The abortive trial of William H. Mumler in 1872 was the start of a decades-long battle between Science and the Séance. In the United States, Britain and France, spiritualists were investigated by expert commissions and spirit photographers were sometimes prosecuted for fraud.
Well into the 20th century, spirit photography had high-profile supporters--including the physicist Sir William Crookes and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many of the photographs in this exhibition were made under test conditions thought to rule out possible fraudulent acts.
But the skeptics took their toll. Led by the great illusionist Harry Houdini, investigators unmasked spirit mediums, revealing many of their "manifestations" to be nothing more than cynical tricks and sleight-of-hand.
Whether they are ludicrous or miraculous is in the eye of the beholder.
Do you believe?
"For the purpose of amusement, the photographer may carry us even into the realms of the supernatural. His art enables him to give a spiritual appearance to one or more of his figures, and to exhibit them as "thin air" amid the solid realities of the stereoscopic picture."
240 x 200 mm
N.B. The first ghosts in photographs were the result of accidents. During a long exposure--such as those required in photography's infancy--a person who stood still would register as clearly as a building. But a person who moved out of camera range after only a portion of the exposure was completed would instead appear as a see-through blur. It happened with the lamplighter in this detail from a photograph by the London Stereoscopic Company.