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A brief history of Spirit Photography


Posts : 2298
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A brief history of Spirit Photography

Post by Candlelight.kk on 22nd April 2017, 10:55

(originally posted on 01 Jul 2013 02:19 pm)

[Extract from PsyPioneer Journal, Volume 9.6]
(Full article can be obtained by contacting – Psypioneer Journals.)

Below is the first part of a series of articles by James Johnson Morse,1 taken from the Two Worlds Friday August 27th 1915:

A Resume, in Three Parts, of the Efforts Made to Obtain Photographs of Departed Persons by Experimenters in Great Britain, the United States, and France

IT is proposed to divide the subject matter to which these introductory lines are appended into three parts. First, the historical; secondly, the evidential; and, lastly, the exegetical. By pursuing this plan it is hoped that the reader will be usefully guided to a full appreciation of the great importance of the topic as unfolded in the course of the following narrative. In the first section the history (the materials of which, unfortunately, are all too meagre) will be stated. It is thought that this portion will not be the least interesting matter offered, since it will serve to show that the efforts to obtain post-mortem portraits run back some fifty-four years past. In the evidential section the record of the attested evidences of such photographs having been obtained, and the additionally important fact that recognisable photographs have been secured, will properly supplement the historical résumé, thus joining fact to history, while in the final section the expository method will enable the reader to realise the important issues involved. The stringent tests, the absolute necessity of certitude, the relationship of these phenomena to natural law are each involved. None of these points can be shirked; each is of definite importance. He is bold indeed who says “It cannot be”; while he is wiser who says “I do not know.” The few illustrations used in connection are among the most reliable submitted to the writer. The various contributing writers are men known for their honour and probity.

1.-James Johnson Morse, October 1st 1848 – February 19th 1919: Morse features in numerous issues of Psypioneer, for a general overview see: — James Johnson Morse – Paul J. Gaunt, and, J. J. Morse – Julia Schlesinger. Also use our online search engine at – Psypioneer Journals.

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Re: A brief history of Spirit Photography

Post by Candlelight.kk on 22nd April 2017, 10:56

[continuing from OP] ....
[Extract from PsyPioneer Journal, Volume 9.6]
(Full article can be obtained by contacting – Psypioneer Journals.)


HUMAN history records innumerable efforts upon the part of men to penetrate the veil of death. To obtain some certain evidence that the departed are not dead, not gone beyond recall, but that they can be reached and questioned as to their natures and states. Necromancy, magic, sorcery, “dealings with the Devil,” and other choice words and phrases have been used to describe the nature of the efforts made to gain the desired knowledge, while innumerable men and women have paid forfeit with their lives for daring to seek to penetrate the shrouded mystery which many still assert envelopes death.

The practical-minded ones of to-day do not so much ask what is the right or wrong of attempts to solve the mysteries associated with death and the beyond. Rather, in the light of the scientific spirit of the age, the question is: Is it possible? Science has no fear of any fact or set of facts. Her one purpose is to be sure of her facts, and when found to be facts to boldly follow them wheresoever they may lead. It is in this spirit, that of scientific but earnest and reverent inquiry, the present task is entered upon—the task of gathering some evidence in support of the contentions of all convinced Spiritualists that abundant proof has been obtained that the so-called dead continue to exist, and under certain conditions, and in accordance with natural law, can return to this life and demonstrate the fact of their continuing existence.

The proofs in support of the foregoing statement consist of a wide variety of tangible evidences, such as “rappings,” levitations of objects, visions, trances, “possessions,” direct voices, writings (produced directly by spirits), automatic writings by an individual impelled, compelled, or controlled, by spirits to write; by personations of departed people, accompanied by messages conclusively proving the identity of the spirit with that of someone previously living in this life, quite unknown by, and unknowable to, the “medium” used by the spirit. These and many other methods of obtaining the evidence in support of man’s belief in a future life have been practically utilised by Spiritualists since these modern miracles first occurred in 1848. The critic may object, and say that in these matters there is nothing new. The histories of the Wesleys, the records of psychic experiences of many of the great religious movements of the past and present, the accounts handed down to us regarding hauntings, demoniacal possessions, ghost stories, and tales of wraith and banshee, have been current for ages, and present most of the familiar features connected with the phenomena of Spiritualism.

