The Price of Spirit Photography
Research Post
February 17, 2023
Spirit photography was part of the thriving "supernatural economy" driven by desire to communicate with the dead. Almost all instances of spirit photography were commercial in nature and photographers who managed to capture images of deceased spirits on film saw considerable financial returns for their labor.[1] To ensure that accurate comparisons can be made across different time periods and locations, all prices mentioned have been converted to dollars and adjusted for inflation to reflect their equivalent value in 2023.[2][3] Spirit Photograph Sitting $93.42 Édouard Isidore Buguet charged twenty francs for spirit photography sittings in 1876, which, when converted to dollars and adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to $128.89 in 2023. Frank N. Foster charged one dollar and ten cents for…
Spirit Photography Methods
Research Post
January 31, 2023
Spirit photography has been created using various techniques, each with its own unique process and methodology. While some methods utilize cameras and equipment, others rely solely on the medium. Standard Spirit Photographs The standard spirit photograph originated in the 1860s and is created by a spirit photographer, sometimes with the assistance of a medium, in a studio environment. The sitter would position themselves in front of the camera, ready for the photograph to be captured. The photographer would then take the picture, and after development, the photograph would show one or more spirits present. The spirits could appear in a number of forms, ranging from full or partial body figures to just faces. Notable spirit photographers include included William H.…
William H. Mumler’s Studios
Research Post
January 12, 2023
258 Washington St., Boston, MA (1861 - 1868) Mumler's first studio was located at 258 Washington St., Boston, MA. It was here, at the studio of Mrs. Helen F. Stuart, he began experimenting with photography and discovered spirit photographs. Customers would enter a reception room on the lower level which contained a sofa and had framed spirit photographs on display. The sitting room was located upstairs. Located directly under a skylight was the camera with a chair in front of it. The room was separated with ordinary partitions and had a simple background. Off to the side of the sitting room was a dark room where negatives were developed and stored on a shelf.[1] 630 Broadway, New York, NY (1868…
The Wyllie Fund
Research Post
January 3, 2023
In May, 1909 Mr. A. K. Venning proposed a fund to support relocating spirit photographer Edward Wyllie to England. Wyylie had lost his studio and equipment during an earthquake in Sans Francisco.[1] On April 18th, 1906 the coast of California was struck with a 7.9 magnitude earthquake, fire broke out in Sans Fransico and lasted for several days. Over 3,000 people died, and over 80% of the city was destroyed. The Fund originally proposed at a price of $50 per subscriber. James Coates suggested the funds be amalgamated and lesser amounts were submitted and combined. James Coates oversaw the fund and subscribers were instructed to send him checks, crossed "Royal Bank of Scotland, Rothesay". In July 1909 Wyllie agreed to…
Types of Spirit Photographs
Research Post
December 27, 2022
Prints: Tintype Tintypes are prints on a thin sheet of metal. They were created using the wet collodion process as a direct positive on a piece of iron that is blackened by enameling. They were portable, cheap, and could be made in 15 mins. They were common in the 1860s and 1870s. Tintypes vary in size but the most common is 2 1/2 x 4. They can be identified by their material and a slight yellowish tone. Albumen Print Albumen Prints are prints made using thin paper coated with a layer of egg-white (albumen) and sensitized with a silver nitrate solution, then printed using daylight under a negative. They were popular from the 1850s to 1890s and are the most…
Dr. Theodor Hansmann
Research Post
December 5, 2020
Dr. Theodor Hansmann (1821-1912) was a physician and Spiritualist from Washington, D.C. He is reported to have served as a medical advisor to President Abraham Lincoln. He had many sittings with celebrated spirit photographers and mediums. He gained notoriety for having his photograph taken with famous spirits such as John Wilkes Booth, Robert E. Lee, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. An article in The New York Harold describes Hansmann’s photographs as follows: “Dr. Hansmann’s collection of ‘spirit’ photographs is most interesting. There is one with the face of the Empress Josephine, and on the same plate is the head of Professor Darius Lyman, for a long time Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. The head of the Empress Josephine has…
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…