The Chinese writer Yiyun Li wrote, “When we feel haunted, it is the pull of our own home we’re experiencing.” These richly evocative words floated back into my mind recently, stirred up as I began to spend time with Australian artist Morganna Magee’s Extraordinary Experiences—a series of images she took in the streets and landscapes around her home, accompanied by a project text she opens with a dictionary definition of the word ‘haunting.’

Li’s words could be interpreted in a thousand different ways, but what feels most resonant about them is how they conjure a sense of something primal and deeply nostalgic—of the idea of ‘home’ in the abstract, both in terms of personal feeling and memory, and the collective psychological histories that linger in the places we inhabit. From the outset, Magee’s pictures seem to carry an atmosphere of both, and a melancholic air hangs among them. Somehow, we know there is grief in these pictures, and the weight of human history too. Something we talk about a lot in the world of photography is the camera’s potential to express what isn’t visible to the human eye. It’s a paradox, certainly, given that photography is first understood as a medium of ‘seeing,’ but so too is it a medium of feeling, and Magee is an expert in using it as such.

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

Named after a phenomenon—sometimes abbreviated to ‘EE’—in which the bereaved sense the presence of the person they have lost, the series explores photography that can be a tool of communication and exploration in our immediate present, but also reaches beyond. The images in Extraordinary Experiences were all taken by Magee between 2020 and 2021, within walking distance of her home. She lives in Melbourne, somewhere she describes as existing “on the stolen lands of the Woi Wurrung, Bunurong and Boon Wurrung people, who are part of the Kulin Nation that cared for this land before colonization,” immediately helping us to understand this legacy to be important to her. Having grown up in the suburbs yearning for nature, Magee has now lived on the fringes of the city surrounded by bushland since 2020.

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

“The Australian bush is magic—so ancient, it has been testament to so much,” she says. “Most of this work was made in a place called ‘Police paddocks’ which was a site of trading and celebration pre-colonization, after which its history is tainted with death and cruelty. It’s 500 hectares, full of wildlife and secret tracks. I walk in this bushland and photograph everyday. It’s an incredible place that surprises me every time I am there. Our dog is nervous so I need to walk him early before anyone else is around, and being in the landscape when it is empty of people is the most blissful thing. It allows you to see so much. Having the physical and mental space to see what the light and the seasons change dictates how I photograph.”

Extraordinary Experiences transforms the landscapes around Magee’s home into a stage for an enigmatic, psychologically-charged story filled with ghostly, folkloric elements like broken mirrors and owls, black cats, animal remains, and shadowy apparitions moving slowly through dark forests. There’s a palpable intensity to it—the thickness of the air and the stillness of the night swelling from each image. I tell her it feels like a 19th century novel in pictures, full of motifs and symbols, which prompts her to think about where that inclination for symbolism might come from.“I think these totems, cats, shadows, owls and darkness can help us tap into a primal selves,” she muses.

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

“I love the idea that animals can see at a higher level of perception than we do; that they can see auras and ghosts in a way human eyes have lost the ability to. This land that I get to live on and my relationship to it is central to me, and I truly believe I am a part of it as is everyone that lived on it before me. It’s been a funny thing to work on this project; I was a documentary photographer for a long time and I loved telling stories but I think it also blinded me to the wonder of photographing what is directly around me. I haven’t traveled beyond 5km to make this work. Everything I have photographed is part of my daily life. Being able to recognize that these ghostly elements remain around us, even in this cold, modern world, is so special. It’s so interesting to me that over human history, people who could connect with these parts of life were persecuted. But I think deep within us we all respond to them because they are part of what we are as humans.”

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

The grief that rings through the images feels collective but there is a deeply personal element at work here too. Speaking in her project statement about using photography as a conduit for emotional exploration during a time of turmoil, she makes reference to her own experience of bereavement. “My father died when I was 26 but he had been sick on and off since I was teen,” she explains. She and her brother had been her father’s primary carers, and when he died she never truly acknowledged her grief. “No one around me at that age had dying parents and familial fractures meant I never felt I could talk about it.”

She actually kept it buried for a long time, right up until 2018 she began a photography MA and started to open the pandora’s box. “It was tortuous, but also cathartic,” she says. She and her brother hadn’t spoken for a decade, but she decided to reach out and ask to photograph him, the camera becoming a sort of bridge in the lacuna of lost time. That phase also marked a shift in her practice which she then carried through to the intense lockdowns that began in 2020. “Everyone was confused and scared of the pandemic, but I found it gave me so much more time to sit in my feelings and try to process the past few years of my life. I felt a bit like that aimless teenager again, and all I wanted was to be in wild places and make photos. That is really how it began, with my need to reconnect with nature and my understanding of the lack of permanence of our existence.”

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

Beyond her own experience, many people Magee loves have suffered loss for the first time in the last few years too, leading all of this shared experience to re-tint the way she looks out at the world around her. “These losses compounded, and death no longer felt like an abstract thing in the future, but rather a natural part of our existence and a reminder of our place in the universe,” she says. “For anyone who has encountered grief, you will know what I am speaking of; this shift that happens in your understanding that can bond you with others that have felt it. It’s not always a sad thing, it can be transformative and universal but because we fear conversations around it, grief becomes a strange secret even though we will all experience it.” These pictures are another way for Magee to represent and talk about loss, opening up a visual space that those of us who know grief might find ourselves within.

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

The ideas revolving around the project extend deeply into Magee’s photographic process. The photographs in Extraordinary Experiences are a combination of large format and digital. “I use the 5x4 for the photos of animals to pay them reverence but also for the experience. Animals rely on body language and senses beyond vision to know if a human will harm them. To make portraits of an animal like this they need to trust enough to be still and not fear me or my camera.” Some of the images include textural blurs and imperfections, fogginess, dust and bursts of light—edits (or accidents) that often happen during Magee’s process of digitizing her negatives.

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

“I develop at home and don’t have a scanner, but I soon realized that these imperfections mirrored my feelings of the unseen legacy of grief, like the camera picks up on what my eyes can’t. Making a perfect pristine black and white photo is a joy, but I have loved using the processes that are messy; wet negatives, dirty cameras—all the things you are taught not to do.” And that’s the thing about working with black and white, isn’t it? There is always an alchemical element of chance. “I think, like most photographers, I fell in love with black and white photography first and was trained in the darkroom when I began. So coming back to black and white feels like coming back to the photographer I was when I started out,” she says—and there again is this idea of spiritual homecoming. “There is just something about the abstraction of black and white, a fantasy in the way it uses tone to show depth, which I remain enamored with.”

From the series “Extraordinary Experiences” © Morganna Magee

Time collapses in on itself in Magee’s pictures, offering us instead a continuum; each new image a little enigma that seems to encapsulate both past and present at once. These images could be described as if they came from a place of restless reverie; the sorts of images that linger after a night of uneasy dreaming—scenes based on the world as we know it, but intensified in some uncanny way. “I hope I can photograph in a way that shows how beautiful melancholy can be, that it’s a part of life and embracing it unlocks a lot in us,” she says.

“I think this is why I photograph the tear of a horse, or the deep rain in the middle of winter…it feels like these things are important and deserve reverence.” From ideas of haunting and apparition, to the corridors of the mind from which human emotion and grief spring, Magee crystallizes so much of the ineffable in Extraordinary Experiences, which is something she puts down to the medium itself as much as her own hand. “Photography will forever be magic to me; the camera really does see what we cannot. Making this work has allowed me to show how I see and feel my way through the world, and I cannot think of any other medium that would communicate in this way.”