Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You Know What P. T. Barnum Said?

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from
my collection of old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.

The witching hour approaches and Shades turns to the spirits in photography. For many years spirit photography ran rampant through the lives of believers and non-believers. This week Shades looks at two previously published articles, 1876 and 1911. One for those born every minute and one for the skeptics.


The latest we have heard in "Spirit Photography," under the title of "Some Unusual Phenomena in Photography," is a series of wonder tales, as set forth in the journal of the American Society for Physical Research, under the direction of Dr. James H. Hyslop.

It seems that he alleges to have made personal tests of the photographic work of a woman who felt she was endowed with supernatural photographic powers, and submits his investigation to the public.

This woman, Mrs. Marguerite DuPont Lee, received no results until she enlisted the services of William M. Keeler, a former "spirit photographer," whose work, years ago, was found to be a fake, pure and simple.

According to Dr. Hyslop's report, Mrs. Lee did some marvelous things with her camera. Upon having the negatives developed, she discovered curious lights and shadows upon the prints. Again, the camera was focused upon a black curtain, the alleged photo showed the portrait of a Mr. Bocock, an Episcopal clergyman, who had been dead a number of years.

From a psychic photograph taken under best
possible conditions. Subject, Elsie Reynolds, a noted
American materialising medium — one giving off fine
auretic conditions. Wyllie in vigorous health and
harmonising power. Weather conditions of the
finest ; and lastly, the spirit Intelligences capable of
using their powers effectively.

After that, writings from Mr. Bocock, with his signature, began to take the place of photographs. At another time, Mrs. Lee tied on her forehead, a 4 x 5 plate, inclosed in an opaque envelope; it remained there for over an hour, when printed, the picture was one of the human brain.

Unbelievers would call these phenomena nothing more than double exposures, light struck, or reflected lights; however, Mrs. Lee is sure she is mediumistic, and asked Dr. Hyslop to investigate her photographs. Skepticism is justified, as it is evident that Dr. Hyslop is too anxious to believe in "spirit photography."


"You Know What P. T. Barnum Said?"
Bulletin of Photography: The Weekly Magazine for the Professional Photographer. Philadelpheia: F.V. Chambers, 1915. p. 503.


Coates, James. Photographing the Invisible: Practical Studies in Spirit Photography, Spirit Portraiture, and Other Rare But Allied Phenomena. London: L.N. Fowler' Co., 1911. p. 338.


Blogger Lidian said...

Oh, fM, this is one of my favorite branches of wacky Victorian photography! There is a book called The Spiritualists by Ruth Brandon which has loads of these - on the cover is a lady with a 'spirit' emanating with great phoniness from the top of her head.

Still, it did fool Arthur Conan Doyle - those photos of the so-called fairies, etc.

October 28, 2008 at 1:19 PM  

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