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BOOK REVIEW The Ghost Photographer
by Terri Schlichenmeyer
2019-08-21

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By Julie Rieger

$25; Enliven/Atria Books; 243 pages

You know how they do it. It's a snap, really.

A little bit of computer imagery, film cells inserted here, a half-screen there, and you've got a movie that'll scare the bejeebers out of anybody. You know how it's done, though; it's all special effects. Or, as in Julie Rieger's The Ghost Photographer, could it be real?

Growing up in Oklahoma, Julie Rieger figured she'd someday marry her childhood sweetheart, have kids, and work at some local hangout, living "a normal and peaceful life." Instead, she came out at 23 and "officially gave up on organized religion," moved to California, married Suzanne and became a powerful Hollywood moviemaker. Life was good—until her mother died of Alzheimer's.

The loss of her mother almost destroyed Rieger's world but there was one comforting moment: a friend who had "a gift" called Rieger as her mother lay dying, offering support in shared grief. When that friend died not long afterward, she visited Rieger in a dream and later, in a psychic reading. It opened a window to something Rieger had only scoffed at before.

"That first reading," says Rieger, "… changed my life forever."

She began "not only paying attention" but was "on a mission to learn everything I possibly could," becoming an acolyte of the psychic-turned-mentor, and immersing herself into a community that further supported her foray into what was on "the Other Side." She started collecting crystals and stones meant to protect, energize, and promote healing. She learned about the "clairs" and how dangerous it is to open a portal to the other side without remembering to close it, too. She had a terrifying altercation with a "deep dark Debbie Downer." In short, she became "an evangelical spirit junkie."

"Spirits are all over the place," she says adamantly. "Our guides are by our side, ready to give us information if we only pay attention."

The Ghost Photographer is a very interesting book, but only partially for what it says. What it doesn't say is interesting in its omission.

Rieger is an award-winning head of media at 20th Century Fox, but readers won't find much about Hollywood in this book. Refreshingly, there's no gossip and very little name-dropping. Instead, what you'll find is the story of a journey from soft skeptic to firm believer, told in tales that are sometimes super-creepy and will sometimes make you roll your eyes. Rieger joshingly recalls such disbelief in herself.

For that reason, it's hard to ignore or dismiss as coincidence the stories she tells in this memoir. Rieger shares those tales with humor reminiscent of a high-school Class Clown, which tones them down some but the sentiment remains: the spirit world is interesting, complicated, and real but if you're inexperienced, don't mess with it.

This book is an entertaining read in itself, and informative if you're just dipping your toe into the paranormal. It's also possible that The Ghost Photographer could make a scoffer into a believer. Yeah, it's a book to buy.

Want more? Look for Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, by Boze Hadleigh; or Good Grief: Heal Your Soul, Honor Your Loved Ones, and Learn to Live Again, by Theresa Caputo


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