Although photography is often valued for its ability to record “the facts” or “the truth,” during the second half of the 19th century, the medium was “also enlisted to provide proof of the immaterial: auras and apparitions; séances and levitations; transfigurations and the spirits of deceased” (The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, p.9). Tragic losses due to disease and war fueled a deep interest in the spirit world during the late-19th century and into the early years of the 20th century. The meeting of the occult and photographic mediums generated images that equally fascinated both the believers and the skeptics. As we approach this Halloween season, the Visual Resources Collection invites you to view our new additions of spirit photography. To explore these haunting images, sign in to SVA Image Library (MDID) and Search for keywords “spirit photography” or under the subject heading “spirit photography” in the Browse tab (make sure to select Visual Resources Collection).
A publicity photograph taken in 1863 of Henri Robin, a French illusionist, being attacked by a ghost with a skull face next to a desk in his study.         Page from album of spirit photographs by Ada Emma Deane, including 12 black-and-white portrait photos taken in the 1920s capturing various people with "ghosts."        A spirit image by Emma Deane, depicting a female figure from the shoulders up seated with a black background. There is “ectoplasm” covering her eyes and atop her head with a portrait of another female figure in this gauze-like material.
IMAGES (left to right): Eugene Thiebault, Publicity Photograph: Henri Robin and a Specter,  1863, Photograph, 9.02 x 6.85 inches, Gerard Levy Collection; Ada Emma Deane, Page from Album of Spirit Photographs by Ada Emma Deane, 1920-1923, Photographs, 12.13 x 16.93 inches, Cambridge University Library; Ada Emma Deane, Ectoplasm and Spirit Image, n.d., Photograph, Dimensions unknown, University of Texas at Austin.