Yet there is one form of evidence which is not to be found in the old-time stories, sacred or secular. One form of manifestation by the inhabitants of the inner life which had not been utilised by them until the nineteenth century had turned its prime. The possibility of it was found in the advancing knowledge of men. The twin sciences of chemistry and optics helped to build the way, and the initial experiments of the Frenchman, Daugerre, laid the foundation for the obtaining of what in all reason may be admitted as affording irrefragable proof that “man survives bodily death,” to quote the term adopted by F. W. H. Myers, as descriptive of our future existence. This particular form of evidential manifestation is popularly described as


Between the discovery of a possible method and the working out of a practical process there may be a long road to traverse. Many unsuspected difficulties may be encountered, many intricate problems may arise, while, if the field of experiment be one that cannot always be co-ordinated to the usual methods of physical research, confusion and dissatisfaction may occur and the experimenters may lose heart, or even doubt whether they have any real grounds for their conjectures. Such difficulty and doubt naturally arose in this matter, for here was a phenomenon which taxed the intelligence of the clearest headed, as well as offering opportunities for the crafty to impose upon the credulous. Fifty eight years ago photographic science was, compared to what it is to-day, in its childhood. The art of lens-making had not attained its present perfection. The old “wet,” i.e., collodion process was in use;2 P.O.P. had only been dreamed about,3 and the photographing of things invisible to the ordinary sight not practically demonstrated.

Those familiar with the process of the collodion days will recall that at times when a “plate” had been used the image was sometimes cleaned off and the plate used for further exposures. If the cleaning was not thoroughly effective a faint image of the previous picture was occasionally left, and some critics have used that fact as an argument against the credibility of spirit-photos! If it stood by itself it might give us pause. For instance, if all spirit-photos were taken by the “wet” process, or if no such photo had ever been recognised, or if only photos of which similar ones were in existence had been obtained, the objection would be worthy of consideration. But in 1874 Kennett issued his gelatino-bromide dry plates, and since then dry plates have become the established article for photographic work the world over. Such plates are so cheap that no one thinks of going to the expense of having them re-coated after use.


Down to the present time the countries in which spirit-photography has been most pursued are the United States. Great Britain, and France, the earliest experiments taking place in the year 1861. Indeed, no other evidence to the contrary, the first spirit-photograph and photographer date from that year and in the city of Boston, the operator being one William H. Mumler, an engraver by profession. He was amusing himself in the studio of a friend by experimenting with his chemicals and instrument, and, he says, “One Sunday while entirely alone in this gallery I attempted to get a picture of myself, and then it was that I first discovered while developing it that a second form appeared on the plate. At this time I had never heard about spirit pictures, although I had been somewhat interested in the doctrine of Spiritualism. At first I laboured under what is now the general impression, that the plate upon which the picture was taken could not have been clean, and that the form which showed itself beside my own must have been left on the glass, and I so stated to my employers and others.”(Vide Mumler’s statement made to the court at his trial in New York.) As to this trial it may be again re-stated that Mumler was discharged, for we read that “At the close of the addresses of the counsel the judge ordered the prisoner to be discharged, the prosecution having in his opinion failed to make out a case to go to a jury” (“M.A., Oxon,” “Human Nature,” December, 1874).4 The account from which the foregoing is taken narrates the cases of at least seven photographs which were unmistakably recognised as those of people who were dead. The striking testimonies of Mrs. Lincoln, the widow of the martyred President, of Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten, of Professor W. D. Gunning, the eminent American geologist, and of Moses A. Dow, cannot be pooh-poohed out of court by the unsupported assertion of credulity upon their parts, nor the allegation of fraud against Mumler.

The only copy of Mumler’s results which we have available for the purpose of illustrating the earliest efforts to obtain postmortem pictures is the one printed herewith, and described as “the Mumler picture.” The picture was obtained in the year 1861, and it is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of Mumler’s pictures obtained professionally for a client. In a letter dated “Boston, Mass., U.S., September 28th, 1874,” sent to “M.A., Oxon.,” Mr. Dow tells the story at length. It can only be summarised here, and is to the following effect: He employed a number of young ladies in his publishing office. He was proprietor, publisher, and editor of a widely-circulated periodical, “The Waverley Magazine,” and the employer of a considerable staff of lady assistants. The picture in question is that of Mabel Warren, and so far as can be ascertained it is the first spirit photograph obtained by Mr. Mumler. When dealing with the evidential section of this account further particulars will be given.

