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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

spirit photography The spiritualists have long embraced a physical phenomenon that they believe proves their basic premise of survival-after-death. They call it “spirit photography.”
      It all began in 1861, when a Boston engraver named William H. Mumler discovered extra images of persons on an amateur photograph he took of an associate. Mumler went into business as a medium/photographer, snapping photos of well-paying clients who recognized celebrities and friends in the extra images recorded on the portraits of themselves.
      Then two years after he'd begun the business, Mumler was exposed when some of his “extras” were recognized as living Bostonians. He eventually moved off to New York, reestablished his business, and was once again accused of fraud. His career was ended after a trial in 1869, and he died in poverty in 1884.
      An Englishman named Hudson, inspired by Mumler's idea, began taking spirit photos. It was clearly shown that he was producing double exposures and even posing himself, in disguise, for some of the “extras.” However, he was endorsed entirely by Reverend William Stainton Moses, who declared his work to be an “unassailable demonstration” of the existence of survival-after-death.
      A Frenchman, Buguet, entered the trade in 1874 in London, but was soon arrested for fraud and made a full confession. At the trial, his victims swore they had recognized their loved ones in photos of dummy “prop” heads that the police had seized at Buguet's studio. Reverend Moses had also endorsed Buguet's work just a month before the photographer's arrest.
      Many examples of so-called spirit photography have been published. Several offered by believers as proof of the validity of the phenomenon show a likeness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, since he was a champion of the spiritualist cause. The spook-snappers claimed to have summoned him up after his death in 1930, and he was by far the most popular target for their cameras. The most used “spirit” photo of Sir Arthur is an ordinary one of that author in his prime, a photo that was and still is widely published and easily available. The “spirit” photo offered——apparently a cut-out of a reversed photo placed in what appears to be cotton wool——agrees in detail, lighting, and expression with that original.

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