interpretation: Both photos and ‘Village-In-The-City’ are related to ghost in Chinese cultural background. When photography was first introduced to China, people were terrified because they thought that the soul of human would be captured by the photos. So, when the girl picked the flower from wreath, an action that was considered to be irreverent, the soul of the dead boy might just followed her and was captured by the photo. ‘Village-In-The-City’ may be a special phenomenon in China when the city area expanded so fast that the original village is unable to move away. It is kind of a liminal space where the urban area overlaps with rural area, providing a good background for ghost stories.


“It was August and it was my wife’s family reunion up in New Hampshire. We were gonna get married that September, so the wedding was right around the corner. At the time they were really into taking photos of the family together. So we all set up to take a photo, when all of a sudden my wife’s grandmother stopped everyone and said, ‘Okay, so we need to take on with Lenny and then one without.’ So that’s exactly what we did. One month before getting married! After coming up there for years, being the only boy she ever brought around to her family. One with and one without.

So we still will joke about that. Whenever anyone new, like a significant other or whatever, comes to the family, we’ll jokingly say, ‘Okay now one with and one without.'”


Obviously this is just a funny moment that would get passed around in a lot of different families. There is something funny about the old members of the family being able to be so blunt and particular. And so when they repeat the phrase to someone else or tell the story, they are laughing at that moment and how blunt she was.

In a more folklore vein though, it definitely represents a liminal moment for this family. Here they are, at this reunion and this outsider is about to join them in the next month. By the next year he will be officially taking pictures with them. How people manage that liminal moment is different for everyone. Clearly her grandmother cared about the informant, as she took the picture with him in the first place, but she also cared about her family and did not want any hurtful pictures around in case things went sour. It may seem to be a little over-the-top, but to me it feels like she is trying to handle this moment before he officially enters the family.