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By Alexandra Haley on

Medium at the museum: Behind the scenes in the Kodak Gallery

Alexandra Haley goes behind the scenes of Séance: A View Through the Veil, a short film shot in the museum’s Kodak Gallery.

Séance: A View Through the Veil is a short film designed and performed by Dr Nik Taylor and Ashton Carter as part of the Media of Mediumship project. It was originally intended to be a stage performance—an immersive event allowing participants to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the Victorian home séance. However, due to Covid-19, it was decided that it would be better recorded on camera and launched as a short film instead.

About The Media of Mediumship

The Media of Mediumship is a one-year project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which aims to examine the relationship between science, technology, and occultism in modern Britain, using the unique collections of the Science Museum Group and Senate House Library to explore the entangled histories of human belief, perception, trust, and scientific evidence as experienced through sight and sound.

You can find out more about the project on the Media of Mediumship website.

The collaborative project (between the University of Stirling, Science Museum Group and Senate House Library) will be hosting a series of free events to show how both believers and sceptics have used technology in ways to affirm or debunk the existence of an unseen or spiritual world. You can find out more information about some of these events on the Media of Mediumship events page.

One of these events, on 21 September 2021, included the launch of Séance: A View Through the Veil, which shows a recreation of techniques used in spirit contact that reveal the thinking behind some of the popular methods of stage mediumship even in the present day.

On set in the Kodak Gallery

The film was shot in the National Science and Media Museum’s Kodak Gallery on 12 and 13 July 2021. The gallery plays host to our very own Victorian parlour, which perfectly illustrates the type of setting in which these séances would take place.

Kodak Gallery Victorian parlpur
Inside the Kodak Gallery—the Victorian parlour (drawing room)

Camera, lighting and sound equipment were set up around a table in the centre of the parlour (making sure not to touch any of the museum pieces around the edge!).

Equipment set up for Seancé: A View Through the Veil
Equipment set up

The Belle Vue daylight studio, which is adjacent to the parlour, was used as storage space and a ‘green room’ for everyone involved.

Belle Vue Studio
Belle Vue Studio—the ‘green room’

In the gallery we usually have an automatic sound system playing as part of the displays, so of course this needed to be turned off for filming. The museum was not open for visitors on these shoot days, so there were minimal disruptions anyway. However, we did need to be wary of staff members passing through!

Despite one of the original cast having to leave due to illness (which subsequently saw me stepping in as a sitter), the shot list was completed very efficiently, and everybody had a great time on set. As a performance rather than the traditional set-up of short films, the script was very loose, so poor Ashton Carter needed to try and remember how he worded each line in order to do several takes!

The film itself

The film is introduced by Dr Nik Taylor, who explains how the spiritualist séance was a form of a complete entertainment experience in the Victorian period.

Filming introductions with Dr Nik Taylor
Filming introductions with Dr Nik Taylor

The role of the medium is played by Ashton Carter; he and the sitters of the séance are introduced to the scene, where he then leads the session with a series of communication practices. The sitters watch intently as he calls upon the spirits in the room, who let their presence be known through acts such as the swinging of pendulums, the moving of a glass and leaving notes in a locket. The sitters are asked to participate in some of these activities, so that the spirits can communicate with them too!

Filming the Seance Scenes with Ashton Carter
Filming the séance scenes with Ashton Carter

It’s important to note that no real spirits were summoned to the Kodak Gallery during filming. After all, we don’t want a haunted museum! The piece was performed to demonstrate how séances would have worked in the Victorian era using clever stage magic techniques, which have continued to inspire contemporary magicians and mediums.

Watch the film

Following the launch event on 21 September, Séance: A View Through the Veil is now available for everyone to watch online via the Media of Mediumship YouTube channel.

To find out more about Ashton Carter and Dr Nik Taylor, please see the collaborators page on the Media of Mediumship website.

Film credits

  • Written and performed by Ashton Carter and Dr Nik Taylor
  • Directed by David Crowley
  • Camera Operator: Adam Dawson
  • Sound: Ian Price
  • Assistant Producer: Alexandra Haley
  • Sitters: Hannah Slater, James A Simms, Alexandra Haley

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