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Feature: The History of Spirit Photography
Research Post
August 3, 2020
EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY Spirit photography originated with the invention of the daguerrotype in 1839. The daguerrotype process required individuals to pose for as long as 30 seconds before their portrait fully developed. Since people often shifted positions during the sitting, blurred and transparent images were frequently produced. An 1840s daguerreotype portrait of an unidentified male subject. His eyes appear glassy due to blinking during the sitting. BREWSTER’S GHOSTS The earliest account of a ghost photograph appears in Sir David Brewster's 1856 book The Stereoscope: It’s History, Theory, and Construction. In the text, Brewster describes how he was developing a daguerreotype when his subject moved and created a blurry image. He goes on to suggest that if a white clothed figure is…
Man & Spirit
Fredrick A. Hudson
1870s
An 1870s spirit photograph by Fredrick A. Hudson featuring an unidentified man in a trance and a spirit in a cloth. The photograph bears the inscription "Copyright F. Hudson" on the front and "No. 22" on the rear.
Spirit of Napoleon
William M. Keeler
1912
A 1912 spirit photograph by William M. Keeler featuring the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) - French military and political leader who became Emperor of France from 1804 to 1814. He is renowned for his military prowess but his ambition ultimately led to his defeat and exile to Elba before his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.
Arthur H. C. & Spirit of Princess Sophia
William M. Keeler
1900s
A 1900s spirit photograph by William M. Keeler featuring Arthur H. C. and the spirit of Princess Sophia. The back of the photograph bears the inscription: Arthur H. C. Photo by Keeler _____ by A.R.C. Sophia - Electress of Hanover Daughter of James I of Eng + VI of Scotland Sophia of Hanover (1630-1714) - German princess who was next in line for the English and Irish thrones after King William III, due to her Protestant faith. Her son, George I, later became the first British monarch from the House of Hanover. Sophia was also a patron of the arts and had intellectual interests.
Man & Spirit
William M. Keeler
September 25, 1909
A 1909 spirit photograph by William M. Keeler featuring an unidentified man and a spirit. The back of the photograph bears the inscription “Sept 25/09”.
Girl & Spirit of Mother
Fredrick A. Hudson
May 2, 1872
An 1872 spirit photograph by Frederick A. Hudson featuring a girl and the spirit of her mother. The back of the photograph bears the inscription "May 2nd, 1872 / Mrs. Guppy's cousin and Miss Houghton mediums / A young child was standing where this spirit, her deceased mother, appeared. The mother was well known to me during her childhood and girlhood. G. Houghton". Georgiana Houghton (1814–1884) – British artist and Spiritualist medium.
“How to Make Spirit Photographs”
South Side Signal
August 25, 1916
An article titled “How to Make Spirit Photographs” from the August 25th, 1916 edition of South Side Signal. This article explains how to make spirit photographs by printing from regular negatives onto printing-out paper, fixing the prints in a hyposulphite of soda solution, and then immersing them in a bichloride of mercury solution. To reveal the spirit photograph, moisten a piece of blotting paper and hold it in contact with the print.
Woman & Spirit
James A. Bostwick
1893
An 1893 spirit photograph by James A. Bostwick featuring an unidentified woman and a spirit. The back of the photograph bears the inscription "Bostwick / 98 Sixth Ave / New York".
Man & Spirit
William M. Keeler
1910s
A 1910s spirit photograph by William M. Keeler featuring an unidentified man and a spirit. The back of the photograph bears the inscription "Spirit of good ghost / Keeler medium".
Man & 2 Spirits
Unknown
1880s
An 1880s spirit photograph by an unknown photographer featuring an unidentified man and two spirits.