From 1861 down to the present time a number of other mediums for spirit-photography have exercised their vocation but, with the exception of Mr. W. M. Keeler, few have left any deep impression upon the pages of American Spiritualism. An old friend of the writer, Dr. Hansmann, of Washington, has obtained a large number of psychic pictures through Mr. Keeler’s mediumship, and, while the results can be accepted as genuinely psychic in characteristic appearance, they lack the main element of practical utility, as few present evidential value of personal identity, which alone makes such pictures of supreme importance to the world outside Spiritualism. In private life amateurs have essayed experiments, and not a few successful results have been achieved, but, from a variety of reasons, such experimenters will not allow their names nor their experiments to be made public. Indeed, it may be observed in passing that the almost entire failure to tabulate results, names of mediums, dates and places of experiments are serious difficulties in the way of presenting, in orderly sequence, the historical record of these phenomena in whichever country they have occurred. The definite fact, however, remains―that the first experiments in obtaining postmortem photographs commenced with William H. Mumler, in Boston, U.S., in the year 1861, thirteen years after the outbreak of the modern spiritual phenomena at Hydesville, New York State.


The precise year in which experiments in obtaining psychic pictures were commenced in England is not definitely stated in the records available for consultation, but as near as can be fixed it was in or about the year 1871. The experimenter was Mr. John Beattie, a retired photographer residing at Clifton, Bristol. Of Mr. Beattie, the Editor of “The British Journal of Photography,” J. Traill Taylor, remarked in his journal: “Everyone who knows Mr. Beattie will give him credit for being a thoughtful, skilful, and intelligent photographer—one of the last men in the world to be deceived, at least, in matters relating to photography, and quite incapable of deceiving others.” Mr. Beattie was assisted in his experiments by Dr. Thomson, an Edinburgh M.D., who was an amateur photographer for upwards of twenty-five years. The pictures obtained were most peculiar in character, consisting mainly of patches of luminous vapour, which assumed various and frequently grotesquely weird shapes.

Among others who endeavoured to obtain spirit-photographs were Mr. and Mrs. Guppy (Mrs. Guppy was formerly a Miss Nichol, well known in Italy in certain select circles as a wonderful medium for apports, and after her marriage the heroine of the marvellous flight through the air, which created such a sensation at the time of its occurrence), but they failed to obtain results.

Their failure, however, led to them paying a visit in March, 1872, to a Mr. Hudson, a photographer and a non-Spiritualist, for the purpose of obtaining some cartes-de-visite of Mrs. Guppy, when, according to Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, “there came out a large, indefinite, oval, white patch, somewhat resembling the outline of a draped figure.” Dr. Wallace adds: “This is the first spirit-photograph taken in England.” Mr. Hudson was, therefore, the first English professional medium for spirit-photography.5

The name of Mr. Parkes, of London, is the next to come up as one who, entirely as an amateur, obtained spirit-photographs, and with whom Mr. W. H. Harrison (editor of a then existing paper called “The Spiritualist”) obtained some remarkably satisfactory results.6 These two, Messrs. Hudson and Parkes, were undoubtedly the best known and the most successful mediums for spirit-photography produced in London, and bring the record down to the middle of the ’seventies. For a considerable period afterwards the subject fell into neglect. It received a fresh impetus from the results obtained by Mr Boursnell, who for a number of years was successful in obtaining spirit-photographs. He passed away a few years ago. Almost side by side with him are the experiments conducted with David Duguid, the celebrated Glasgow painting-medium, as he was so widely known. Mr. Duguid was induced to visit London, and through that visit the remarkable series of experiments conducted by J. Traill Taylor in 1892-93 were entered upon.


