THOUGHTOGRAPHY – Ted Serios’ Interview with Mi Stress Henry

by Red Cell

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted with kind permission form Ted Serios.

Theodore `Ted´ Judd Serios is a thoughtographer. He can psychically “burn” images from his mind onto photosensitive surfaces. That is a rare ability, and it made Ted famous in the 1960s, when he first performed in a series of experiments supervised by the psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud. Eisenbud wrote a book about these experiments called The World of Ted Serios: “Thoughtographic” studies of an extraordinary mind (1967).

The work of Ted Serios has been part of many exhibitions all over the world, most notable “The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2005. “Psychic Projections/Photographic Impressions: Paranormal Photographs from the Jule Eisenbud Collection on Ted Serios” was the title of a retrospective presented by The The Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery / University of Maryland in Baltimore last year. Ted Serios died in 2006, but since May 2010 he has been posting new work through his Facebook account.

Mi Stress Henry had the opportunity to speak to Ted Serios in January 2012.

Q. “I am dead and I am serious, I am Ted Serios” – that is the motto of your Facebook profile. Why does a dead man use Facebook to get serious?

A. No doubt, Facebook is the favorite platform of the deceased. Once you start looking, you will find many dead people who have accounts. My friend Erich von Stroheim for instance died in 1957 and he is on Facebook all the time. You have to have a certain affinity towards technology though. Let me put it this way: back in the Sixties, Polaroid was futuristic. Don´t be too surprised if I use the internet today to communicate from the other side.

Q. The reception of your work has always included the procedure of fabricating the prints up to point where you actually got called a “performance artist”. These days you are posting just thoughtographs. Is that due to the circumstances or is it intentional?

A. As you know, I have been ingenuous about almost every detail of the process. If you want to see how a thoughtograph is made, the footage is just a few clicks away. Put in my name on YouTube and you can see me at work. Anyhow, that was the spirit of the sixties, to do anything in public. I will not do that anymore, I will not reveal my secrets any longer. You can tell by looking at the prints that I do not use polaroids anymore. You see that I have learned how to make thoughtographs that have text. They are called “nensha” and I want to thank Tomokichi Fukurai for his generous support and many helpful hints.In retrospect I do think that it was necessary at that time to prove beyond doubt that thoughtography is not trickery. But today I feel it is kind of hysterical to concentrate on the process. To discuss the process becomes an excuse not to look at the pictures.

Q. So, if I forget about the process of thoughtography and just look at the imagery, what is the difference to “normal” photography?

A. Well, you are not exactly supposed to forget about the process, I recommend you keep it in mind. “Normal” photography is all about representation, people “take” pictures to freeze time. Sometimes they need to prove something and sometimes they want to preserve a memory, but there is always this close link to reality that constrains a specific viewpoint. To “read” a photo is a cultural skill, you learn it, and to acquire that competence you need to take a specific position – not only towards the picture but also towards reality. If you imagine the photograph as a mirror than you understand that you have to find the right angle to look at reality through it. In fact, that is a triangle.A thoughtograph is a “given” image, I do not take it, it pops up in the process of channeling energy. Therefore it exists outside the triangle. A thoughtograph is as indifferent towards the subject as modern painting.

Q. I can tell that your thoughtographs carry a specific atmosphere – and this airy vibe is a connecting link between your early Polaroids and your recent posts on Facebook. I can see an almost painterly quality. But when I look at your thoughtographs as a body of work, I do not get a coherent story. Do you know why you receive a specific image?

A. Certainly not, and that is why I start looking for references myself. That is easy for the nenshas, you just google the text. But when you try to use image recognition software for the thoughtographs, you will find that aesthetic similarity gets you nowhere. My way of finding connections goes beyond the surface. Let me give you an example: On the left side of the middle pair of the “conceptual spell” we see the image of a cartoon bird that almost looks like a crane. The bird stares down at some ruins and it took me a while to remember where I had seen those steel skeletons before: There is a well known picture of what Ground Zero looked like right after the September 11 attacks, taken from a slightly different angel. The bird is working in the memory mine, where all the indelible images get stored. There exists a natural correspondence to the “and now I live in your head” nensha, but this is not illustration, this is a play of echoes.

Q. ..and you do not play this game of echoes with just two images, you recently have organized the reverberation in a new structure – six thoughtographs in three pairs, upper, middle and lower. You have reused existing thoughtographs to create these compositions. Is that your way to make sense, to organize something that is first and foremost chaotic ?

A. I create structures that are not based on aesthetics. Nor do they represent reality of any kind. Don´t seek after form or content. I create autonomous visual essays and I call them spells.A spell is not symbolic, a spell uses symbols to obtain results. A spell is nothing that you can understand by studying it, you have to perform the ritual. A thoughtograph is an image created by means of technology. You have to overcome the cultural reflex triggered by the camera and look at the image in a different way. The way you look at a painting, maybe. To change your perspective is an active process.

Q. You have suggested that everybody should download the images and create a personal book, complete with comments and references.

A. I encourage the active handling of the material. Facebook goes beyond blogging, it offers a complete network of connections and cross references. My thoughtographs are presented in a context and I want my friends to draw the connections, to read that multidimensional structure. The personalized ads have offered me a job as a chemist recently and are now trying to sell me a retirement home in Florida. That means, the algorithms are too plump to handle the complex possibilities of a profile – for now. Technology offers time frames that individual people can use for a while. It will not last, but right now Facebook offers possibilities that can be used.

Q. Does your profile become part of the work?

A. The profile creates a context, it cannot be part of a work. Don´t forget, Facebook is a public space under private control.

Well, here I am on monkey island
Hiding behind a rock
I’m all dressed up with my monkey suit
Pretending to be something I’m notLiving home on monkey island, baby
Right in the middle of a zoo
Living home on monkey island, baby
Pretend to be a monkey, tooWell there’s one thing about these monkeys, baby
They don’t know I’m around
But that’s pretty good, ’cause if they knew
They’ll probably come and put me down


Q. O.K. – that is another quote, and I know where you picked it up. But Roky Erickson didn´t get away with the charade for too long.

A. True, but rock `n´ roll never promised a happy ending!

Mi Stress Henry is an independent writer. Her latest book “The truth is just another trick” is a profound analysis of the surrealist roots inside the cyber punk movement.


  1. Ted Serios says:

    Also published on this server: Two annotations by Mi Stress Henry.

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