Fake spirit photography has actually been around for centuries
Paranormal photography is complicated. There are so many natural elements which can occur that mean the majority of photos need to be thrown out. From lens flare to orbs it's a never ending battle. As technology evolved, so did smart phones and computers. Not only when looking at a photo do we have to consider the natural elements, it's the man made ones that are the most annoying. Ghost apps and photoshop are utilised by people purposely manipulating the photos to make it seem like there is a ghost. While some are obvious, others are a bit harder to catch. Quite a lot of people have said in the past that is a problem due to the digital age. While yes the digital age has certainly made it easier to manipulate photos, the concept of someone tampering with a photo to make it seem like there is a ghost is not new. In fact, what may surprise you though is that the concept of fake spirit photography existed long before photoshop and ghost apps. It has been around as long as photography itself!
The process of fake 'spirit' photos
Funnily enough, the process of producing a ghostly image was accidently stumbled upon by accident. In the 1860's, photographer William Mumler developed a self portrait he had taken himself. He was suprised to see a second person in the photo that wasn't really there. It was found to actually be a case of double exposure where he had accidently reused one of the glass plates which already had an image on it (remember cameras operated differently back then. nothing was digital). He found it was easy to create your very own ghost. When developing the photos, he would use a pre prepared glass plate which already had the image of a person on it. This would be the 'ghost'. It would then be inserted into the camera in front of an unused plate which was used to shoot the photo. When developed it would capture both the image that was on the pre prepared plate and of the person sitting in the photo.
After discovering the concept of double exposure, someone convinced him that the figure looked ghostly. He in his mind knew that it was not a ghost, but saw that there would be a big market for this kind thing. He promptly started working as a 'medium' with a talent of being able to photograph the deceased alongside a living person. In particular he worked with a lot of families who lost members in the Civil War. In the late 60's he produced one of the more famous ghost photos, Mary Todd Lincoln came in under a fake name of Mrs Lyndall wanting to make contact with her deceased famous husband - Abraham.
In 1869 after a lot of growing speculation that the ‘ghosts’ that appeared in the images looked a lot like people who had sat for a photograph with him recently and were very much living people, the Police Department charged him with fraud after sending an undercover officer to sit with him. His biggest critic was famous showman PT Barnum (The greatest Showman) who felt Mumlar was preying upon vulnerable families in grief. Other allegations against Mumlar were that he had broken into the house of families to obtain photos of the deceased for his sittings. Barnum himself replicated fake photographs and produced his own photograph with Abraham Lincoln to show how easily it could be faked. Although the police department was able to prove that it was a case of double exposure, William Mumlar had such a strong loyal following of ‘satisfied customers’ that he was acquitted, but his career as a photography medium promptly finished.
One of the most renowned trickster’s of spirit photography was William Hope. He made his first fake ghost photo in 1905, long before digital technology existed. He created the Crewe Circle Spirtualist Group and quickly became well known in paranormal circles for being able to capture spirits of loved ones who had passed on film. Quite a lot of people were suspoicious of Hope's photographs. During a sitting, suspicion started growing about how similar a lot of his photos were and in 1920 he was finally ‘exposed’. Edward Bush used a fake surname of Wood and sent a letter to the well known William Hope with a photograph of a living person which Edward Bush pretended was his deceased son. During a photo session, William Hope produced an image, which was exact in appearance as the photo of the supposed deceased son (which of course was fictional). After more and more people tried to catch out and expose William Hope, investigator Harry Price caught him out. In 1922 the Society of Psychical Research and Harry Price exposed him as a fraud. This however this amazingly led to the resignation of over 84 members from the Society of Psychical Research as they had believed William Hope was genuine and that the society did not believe in spiritualism. In 1933 he was finally discredited by the organization whilst still maintaining his innocence and presenting his case. William Hope still has an online following to this day and his photos still pop up from time to time.
Here are some examples of the work William Hope did ….. for a price of course. Whilst we may look at these photos now and think they are clearly fake, remember the internet didn’t exist back in the 1900’s so this was very impressive yet taboo stuff for that time period.
Famous photo - the girl in the fire
Another famous photo that had people Baffled for years was ‘The Girl in the Fire’. November 19, 1995 there was a fire in Wem Town Hall in Shropshire England. Whilst the building was burning to the ground, an onlooker Tony O’Rahilly was snapping away across the street. He nor the fire fighters could remember seeing this girl. Pretty convincing stuff back in the day. The problem with this is however is that the image of the girl was actually taken from a postcard dating back to 1922. It was proven that the technique used to produce this photo, was the same method above our friends Mumler and Hope used. It still had a good run of about 15 years before it was definitively proved as a fake.
The girl actually also appears in a postcard from 1922 (above). She must use a fantastic anti ageing routine!
Famous Girl in the Fire Photo
Today we mainly use digital technology to take our photos meaning that double exposure in this method doesn't happen. We have programs such as photoshop which make it simple to cut and paste an image from one photo to another. Make it transparent and fiddle with the colors a little bit and there is your ghost photo. If you however are really lazy, then there is the dreaded ghost app. The laughable yet annoying thing with ghost apps is that they are so very obviously fake, yet somehow they go viral on social and mainstream media with hundreds of thousands of people in shock at this amazing find. I get so many messages from followers and personal friends when these photos come out asking for my opinion. They start off being really excited that they have seen this amazing find until I tell them that it is a ghost app, shattering their dreams that they have seen evidence of life after death and the response is simply ‘oh yeah …. I thought it was fake just wanted to know what you thought’. Some of them to be honest with you are so well faked that you cannot tell straight away so don't be upset if you are tricked. You can however still fake photographs without photoshop and apps. If you know how to use a camera, playing with the flash and long exposures can easily create a ghost. If for example you run a long exposure and step into the frame at the end of the shot, the person will come put blurry and see through. Here is an example of a photo I have taken playing with long exposure and a flash. I guess this is my version of 'double exposure'.
As long as this field exists, people are going to fake evidence. There is nothing we can do to stop it. No matter how much education is put out there, there will also be those who take advantage and deceive. Look above, it has been happening for centuries. The sad reality is that if someone does eventually capture something geniune on film, no one is going to believe it. Unless there are there to witness it themselves, the human element of deception will always cast that shadow of a doubt.
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