Somewhere about 1873 or 1874 a Mons. Boguet visited England,7 and some excellent results were obtained through his mediumship, notably a remarkable picture of the mother of Dr. A. R. Wallace, concerning which something further will appear when the evidential side of the matter is dealt with.



1.-James Johnson Morse, October 1st 1848 – February 19th 1919: Morse features in numerous issues of Psypioneer, for a general overview see: — James Johnson Morse – Paul J. Gaunt, and, J. J. Morse – Julia Schlesinger. Also use our online search engine at – Psypioneer Journals.

2.-Collodion process:― See also:—Wetplate Collodion Photography By Joseph Smigiel:―

3.-The term “printing out paper” and the associated initials P.O.P. were introduced in 1891 by the Ilford Company for their gelatin-chloride papers. The term has since been applied to any paper that requires ultra violet light to form a complete image. See:—

4.-“M.A., Oxon,” was the pen name for the Reverend William Stainton Moses, M.A. November 5, 1839 – September 5, 1892. Moses features in numerous issues of Psypioneer, for a general overview see: — William Stainton Moses, M.A – Canon William V. Rauscher. Also use our online search engine at Psypioneer journal. Human Nature was a monthly journal which began in April 1867, edited by James Burns.

5.-For Hudson see Psypioneer: ― The Beginnings of Full Form Materialisations in England Herne and Williams:—Professional Partnership.

6.-Harrison claimed to have detected fraud after examining a few of Hudson’s photographs belonging to Dawson Rogers. According to Harrison, the images bore clear signs of double exposure, with the background being visible through the dress of the sitter… ― see above link.
William Henry Harrison (1841-1897). The Spiritualist Newspaper (1869 - 1882). For his photography of Katie King see Psypioneer:—

7.-I believe this should read Buguet

Posts : 2298
Location : London

Re: A brief history of Spirit Photography

Post by Candlelight.kk on 22nd April 2017, 11:06

 (originally posted by oyehoye » 05 Aug 2013 01:17 pm)

Do you have some real life photos of spirits, because i have heard a lot of people saying that with the passage of time spirits have evolved as well. I once text a psychic reader for some help but he says my services are to provide readings not to be the you history teacher for paranormal research....

Last edited by Admin on 05 Aug 2013 04:26 pm.
Reason: Spam link removed

Posts : 2298
Location : London

Re: A brief history of Spirit Photography

Post by Candlelight.kk on 22nd April 2017, 11:11

Below is the second part of a series of articles by James Johnson Morse,(28) taken from the Two Worlds Friday September 3rd 1915:


A Resume, in Three Parts, of the Efforts Made to Obtain Photographs of Departed Persons by Experimenters in Great Britain, the United States, and France




THE historical survey cannot very well be closed without a brief reference to the “Commission” set up by the Editor of the London “Daily Mail” for the purpose of inquiry into the facts regarding spirit-photography. In the first place, it is worthy of note that it was “an inquiry into the genuineness or otherwise of what are called ‘spirit-photographs,’” rather than an attempt at actual experimentation. The Commission consisted of Messrs. R. Child Bayley, F. J. Mortimer, and E. Sanger-Shepherd on behalf of the “Mail,” and Messrs. A. P. Sinnett, E. R. Serocold Skeels, and Robert King upon the other part. A lengthy correspondence passed between the parties. Copies of the same have been sent to the compiler of these lines. A “Non-Spiritualist” report was printed in the “Mail” of June 16th, 1909, which report reads as follows:―


SIR,—The proceedings of the Spirit-Photography Commission having come apparently to a deadlock, we think it best to report to you as follows:―

Having been appointed to investigate what evidence there was for or against the genuineness of so-called “spirit-photographs,” we invited the Spiritualist members of the committee, and the general public through “The Daily Mail,” to send for the examination of the committee any such photographs produced under test conditions. A comparatively small number were forthcoming, to which we refer below.

Efforts were made to carry out actual experiments, but it was pointed out by Mr. A. P. Sinnett (the member of the Commission at whose suggestion it was formed) that before such experiments could be carried out with any hope of success it would be necessary to go through a preliminary training in what we should describe as “Theosophy.” This we consider as outside the scope of the committee; but we were and are prepared to approach the subject with perfectly open minds, and to be convinced should the evidence be forthcoming.

