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psychic photography (spirit photography)

Whoever thinks the camera doesn't lie doesn't think.

Psychic or spirit photography is the alleged production of images on photographic media by paranormal means such as psychokinesis or of paranormal phenomena such as ghosts or astral bodies.

Faked photos, like the Billy Meier UFO photos and the alien autopsy film, or those of the Cottingly fairies, the Loch Ness monster, or Bigfoot, are not considered psychic photos. While there are many faked psychic photos, some are simply paranormal interpretations of natural events such as various flaws in camera or film, effects due to various exposures, film-processing errors, lens flares (caused by interreflection between lens surfaces), the camera or lens strap hanging over the lens, effects of the flash reflecting off of mirrors, jewelry, etc., light patterns, polarization, chemical reactions, etcetera (Nickell 1994, 1997).

William H. Mumler ( 1832-1884) and Mabel Warren's spiritThe first psychic or spirit photographs appeared almost immediately after the first photographs. "As early as 1856, prints of ghostly looking ethereal figures sitting next to the person being photographed were being sold as joke novelties" (Williams 2000: 205). In 1862, William Mumler made a good living in Boston using double exposure to produce photographs with alleged spirits of dead people in them (Williams: 326). Many have followed in Mumler's footsteps.

Some paranormal researchers, apparently unaware of or unwilling to accept that spirit photos are faked or misinterpretations of ordinary phenomena, try to chase down and photograph spirits.

It does seem strange that spirits and other paranormal forces have the power to appear on film or on electronic devices, or communicate to a select few in cryptic noises that must be deciphered by shotgunning in a game of 20 questions. The spirits never simply sit down at the table and say directly what is on their minds. In this they are very much like gods. Perhaps this explains our love for hide and seek, the children's game that may hold the key to understanding human nature and the great secrets of the universe.

See also thoughtography.

further reading

reader comments

books and articles

Brugioni, Dino A. Photo Fakery : The History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation ( Brasseys Inc., 1999).

Christopher, Milbourne. (1975). Mediums, Mystics & the Occult. Thomas Y. Crowell Co.

Gettings, Fred. (1978). Ghosts in Photographs: The Extraordinary Story of Spirit Photography. Harmony Books.

Nickell, Joe. Camera Clues: A Handbook of Photographic Investigation (University Press of Kentucky, 1994).

Nickell, Joe. "Ghostly Photos," Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 1997

Randi, James. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1995).

Randi, James. Flim-Flam! (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1982), 

Randi, James. The Truth about Uri Geller , (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1982).

Williams, William F. editor, Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience (Facts on File, 2000).


Skeptiseum Spirit Photographs

The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult

Ghost Stories Faith in the spirit world and in the mysterious power of photography by Leslie Camhi


19th-Century Spirit Photos -- A Marriage of Technology and the Irrational

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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