Ted Serios

Ted Serios came to the world’s attention, briefly, upon the 1967 publication of The World of Ted Serios: Thoughtographic Studies of an Extraordinary Mind, by Jule Eisenbud. Eisenbud was a psychiatrist interested in the paranormal powers of the mind; Serios was an unemployed alcoholic bellhop from Chicago who could allegedly project images on unexposed film by staring into the lens of a camera with intense concentration. In “carefully controlled” experiments, while chugging quarts of Budweiser, the oftentimes shirtless Serios would work himself into a sort of ritualistic froth, snapping his fingers at the moment of telepathic impact and then falling back into his chair exhausted. The results were mixed, but he did sometimes inexplicably produce imagery of buildings, people walking down the street, Neanderthal families, and space ships. This seemingly random archive was guided by Eisenbud who placed “target pictures” in manila envelopes for Serios to access and re-imagine onto the instant film. The bubble of interest in Ted Serios was part of a larger cultural fascination with the paranormal that peaked in the late 1960s in the climate of alternative lifestyles that included meditation, new age religions, and “mind-expanding” drugs. Serios was not a participant in, but a subject of this cultural phenomenon. In a way Eisenbud viewed him as a kind of “urban primitive,” who still had access to ancient powers of the mind that modernity had banished as superstitious and uncivilized. Recently there has been some resurgent interest in Serios, not so much in terms of his telepathic powers but more in relation to a peripheral history of photography, a chronology of photographic image-making at the margins of the accepted canon.

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Ted Serios
Thoughtographs, 1960s
Telepathic images
Polaroid Prints
3.25 x 5.25 inches
Courtesy of the Photography Collections, University of Maryland, UMBC