Alexander Martin Spirit Photographer Portrait

Alexander Martin

Lifespan: 1841 - 1929

Hometown: Denver, CO

Studio: 1639 Platte Street, Denver, CO; 2953 Zuric Street, Denver CO; 4445 Cherokee Street, Denver, CO

Alias: Alexander Martin, Alex Martin

Alexander Martin was an American spirit photographer based in Denver, CO, active in the 1900s through 1920s. He was regarded as a kind and simple-minded old man, renowned for his skill in capturing multiple spirit faces and children’s spirits in his photographs. Famed writer Arthur Conan Doyle even made a special trip from England to Denver for a sitting with Martin, and afterward referred to him as “one of the top three or four good spirit photographers in the world.”[1]

Martin was originally located at 1639 Platte Street, Denver, CO. The gallery was a large empty room with only a camera, photographer’s screens, sitter’s chair, and visitor chairs. The dark room was in the basement, reached by passing through another room and down a back stairway There were no observable mirrors, trap-doors, or appliances. [2] His second and third studios were located at 2953 Zuric Street and 4445 Cherokee Street, Denver, CO described as simple rooms with black backgrounds.

One sitter recounted their experience with obtaining a spirit photograph from Martin in 1918. The sitter watched Martin take a new plate from an unopened pack and insert it into the holder. After the exposure, the sitter wrapped the plate in dark paper, placed it in a box, and took the undeveloped negative to a reputable commercial photography studio, The Ossen Brothers, for development.[3]

Upon developing it they stated:

That there was something upon the plate and upon a print being made a mask or face was found over the face of the other gentleman accompanying the party.” Mr, Ludwig informed the writer that he could make no explanation for the appearance thereon of this face; that it was not a prior exposure because it appeared over the face of the living person. It could not have been put on there subsequently as the plate had been fully exposed.

Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research – 1920

In 1919, Martin was involved in a legal dispute related to Spiritualism, spirit photography, and a will. A woman named Mary Luthe had made a will naming two Spiritualist mediums as the primary beneficiaries, but her family members challenged the will, claiming that the mediums brainwashed her resulting in Luthe’s weakened mental state. During the trial, the family presented letters detailing Luthe’s spiritual experiences and a photo produced by Martin as evidence of her diminished mental capacity. Martin was called to the witness stand and explained his method of taking photographs, stating that he couldn’t explain the phenomenon, but he only used regular commercial techniques with a long exposure time of 12 seconds while calling upon his deceased friends to assist.[3]

In May of 1923, Harry Houdini had multiple sittings with Martin and received two spirit photographs. Houdini closely monitored the process and took detailed notes, ultimately determining that the photographs were fraudulent.[4]

He declared:

I have not the slightest doubt that Mr. Martin’s Spirit photographs were simply double exposures. I think his method was to cut out various pictures, place them on a background and make an exposure. His plates were then ready for his next sitter, which in the above instance was myself. Being an expert photographer he might have used the original wet plate method of making an exposure, developing it, washing the emulsion off the plate and refinishing it with a new emulsion but I am convinced that the two Spirit photos which he made of me were simply double exposures.

A Magician Among the Spirits – 1924

As he grew older, Martin continued his photography business. He had made attempts to cease taking spirit photographs but much to his regret, “spirit pictures” still intruded on his plates, and “spoiled” them from a business standpoint.[5]

[1] Psychic Power – June 1923
[2] Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research – 1916
[3] Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research – 1920
[4] A Magician Among the Spirits – 1924
[5] Photographing the Invisible – 1911