What Advances In Technology Altered Our Conception Of Photography

By | 15/12/2022

The intriguing history of ghost photography

The development of ghost photography has gone hand in hand with the evolution of camera technology (Credit: istock)

Every bit photographic camera tech has evolved, so too has the photography of puzzling ‘spirits’, and as Howard Timberlake discovers, they even appear in smartphone shots.


It’southward February 2022 at Hampton Courtroom Palace in London. Twelve-year-old Holly Hampsheir grabs her iPhone to have a photograph of her cousin, Brook, as she walks alone through the regal Rex’due south Apartments. Snap.

Information technology’due south not until the following day that they discover Brook was not alone in the picture. A tall, greyness, seemingly cloaked woman follows behind her. In a 2d photograph, this strange anomaly is gone.

Was it a stunning image of a tortured apparition making a rare performance for the cameras, or something more than… well… sensible?

'Ghost photos' still occur today - like this 'sighting' of the Grey Lady of Hampton Court; actually an oddity from an iPhone's imaging capture (Credit: The Sun/News Syndication)

‘Ghost photos’ notwithstanding occur today – like this ‘sighting’ of the Gray Lady of Hampton Court; actually an oddity from an iPhone’due south imaging capture (Credit: The Sun/News Syndication)

The respond, as we’ll observe, says more virtually how smartphones have photos than anything supernatural. In fact, this grey ghoul is but the latest bogeyman in a fascinating history of ghost photography. Always since the camera was invented, spooks accept appeared in photos. And with each advance in camera engineering science, new types of ghostly traces accept emerged – or been deliberately conjured.

“I am a sceptic from the perspective of a lensman and as someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts… there’s non a lot out there that tin can’t be attributed to some sort of photographic technique,” says Michael Pritchard, director-general of the Royal Photographic Gild.

Sixth sense and sensibility

The roots of spirit photography tin can be traced back to the 19th Century. During the 1850s and ‘60s, many photographers were experimenting with new effects such as stereoscopic images and double exposure. Simply some unscrupulous photographers soon realised that these techniques could exist exploited for profit.

Mumler was accused of fraud for photographs such as this, with former US President Abraham Lincoln (Credit: Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen Country Public Library)

Mumler was accused of fraud for photographs such as this, with former US President Abraham Lincoln (Credit: Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, Allen State Public Library)

An enterprising American amateur photographer called William Mumler is thought to be the first person to capture a ‘spirit’ in a photo in the early on 1860s.

This momentous image appeared to feature the bogeyman of his dead cousin. Ghostly visitation or not, it wasn’t long before Mumler’s knack of capturing dead people on picture (commonly a relative) had become very popular. At the beginning, experts struggled to find anything fake about Mumler’s spirit photographs. And and so the amateur became a professional – with a lucrative business fuelled by the relatives of those killed in the American Civil War – keen to make some kind of supernatural connectedness with their loved ones.

Mumler may have achieved this by inserting a previously prepared positive glass plate, featuring the image of the deceased, into his camera in front of an unused sensitive drinking glass plate, which was then used to photograph his client. This double exposure technique not just captured the image of the client just also the ghostly image from the prepared glass plate in front.

In one of Mumler’south more famous efforts, the ‘ghost’ of Abraham Lincoln photobombs an image of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. The list of his clients grew, but and so did his critics.

1 particular sceptic of Mumler’s work was the showman PT Barnum, who claimed that the spirit photos were merely preying upon families or individuals clouded by grief. This followed allegations that Mumler had broken into houses to steal photos of deceased relatives, and that some of the ‘spirits’ featured in his photos were actually still very much alive.

Blurred figures in images can be easily spotted if you have imagination (Credit: Doug Gelser/Flick/CC BY 2.0)

Blurred figures in images can exist hands spotted if you lot take imagination (Credit: Doug Gelser/Flick/CC By 2.0)

Mumler was put on trial for fraud and Barnum testified confronting him. The nigh damning moment in the trial came when a deliberately bogus photograph was presented to demonstrate merely how easy it was to make i of Mumler’due south spirit images. It was Barnum’due south coup de grace and featured himself with the ‘ghost’ of Abraham Lincoln. It appeared Mumler was ghost-busted.

Despite the damning bear witness, Mumler was acquitted of fraud, but the damage had been done – his career as a spirit lensman was over. The techniques he used were built upon on by others during the late 1800s as popularity for spiritualism and spirit photography grew, though accusations of fraud connected to haunt spirit photographers.

An English language priest and medium, William Stainton Moses, was one early investigator of spirit images. Equally Alan Murdie, chairman of the Ghost Club (founded in 1862 and believed to be the oldest paranormal investigation and research group in the world) explains: “By 1875 he had examined over 600 alleged spirit photographs. His view was that there were probably no more than a dozen that might pass muster every bit something [supernatural]… and he said that there are people out there who ‘would recognise a sheet and a broom as their dear departed’.”

All the same as ownership of cameras grew, spirit photography boomed. “By the 1880s anyone could selection up a camera and take a picture show – it opened the door for some of the charlatans who were keen to lead people on and play on people’s emotions” says Pritchard.

