Smile and Say “Boo!”
A number of years back I discovered that in my family history I have a spiritualist minister. My great grandfather on my father’s side was an ordained minister and used to engage, apparently, in talking to spirits. Since then I’ve tried to get my hands on his ordination papers, but no luck at this point.
I have been interested in charlatanism for a very long time. In fact, back in High School I actually took the opportunity provided by my photography class and my sci-fi lit class to provide a sort of hoax that I showed to everyone just for the fun of it.
The hoax was a photograph of a ghost. A little spirit photography. The picture is long since gone but I remember it very well. The camera I had back then was an old SLR and I was using a lot of black and white film back then because it was cheaper and what the class generally supplied.
Using a tripod and really long exposure time I simply set the camera up, opened the shutter, walked into the field of view, stood there for a few seconds and then walked out again. Total exposure time about 20 seconds.
As the Teacher’s Assistant for the photography class it was my job every morning to set up the darkroom including mixing all chemistry for that day and putting out the supplies. But once that was done I had my own little empire and I could do anything I wanted.
I developed the film, made some prints and “BOOM!” Spooky evidence of a ghost in my backyard.
I showed the picture to my teachers and to other students to a wide variety of reactions. I never said it was real but I didn’t deny it for a long time either. You see my sci-fi lit teacher Mr. Gutierrez was kind of in on it. I did the whole thing on my own but he saw the value of it as a way to make his students think a little harder about irrational things.
Eventually we revealed the hoax. The people who were skeptics all along were not surprised. The students who also had photography classes and experience were not particularly surprised. The people who knew me well enough to know that I was probably up to something were not surprised either.
The believers were in total denial. Surprise.
Obviously the experience stuck with me and one of the things that I have always found the most interesting from the realm of spiritualism is ghost photography.
In the early 1900’s a guy named William Hope was one of the best known spirit photographers around. He made tons of money scamming people by taking spirit photos of their dead relatives and loved ones. He had a rather large following including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was an ardent follower of all things spiritualist and was responsible for the fame of the Cottingley fairies.
It was definitely a time when some amazing things seemed to be caught on film. Of course today we are jaded by Photoshop and movie special effects. But it’s not that hard to imagine the impact seeing spirit photos must have had.
Well, recently a new collection of spirit photos taken by William Hope has been uncovered. Take a look and imagine what it might have been like to sit for a photo and find later on that your dead relative really is watching over you.