For those readers not familiar with the Gothic imagery of British photographer Simon Marsden, now is the time to be introduced. His latest book, Vampires: The Twilight World, will be published by Palazzo Editions on December 1, 2011.
Using primarily infrared film to photograph ruins of castles, manor houses, palaces, etc. (all reputedly haunted), Marsden, over the course of his nearly 40-year career, has captured some of the scariest places on earth: Leap Castle in Ireland, Corvin (Hunedoara) Castle in Romania, Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, as well as Venice, Italy; the ruins of Elizabeth Bathory’s Cachtice Castle; and Puschino-Na-Nare Estate near Moscow (viewers of the Korean horror film R-Point might find themselves getting goosebumps when they see this place).
Dread Central recently had the good fortune to interview Sir Simon and discuss how he came to photographing places most of us would avoid (and he had one “adventure” for this book that scared him badly). You can purchase Vampires: The Twilight World from Simon Marsden’s official site or from our EvilShop at Amazon via the link at the bottom of the page, and I strongly recommend you do. It’s a perfect book for a cold, winter night.
DC: Thank you for taking the time to discuss your new book, Vampires: The Twilight World, as well as other aspects of your amazing career, Sir Simon. Or do you prefer just “Simon”?
SM: Just Simon is fine.
DC: While doing research on you, I discovered that not only are you a hereditary baronet (I assumed you were knighted by the Queen) but you attended the Sorbonne as well as grew up in two famous haunted manor houses. What did you study at the Sorbonne, and if it was photography, had you always wanted to work as a photographer? And may I enquire which two famous haunted manor houses were the ones in which you grew up?
SM: At the Sorbonne I did a general course in French history and culture. It was also in Paris (I was 18 years old) where I first met other artists – painters and photographers – which influenced my choice of career. The two haunted manor houses that I was brought up in were both in Lincolnshire, a remote area of the English countryside, and were called Panton Hall and Thorpe Hall.
DC: How did your career as a “spooky” photographer begin, and how did you decide that infrared lighting was the best way to capture a place’s eeriness?
SM: The very first pictures I took had a very eerie feel to them, and I now believe that the very real fear I felt as a small boy being raised in haunted houses is something that I have always tried to exorcise through my photography. One correction: I use infrared film, not infrared lighting. The reason I use it is because the dark skies and the large grain of the film give the images an unreal, twilight effect that so suits the subject matter. I am also a traditional photographer (non-digital), and so I do a lot of work in the darkroom, which for me is a magical place – personally I find that the computer has no soul!
DC: I have nearly all of your books as well as quite a few years’ worth of calendars. You have excelled in capturing places and their haunted histories. Why vampires this time?
SM: Of all the supernatural creatures vampires have the most documented history, and their existence in different forms is recorded long before the Roman Empire. I was also intrigued as to whether the many new fans of the vampire genre through the Twilight books and films, etc., realize that there was once a time (between the 16th-18th centuries), especially in Eastern Europe, when man was truly terrified of vampires due to the great plague and medical science’s inability to explain what was happening. Their image was not that of the more sanitized creatures that we see on our film and TV screens today but of foul smelling creatures, bloated with blood, that rose from the tomb to feast on the blood of their own kinsmen.
DC: I was especially excited to see that you gave Countess Elizabeth Báthory and Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg some coverage in Vampires: The Twilight World. How do you find your subjects, be they people or places? You have some exceptionally creepy places that I am sure few have heard of in your new book: the Puschino-Na-Nare Estate and the Stepanovskoe-Pavlishchevo Estate, both in Russia, the Ardoginna House, Co Waterford, Ireland and The Arsenale, Alexander Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia, to name just a few. Do people tell you about them, or do you have another method for discovering these sometimes remote places?
SM: I have found my locations and subjects through a lifetime of research, and also, as you have already guessed, people write to me, telling me of places that they think will interest me because they have read my books. Luckily they are usually right.
DC: You did a chapter on the haunted island of Poveglia in Venice; yet, you noted that you were so disturbed by…something…that you took no photographs. Would you mind telling our readers what happened on Poveglia that was THAT upsetting?
SM: I hired a speed boat for the day but quickly noted that the driver didn’t seem to want to visit the island. Towards evening I finally persuaded him, but as we approached, I began to understand why. This is where the Venetians buried their dead from the plague in the 14th century, and you can sense the atmosphere as soon as you set foot on the shore. The first thing you see is a deserted mental asylum that was bizarrely built on the island in 1922, and out of one of the windows a man with a shotgun started screaming at us to leave. I didn’t push my luck – whether he was a tramp or a ghost was irrelevant!!
DC: I must personally thank you for the stunning image you have in the book of Corvin Castle, Hunedoara, Romania. That castle has got to be one of the most magnificent I have ever seen. Do you have a favourite place you have photographed? And a creepiest site as well?\
SM: My favourite places I have photographed are Venice and Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The creepiest is Leap Castle in Ireland.
DC: You also briefly covered the American South with a few images from New Orleans and the ruins of a plantation in Mississippi. Have you or would you ever consider doing a book on the plantations of the South? I would be happy to recommend several that are off the beaten track.
SM: About 30 years ago I investigated doing a book on the ruined plantation houses of the Deep South – inspired by the American photographer Clarence John Laughlin and his book Ghosts Along The Mississippi, but when I went to investigate them, I found that they had mostly been restored or destroyed. If you know of any that do still exist, I would love to know where they are.
DC: Who and/or what are your sources of inspiration? And when did you decide that photographing the haunted was your life’s calling?
SM: To name a few: authors – Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Arthur Machen and M.R .James / photographers – Eugene Atget, Clarence John Laughlin, Diane Arbus and David Larcher / painters – the Symbolists, especially Gustave Moreau, Fernand Khnopff and Odilon Redon. As for why I chose to become a photographer of the haunted, the answer is that because of the circumstances of my upbringing I had no choice!
DC: I read that your father had quite an occult library when you were growing up and that he loved to tell ghost stories. Do you have any favourite stories or books, old and contemporary?
SM: The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James, The Novel of the White Powder by Arthur Machen and Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu.
DC: How about horror films – do you ever watch any, and if so, do you have any favourites?
SM: I am not a great fan of modern day horror films, which I find in the main lack subtlety and are too full of blood and gore. My favourites however are The Innocents (1961), the original version of The Haunting (1963) and The Shining (1980).
DC: What is next for you, photography and book-wise?
SM: I am completing a photographic book based on the ruined estates and palaces of the Russian aristocracy pre-the 1917 Revolution, which should be out in October 2012, and also working on a novel that features both ghosts and photography, a new and interesting challenge, but the plot of which I am keeping secret.
DC: Fans can find out much more about your work as well as purchase prints, calendars, greeting cards, posters, etc., at your official site (MarsdenArchive.com), is that correct? What other items of your work are available? And will you continue to produce the calendars?
SM: Yes, that is correct. They can also buy books and DVDs. There will definitely be another Haunted Realm calendar in 2012 and 2013 – beyond that I cannot say.
DC: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to add?
SM: I think you have covered everything – many thanks and let me know when it goes live!
DC: Thank you so much for your time.
© Sir Simon Marsden/The Marsden Archive from Vampires: The Twilight World, published by Palazzo Editions, 2011
© Philippe Matsas/Opale from Vampires: The Twilight World, published by Palazzo Editions, 2011
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