The alleged apparition of Lord Combermere is an example of a long exposure with a person entering the frame long enough to appear in the picture (Credit: Sybell Corbett)

The alleged bogeyman of Lord Combermere is an example of a long exposure with a person entering the frame long enough to appear in the picture (Credit: Sybell Corbett)

Around this period, one of the most famous spirit photographs was taken. In 1891, Sybell Corbet was taking a photograph of the library at Combermere Abbey in Cheshire, England. Sat in the chair in the foreground of the shot is the faint outline of a man’s head, collar and right arm.

It is said to be the ghost of Lord Combermere – who had recently died in a riding accident and who was beingness cached at the fourth dimension the picture was taken. The photographic exposure took an hour – leading many sceptics to suggest that a servant had entered the room and briefly sabbatum in the chair whilst the exposure took identify. Most household staff, yet, claimed that they were at Combermere’s funeral at the time.


Past World State of war One, spiritualism and spirit photography had gained some notable supporters including novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – a member of the Ghost Club.

The sense of loss felt in many countries after the state of war led some to desire a reunion with their lost relatives and friends. Englishman William Hope, by and then already an established spirit photographer, was one of those very willing to put his expertise frontward.

William Hope created double exposures that made it look as if there were ghosts in the frame (Credit: National Media Museum)

William Hope created double exposures that fabricated it look as if there were ghosts in the frame (Credit: National Media Museum)

Like Mumler, Hope was dogged by claims of fraud, and an investigation by the Society for Psychical Research – led by famous paranormal researcher Harry Cost in 1922. Cost conducted an investigation that exposed Hope as a fraudster for double exposing two glass plates at the aforementioned time – i featuring a ghostly epitome and the 2d to record the combination of the client and the ‘ghost’. Unlike Mumler, Hope continued to practise as a medium and spirit photographer after the exposure, supported by many of his agog followers.

More than a decade afterward, Price besides investigated a more inexplainable case. In 1936, 2 men from Country Life magazine were pictured standing at the lesser of a grand staircase in Raynham Hall, Norfolk, England. Photographer Captain Hubert Provand and his assistant Indre Shira had been virtually to take a snap of the master staircase when Shira suddenly saw “a vapoury class gradually assuming the advent of a woman” heading down the stairs towards them. Seconds subsequently, a photo had been hastily captured. The image was published in Country Life and dubbed ‘The Brown Lady’. Some believed it was the effigy of Lady Dorothy Townshend, who was said to have haunted the hall since her mysterious decease in 1726.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall: The ghostly form seen here was thought to be caused by the camera being shaken during a long exposure (Credit: Captain Provand)

The Brownish Lady of Raynham Hall: The ghostly form seen here was thought to exist caused by the camera existence shaken during a long exposure (Credit: Captain Provand)

Price was of the opinion that the photographic evidence was untampered. “I volition say at once I was impressed. I was told a perfectly simple story: Mr Indre Shira saw the apparition descending the stairs at the precise moment when Helm Provand’s head was nether the blackness cloth. A shout – and the cap was off and the flashbulb fired, with the results, which we now meet. I could not milk shake their story, and I had no right to disbelieve them. Only collusion between the 2 men would account for the ghost if it is a fake. The negative is entirely innocent of any faking,” said Cost.

Others, however, were less confident. In 1937, The Guild for Psychical Research, concluded that it was only because the camera had been shaken during a six-second exposure. “I used to think there was perchance something in the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall until I institute the original SPR inquiry file,” says Murdie.

Like many investigators, Murdie has himself seen an enormous corporeality of what people believe are ghosts captured on film. “I think at that place are very few photographs that might be considered bear witness of something paranormal,” he says.

Digitally departed

Today’southward digital cameras are simply as likely to create a fake haunting. The “grey lady” at Hampton Court, for instance, is almost certainly a quirk of the engineering in the girls’ camera.

Dissimilar analogue film, phones tend to accept a photo in stages – in the same way a scanner moves over piece of paper. It is a slower process, especially in darker places where the camera telephone’s image sensors need more time to tape enough moving-picture show information. This is chosen ‘paradigm aliasing’. Equally a result, anything moving through the shot at the time could appear distorted.

You tin can as well run into ghost photography reborn in internet memes such as ‘Slender Human being’, a supernatural grapheme that many people have added into photos to create a chill.

Slender Man is often barely visible in doctored photographs (Bob Mical/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Slender Man is often barely visible in doctored photographs (Bob Mical/Flickr/CC By 2.0)

Despite our cognition of computer-generated trickery in photos, it seems some are yet willing to believe that spirits can exist captured on camera. Indeed, co-ordinate to a Harris poll from 2022, 42% of Americans believe in ghosts; a similar poll in 2022 past YouGov suggests 39% of U.k. citizens believe a house tin can be haunted.

Like the ghostly apparitions themselves, our thirst to meet life across this mortal gyre may itself be immortal – ever shape-shifting to fit the technology and science of the time.

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Source: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20150629-the-intriguing-history-of-ghost-photography

Posted by: Fusiontr.com

Originally posted 2022-02-13 01:00:01.