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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Forty-Eight: Telling stories with pictures > Ghost story, Congress Hotel, Tucson, Arizona, 2006
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Ghost story, Congress Hotel, Tucson, Arizona, 2006
09-APR-2009

Ghost story, Congress Hotel, Tucson, Arizona, 2006

I don’t believe in ghosts. But after a visit to the Hotel Congress in Tucson, I am no long so sure of myself on this point. The hotel, built in 1919, is widely considered to be haunted. The front desk manager kindly allowed us to go upstairs and visit rooms that were in the process of being cleaned by the maids. I asked one of the maids if she had ever felt the presence of a ghost. She said that the door to Room 214 often closed by itself when she propped it open. I watched her clean Room 214, and as she worked, I photographed a pile of bedclothes that she had temporarily placed in a chair next to the window. It looks eerily like a person. The 1920s painting on the wall adds to the illusion. When the maid finished cleaning Room 214 she turned off the room's radio that she had been listening to. I stayed in the room for a few moments, and the radio mysteriously came back on again. I asked the maid about it as I left. She said it happens all the time. When I look at this image of the “person in the chair” and the 1920’s painting on the wall, it makes me question my own certainties.

Leica D-Lux 4
1/60s f/2.2 at 6.3mm iso80 full exif

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Phil Douglis16-Aug-2009 20:56
I well remember all of us shooting together in this haunted hotel room, and I will always remember the look on your face, Celia, when that radio came back on by itself. I loved making this picture -- the chair is critical, in that it puts the pile of bed clothes into a human context. I found the painting on the wall fascinating as well. It adds a Hopperesque touch to the scene, adding to the illusion.
Cecilia Lim16-Aug-2009 18:52
I was there when you made this incredibly suggestive image, and heard that radio creepily turn on by itself together with you. You certainly made the most of the ambience in this historical and haunted hotel. Again, I love your power of suggestion here. The chair humanizes the heap of bedclothes there, and the darker exposure together with your clever use of empty space heightens this eeriness.
Phil Douglis23-Apr-2009 17:34
This can happen, Vera, when you look at a picture out of its context. All of my photographs are intended to be read along with my captions. That's how they work as instruction. You are looking at this picture as a stand alone work of art, ignoring the caption at first, and thus you can use your imagination freely and the image becomes something entirely different for you. You still got a lot out of it -- seeing the painting as some kind of ghostly reflection or a mirror with ghosts in them, is a highly creative act on your part. And now, when you stop to read the caption, you can get even more out of this picture as a lesson in photographic illusion.
saltzman4022-Apr-2009 23:26
Without knowing that it was a painting on the wall by reading your caption, my immediate reaction to this photo was that we were seeing a reflection. I guess with the lighting on it. I thought it was a mirror with a ghostly image in it.
Phil Douglis22-Apr-2009 19:36
Creepy is a good word, Mo -- the power of suggestion is certainly at work here.
Phil Douglis22-Apr-2009 19:35
Thanks, Claudia, for your thoughts on this image. I know how much you like to express supernatural feelings in your own imagery, and I am honored by your feelings. I will always see a flock of blue butterflies when I look at this picture. I am glad my image is able to work so well on your dark monitor -- that is one of the great challenges of the internet. Everyone has a different way of calibrating (or not calibrating) their monitors so you never know how your colors or details are going to read on other people's screens. In this case, darker will work quite well, since darkness implies mystery, and ghosts, by their very nature, are mysterious.
monique jansen22-Apr-2009 08:28
Creepy, it really does look like a ghostlike person
BleuEvanescence22-Apr-2009 05:04
I love everything about this image.
I see in the pile of bedding somebody, almost arabic, running away
with a flock of blue butterflies...
My monitor calibration is too dark but i love how rich this image shows on it...
Phil Douglis21-Apr-2009 21:22
Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to pbase photographer Iris Maybloom, who called me over to this particular room and pointed out the human qualities expressed in the pile of bedding in the chair. I made this image both with and without the painting. You are right -- the inclusion of the painting brings a dose of reality to the context here. Thanks for sharing this story with me, Carol.
Carol E Sandgren21-Apr-2009 20:22
I wouldn't doubt that that pile of bedding on the chair IS the ghost! I too really do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe in spirits. The eerie radio adds to the uncertainty for sure. At first glance, I saw what appears to be a Mexican woman perhaps kneeling down with her face cowering in the corner of the room. The inclusion of the old art piece on the wall suggests to me that this is no accident and is still a real place. Very cool find and well photographed..... it certainly does tell a story and evoke a feeling.
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