We are of opinion that no such evidence was forthcoming, for the following reasons:—

I.―That none of the photographs submitted were shown to be taken under conditions which precluded fraud.

II.—That photographs submitted by Mr. Sinnett as taken in his own presence were clearly the result of “faking” and easily explainable on material grounds.

III.―Other photographs shown to us were taken under conditions of which we were told less; but in these we also saw no reason to suppose that anything out of the ordinary played any part. Some of them failed to show anything beyond defects due to careless manipulation, which were mistaken by their producers for supernatural results.

IV.—A large proportion of the photographs shown to us which lead any definite spirit-forms on them were produced by one photographer, who appears to be carrying on a business in the production of these things for a profit.

V.―According to invitation, packets of plates were sealed by us and submitted to Archdeacon Colley to receive “psychic writing” without being opened. This test, however, was not carried out, as Archdeacon Colley, after receipt of the plates, stated that “his discarnate friend having again recently made progress in the spheres may not from his higher degree yet for a while . . . be able to find the communicating link to transmit through one or more minds removed from this life the faculty or power requisite to impress the photo plate with psychic writing or spirit faces.”

VI.—A gentleman in Manchester offered to arrange a series of seances with a lady medium at which experiments might be conducted. On the first occasion he was unable to be present. On the second he attended, but informed the Commission that the lady was indisposed, and there was no prospect of the seances being held for a considerable time.

Unless some actual tests can be arranged, we do not see how any useful purpose can be served by holding further meetings.

We are therefore of opinion that no evidence whatever―experimental or otherwise—has been placed before the committee in support of the contentions to investigate which the committee was formed.


In the same column appeared what is described as “The Spiritualist Report,” and it is well worth careful study, the two final paragraphs especially:―


DEAR SIR,—In reference to your suggestion that the Commission ought now to draw up some sort of report, we wish to explain why it is obviously unable at present to prepare any report worth publication.

We three, of course, having had abundant experience in the matter, knew to begin with that spirit-photography was possible. We endeavoured to explain to the other members of the Commission, who were unacquainted with the intricate science of which spirit-photography is a small part, that it was necessary for them to undertake some preliminary study of Spiritualism generally before they could even appreciate the evidence they might be called upon to deal with. They have shown no inclination to prepare themselves in this way for the work they undertook, nor even to go unprepared in search of the great volume of evidence available. They have merely asked for experimental demonstrations, in ignorance of the conditions under which such demonstrations are possible. And though with perseverance it might have been just possible to arrange for such demonstrations, the frequent postponements (29) of our meetings by reason of your own conflicting engagements and the consequent protraction of our work, have defeated efforts in this direction.

We therefore can only agree to report that the Commission has failed to secure proof that spirit-photography is possible, not because evidence to that effect is otherwise than very abundant, but by reason of the unfortunate and unpractical attitude adopted by those members of the Commission who had no previous experience of the subject.

We further wish to point out that it is not our business to argue a case on which our colleagues are to sit in judgment, but simply to put our superior knowledge of the subject we have to deal with at their disposal in order that their inquiries may be guided into a profitable channel. It seems to us that they have never been able to contemplate their obligations as members of this Commission in the right light, and that the failure of the Commission collectively to arrive at any satisfactory result so far is entirely due to this inability on their part.—Yours very truly,
The “Daily Mail” Spirit-Photography Commission.

All attempts to obtain a further discussion upon the subject or the insertion of further correspondence, utterly failed, the Editor of the “Mail” in a letter to Mr. Sinnett, under date of July 1st, 1909, closing his epistle by saying, “In these circumstances [the publication by him of the two reports] I am unable to see that any useful purpose can be served by adding anything to what has been published.” What the nature of the evidence actually submitted was is not stated, which is unfortunate. Nor do we learn who outside the three gentlemen named on our side was consulted, if any such were consulted. No doubt Messrs. Sinnett, Skeels, and King produced testimony in support of their contentions, but it would help to a sound judgment if they would reproduce that testimony for the guidance of the general reader. It is hopeless to expect the “Mail” to reproduce it, for without in any way impugning the honour of the “Mail,” or the members of its “Commission,” that each is animated by an a priori belief against the possibility of spirit-photography there can be little, if any, doubt.

