Spirit Photography

Image: c. 1905 from The Library of Congress by G.S. Smallwood

Image: c. 1905 from The Library of Congress by G.S. Smallwood

I've always been intrigued by the idea of ghosts. I mean, a good mix of that and scared. I stumbled upon the story of Ed & Lorraine Warren (a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators behind lots of famous cases) and it was a slippery slope of intrigue from there. I find hearing about people's experiences and even EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) fascinating. But on the strange (and often funnier/stranger side) of all this is ghost, or spirit, photography. Here's the thing about it: you can't ever really know if some of it's real or not. That's what makes it so interesting, to me. It's really pretty imaginative, which - as a creative - I like.

There are two categories of these kinds of images: shots where ghosts were believed to actually be caught on film (these are way too creepy to post here), and intentional ghostly images.

Image: c. 1901 from The Library of Congress by S.W. Fallis

Image: c. 1901 from The Library of Congress by S.W. Fallis

For the National Enquirer assignment I already posted about (here and here), I researched a little bit and came across some famous photographers. William Mumler specialized in, even pioneered, spirit photography: he photographed one with their loved one as a spirit, famously the ghost of Abraham Lincoln with his wife. (He was eventually accused of being a hoax, and is still thought to have been). Here's a good pro-spirit-photography read and an anti-spirit-photography one, too.

Similar photographers like William Hope, a paranormal invesitigator whose double-exposures were determined to be frauds, and Edouard Isidore Buguet, a medium who admitted in court to taking fraudulent double-exposures, achieved similar effects (among many others). It became a pretty contentious practice, this 'trickery', because knowledge of photography at the time was so limited. This article on "The Spirit-Photography Fraud" in Scientific American in 1922 illuminates it a bit. It was, aside from trickery, used in studio-posed photographs as early as the late 1800's (and not in just a spiritualist way):

Image: c. 1889 from The Library of Congress by Melander

Image: c. 1889 from The Library of Congress by Melander

In school, the narrative work of Duane Michal's stole my heart (and hey, Tumblr). He uses a lot of interesting double-exposures and image manipulation, too: his The Spirit Leaves The Body (a revival of the 'etheral iconography of nineteenth-century spirit photography') and The Bogeyman sequences are pretty ghostly.

In the realm of art & photography, I find these - what I see as experiments on film, now - super-interesting. Michals sums up the imaginative nature of this kind of photography, via The Met, in the introduction to his 1976 book Real Dreams: "What I cannot see in infinitely more important than what I can see."

And I don't know about you, but I would totally join the 'Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures', pronto.