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Édouard Isidore Buguet Spirit Photographer

Édouard Isidore Buguet

Lifespan: 1840 - 1901

Hometown: Paris, France

Studio: 5 Boulevard Montmartre, Paris, France; 33 Baker Sreet, London, England

Edouard Isidore Buguet was a French medium and spirit photographer who was active in London during the 1870s. He discovered his abilities after taking his first spirit photograph in 1866. He had been experiencing visions every night but paid no attention to them until he discovered an unexplained image in a photograph. A friend recognized the image as a sign of his medium abilities, leading Buguet to become a spirit photographer.[1]

During the early 1870s, Buguet was gaining recognition for his spirit photography in Paris. This caught the attention of Pierre-Gaetan Leymarie, a medium and chief editor of the Spiritualist newspaper Revue Spirite. Recognizing Buguet’s abilities, Leymarie partnered with him and provided financial assistance to open a studio on 5 Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. He also promoted Buguet’s photos in his own newspaper and others.[2]

Buguet typically charged 20 francs per photograph. However, the cost could vary and be substantially higher depending on the subject and circumstances. When customers entered his studio, they would first meet with the cashier who would collect payment and any information about the spirit they were seeking.[3] In late 1874, Buguet went on tour to London and set up a studio at 33 Baker St, London where he offered spirit photographs at a cost of 30s.[4]

In an effort to prove his authenticity, Buguet took various measures to alleviate suspicion. One sitter described their experience as follows:

He cut a corner with jagged fracture off a bare plate of glass, and handed the little piece to the sitter, who was a friend of Mr. Coleman. The object of cutting off the piece was to show by the separated corner afterwards fitting the plate with its finished picture, that the plate had not been changed during the operations.

The Spiritualist – June 26, 1874

Buguet could only take 4 to 6 photographs a day, after which his “powers” became exhausted, resulting in subsequent photos revealing faint spirits or none at all. Spiritualists pointed to this as evidence of his authenticity, as a fraud would be able to continuously produce spirit photographs.[5]

On February 4th, 1875, Buguet captured an infamous spirit photograph that featured the spirit of the still-living William Staton Moses. Moses vouched for its authenticity, claiming he had projected his body to the studio and that his spirit often left his body while he was in a deep sleep.[6]

In June 1875, Buguet and his partner Leymarie were arrested after police raided his studio and discovered two shrouded dummies (the smaller of the figures was used to represent children) and 299 photographs of heads, mounted on cardboard.[7] Buguet was soon released on £40 bail. He later confessed to producing spirit photographs through fraudulent means and even testified against it, confronting his Spiritualist customers who still believed his photos were genuine.[8]

Buguet and Laymarie were sentenced to 1 year in prison and a fine of 500 francs. While he remained out on bail pending appeal, he posted a sign on his studio door that read “Anti-Spirit Photographs – Illusions,” featuring examples of his work in which he appeared as both a man and a ghost. The cost for one pose was 25 francs, or 40 francs for a dozen.[9]

Eventually, Buguet’s sentence was upheld and he fled to Brussels to avoid imprisonment. While there, he wrote a letter dated September 27th, 1875, in which he claimed that he had been coerced into admitting guilt and that he retracted his confession. He stated that two-thirds of his photographs were genuine and that he only resorted to other techniques when his powers failed him. He also stated that Leymarie was innocent of any fraud.[10] By 1877, he was pardoned and returned to Paris. He pledged that “he will never cheat again” should his mediumship return.[11]

Spiritualists continued to express their support, stating:

Unfortunately, he could not take many genuine ones in a day, and often the force or faculty so far failed him that he could not take any. The need and thirst of money then tempted him into a system by which he could supplement with fraud his insufficient and variable power as a medium, and save his failing health in the exercise of it. In this system of fraud he was detected and arrested by the police.

Human Nature – Jan. 1876

Ultimately, in 1877, Buguet opened the “Anti-Spirite” gallery, where he satirized and mocked Spiritualism. After his experiences with being caught in a fraud, he decided to use his knowledge and experience to expose the frauds within the Spiritualist community. In the gallery, he openly demonstrated fraudulent techniques and sold fake spirit photographs.[12]

[1] Spiritual Magazine – Mar. 1874
[2] Banner of Light – June 27, 1875
[3] Modern Spiritualism – 1876
[4] The Spiritualist – June 26, 1874
[5] Medium and Daybreak – June 5, 1874
[6] Worship of Satan in Modern France – 1896
[7] Proces des Spirites – 1865
[8] The Spiritualist – June 11, 1875
[9] The Spiritualist – July 9, 1875
[10] Medium and Daybreak – Dec. 24, 1875
[11] The Spiritualist – Mar. 9, 1877
[12] Banner of Light – May 1877

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