What would have happened if the photographic members of the Commission had obtained satisfactory results may be left an open question.

Suffice it to say in closing this historical summary relating to the rise and progress of spirit-photography, that an active interest in the matter has existed since the year 1861, the experiments having been chiefly confined to the United States, Great Britain, and France, and to a lesser extent in Italy. It is not pretended that this resume is exhaustive. It only runs as far as the materials obtainable permit. The chronological sequences are virtually correct. It now remains to consider the evidential value of the results obtained during the past fifty-four years of effort to obtain pictures of the so-called dead.


The evidential value of a “spirit” photograph lies in the circumstances under which it is obtained. It is not proposed at this point to enter into a consideration of that question. Later on it will be duly dealt with. As the testimony of still living witnesses is for the moment of most importance, we now introduce the following narrative regarding the Auld pictures. The account is given in a letter to Prof. Jas. Coates, of Rothesay, from Mr. John Auld himself. The story is plain and clear enough, therefore it is better left without any addition or comment. It reads as follows:—


DEAR MR. COATES,―In reply to your expressed wish that I should give you an account of how I obtained the psychic photographs in which you are so much interested, and as you propose to publish my statement, I will be brief.

In September, 1908, while visiting London, with the object of seeing the Franco-British Exhibition, I embraced the opportunity of calling upon Mr. Boursnell and got my photograph taken, in the hope that some psychic figures might come on the plate. Armed with an introduction given me by Mr. James Robertson, Hon. President of the Glasgow Association of Spiritualists, and with the knowledge that Mr. Boursnell had succeeded in getting many recognised spirit-photographs, I called upon him with some degree of confidence.

On calling at the house Mr. Boursnell—an old man,(30) who impressed me favourably―met me at the door and escorted me upstairs to a large room, apparently a dining-room, with two windows on one side facing the street. On handing Mr. Boursnell my letter of introduction I found that he had already given a sitting that day, and that he could not give another to do himself justice. It was arranged that I should call on the following day at noon.

I was photographed in the room mentioned above. The day was fine and bright outside, and the room was flooded with daylight throughout the sitting. I make this statement definitely, because some critics thought the photos were taken by artificial light. Before taking my photograph he said there were three psychic forms present in my surroundings, a man and two ladies. He also got the name of “Lizzie.”

In broad daylight he exposed two plates in succession withdrew the slide, and put in a fresh slide, and these were rapidly exposed. I asked him if he thought the figures seen would show on the plates. He told me that they would be there all right. I waited until the plates were developed, when he informed me that there was a spirit-form photographed on each. On receipt of the cabinets I found on two the face of a gentleman about 70 years of age; snow-white hair on head, silvery whiskers, moustache, and beard; expressive eyes, a countenance of much refinement, glowing with intelligence and advanced spirituality. On the other two plates were two ladies, one on each plate. None of the faces were known to me, though the gentleman and one of the ladies are considered by you like those of departed relatives. Mr. James Robertson, who has an extensive collection, and has seen some hundreds of similar photographs, says that they are new to him. Mr. Robertson has obtained through Mr. Boursnell photographs of departed friends under conditions beyond cavil. Mr. Wm. T. Stead and Mr. John Lobb, Editor of “The Christian Age” for over thirty years, have had speaking likenesses of departed friends, and from other sources of testimony, and from my own favourable impressions on seeing Mr. Boursnell, I did not think it necessary to have my photographs taken under test conditions. I trust if Mr. Boursnell is spared, and I have the opportunity of having some further sittings, I hope that I, too, will get a recognisable portrait of some departed friend.


28.―James Johnson Morse, October 1st 1848 – February 19th 1919: Morse features in numerous issues of Psypioneer, for a general overview see: — James Johnson Morse – Paul J. Gaunt, and, J. J. Morse – Julia Schlesinger. Also, use our online search engine at– Psypioneer Journals.

29.—Two only; one through illness and one owing to another important engagement. All other postponements were for members’ convenience.—T.T.B.

30.―Mr. Boursnell passed away December 21st, 1909. (J.J. Morse)

To be continued…


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