The Collective Picture

Vintage Photography Redefined

admin On May - 17 - 2009
Spirit photography emerged out of the belief in a connection between this life and the next and the idea that some people can  bridge the gap between these states of existence. In the 1860’s William H. Mumler, a jewel engraver and armature photographer, claimed to have found images of ghosts in some of his photos. These early images are long thought to be the first spirit photographs. This  is a portrait of Mumler and what he claimed was the ghost of a deceased cousin standing behind him.It was these early photos that would launch his photography business. Mumler_(Mumler)
Critics of sprit photography point to the Mumler’s in history and note the use of double exposure techniques to falsely create these apparitions. Historians also site the long sitting times required during the early days of portrait photography. This long process caused anomalies in the image if there was any movement. Images of apparitions have changed since Mumler’s time, today it is more common to find spirit photos that show blobs of light rather then a ghost that looks like the human form. Despite such differences there continues to be followers who believe in spiritualism and the photos that are said to capture it. Whether these images show film anomalies, the deceased, or a sham is not really the point to me. Mumler_(Lincoln)
These photos are not only beautiful and at times eerie but also signify some of the larger issues that humans have struggled with throughout history. That desire so many of us feel for there to be something after death and that tugging urge to connect with this space and the people that have been lost to it.  The faces shown here identity a kind of hope that is grounded in the idea that the deceased are not all together lost to us and that a connection can still be formed. These images are important because they archive the propensity humans have to seek out this link with the dead regardless of whether proof of this connection is found in places as abstract as hearts and minds or something as concrete as a photograph.
This is a famous Mumler photograph, which shows Mary Todd Lincoln and what is said to be the spirit of her late husband Abraham Lincoln.
1920 woman tow boys and sprit Archived apparitionsportraits

Circa 1920’s Woman with two boys and a female spirit. Collection of National Media Museum

1920_Will_Thomas_&_spirit

Circa 1920. Will Thomas with an unidentified spirit. Collection of National Media Museum

1920_two_men_&_spirit

Circa 1920. Two men with a female spirit. Collection of National Media Museum

3198249939 92d6d6445f o Archived apparitionsportraits

The spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, according to his widow Lady Conan Doyle. The photo was taken during a session with the English Reverand Tweedale, with the help of the photographic medium Mr. Hope. National Archives.


1865 spirit photograph Archived apparitionsportraits

ca. 1865 Spirit Photograph. Woman’s spirit behind table. George Eastman House Collection.

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