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[Illustration: FIG. 16.–A “SPIRIT” PHOTOGRAPH.]

Many years ago, in the old wet-collodion days, a well-known photographer was one day surprised by the visitation of a spirit. The apparition did not make its appearance during the nocturnal hours, as is, we have been given to understand, the custom of these ladies and gentlemen from the other world, but, strangely enough, in broad daylight; and not by his bedside to disturb his peaceful slumber, but upon the photograph he was in the act of producing. Had this gentleman been of that soft-brained kind, so easily gulled by the professional spiritualist, it is possible that he would not have done what he did, which was to make a thorough and scientific examination as to the probable cause of the phenomenon. The case was this: A gentleman sitter had been taken in the usual manner upon a collodion plate. Upon taking a positive print from the negative, he was surprised to find a dim white figure of a lady apparently hovering over the unconscious sitter. Upon examination of the negative, the image of the figure was also visible, but not so plainly as in the positive. The explanation of the whole matter was soon discovered. In those days glass was not so cheap as at present, and all old or spoilt negatives were cleaned off and freshly prepared with collodion for further use. In this case, the glass had previously supported the negative image of a lady dressed in white. Some chemical action had evidently taken place between the image and the glass itself, turning the latter slightly yellow in some parts. This faint yellow image, although hardly visible in the negative, had, being of a non-actinic color, given quite a distinct image in the positive. The case was not an isolated one, as these spirit photographs, as they were called, often made their appearance when old negatives were cleaned and the glass used again. The precise action producing the image has never, we think, been satisfactorily explained. It could often be made more distinct by breathing on the glass. We do not know if any enterprising humbug ever took advantage of this method of producing spirit photographs to extort money from the unwary, but about ten years ago a work was published, entitled “Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye,” by a Miss Houghton. In this a number of reproductions of photographs of “spirits” were given with a detailed explanation of how they were obtained and the difficulties attending their production, the “spirits” being apparently of very independent natures, only making their appearance when they felt so inclined. It is quite possible that a person entirely ignorant of photographic methods might be led into the belief that they were actually photographic images of the dead, but we fear that the book is hardly well enough written to deceive the experienced photographer. At certain and most unfortunate periods in the process employed, some of the plates had a convenient habit of slipping into the washing tank and there, according to the author, becoming utterly ruined; also we learn that many were ruined by being accidentally smudged by the photographer’s finger. We should not, we fear, have a very high opinion of an operator who was in the constant habit of “smudging” negatives with his fingers so as to entirely spoil them, nor can we quite understand what brand of plates was used that “got spoiled by falling into the water.”


[Illustration: From La Nature. FIG. 17.–SPIRIT PICTURE.]



It is not difficult to explain how these pictures were produced. There are quite a number of methods. With a weak-minded sitter, over whom the operator had complete control, the matter would be in no wise a difficult one. It would then only be necessary for the spirit, suitably attired for the occasion, to appear for a few seconds behind the sitter during the exposure and be taken slightly out of focus, so as not to appear too corporeal.


If, however, the sitter be of another kind, anxious to discover how it

was done and on the alert for any deceptive practices, the method

described would be rather a risky one, as he might turn round suddenly

at an inconvenient moment and detect the _modus operandi_. In such a

case it becomes necessary to find some other method where it would not

be requisite for the “spirit” to make its appearance during the

presence of the sitter.



The ghostly image can be prepared upon the plate, either before or after the exposure of the sitter. The method is this: In a darkened room the draped figure to represent the spirit is posed in a spirit-like attitude (whatever that may be) in front of a dark background with a suitable magnesium or other artificial light thrown upon the figure, which is then focused in the “fuzzy-type” style; or, better still, a fine piece of muslin gauze is placed close to the lens which gives a hazy, indistinct appearance to the image. The exposure is made and the latent image remains upon the sensitive plate, which is again used to photograph the sitter. Upon developing we get the two images, the “spirit” mixed up with the figure. The spirit should be as indistinct as possible, as it will then be less easy for the subject to dispute the statement that it is the spirit-form of his dead and gone relative. Some amount of discretion in this part of the performance must be used, we fancy, otherwise the same disaster might happen as did to a spiritualist some little time ago. An elderly gentleman had come for a _seance_, and, after some mysterious maneuvers, the gentleman was informed that the spirit of his mother was there. “Indeed!” replied the old gentleman, somewhat astonished. “What does she say?” “She says she will see you soon,” informed the medium. “You are getting old now and must soon join her.” “Quite right,” replied the old gentleman; “I am going round to her house to tea to-night.”–Total collapse of spiritualist.

[Illustration: FIG. 20.–PHOTOGRAPH OF “SPIRITS.”]

Fluorescent substances, such as bisulphate of quinine, can also be employed. This compound, although almost invisible to the eye, photographs nearly black. If a white piece of paper be painted with the substance, except on certain parts, the latter only will appear white in the picture.

[Illustration: FIG. 21.-PAINTING BY N. SICHEL. From which the “Spirit” Photograph was made.]

We hope that it will not be inferred that we desire to explain how to deceive persons with regard to photographs of spirits, for this is not so; we only hope that they will be made merely for amusement, and if possible to expose persons who practice on the gullibility of inexperienced persons.

Fig. 20 is a reproduction of a “spirit” photograph made by a photographer, claiming to be a “spirit photographer,” and to have the power to call these ladies and gentlemen from the “vasty deep” and make them impress their image upon the sensitive plate by the side of the portraits of their living relatives. Fortunately, however, we were in this case able to expose this fraud. Mr. W. M. Murray, a prominent member of the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York, called our attention to the similarity between one of the “spirit” images and a portrait painting by Sichel, the artist.  A reproduction of the picture is given herewith, Fig. 21, and it will be seen at once that the spirit image is copied from it.

In a recent number of _The Australian Photographic Journal_ we read of the following novel method of making so-called spirit photographs: “Take a negative of any supposed spirit that is to be represented, put it in the printing frame with the film side out; lay on the glass side a piece of platinotype paper with the sensitive side up; clamp in place the back of the printing frame and expose to the sun for half a minute. Now place in the printing frame the negative of another person to whom the spirit is to appear, and over it put the previously exposed sheet film side down; expose to the sun for two minutes until the image is faintly seen, then develop in the usual way and the blurred spirit photograph will appear faintly to one side or directly behind the distinct image. Sheets of paper with different ghost exposures can be prepared beforehand.” 

Spirit photographs might easily be made by means of Prof. Roentgen’s well-known X-ray process of impressing an image upon a photographic dry-plate without uncovering the shutter. The process would however entail considerable expense and would necessitate the use of so much costly apparatus that we will content ourselves with the simple mention of the possibility.

Source: The Gutenberg project

Pictures:  The Gutenberg project & Pixabay


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