Spirit photograph, 1886

This photograph was taken by Mary Burchett on 27 October 1886. Although the camera was set up for a self-portrait, the photograph captured a ghostly hand reaching towards the camera.

Fake or phantom?

This photograph was no accident. Burchett was a spiritualist who believed that it was possible to communicate with the dead.

Spirit photography was one way in which spiritualists believed they could prove the existence of an afterlife. However, these image were often created using technical tricks and this particular photograph is a clear fake.

Look at the top right corner and you can see the neck of a man wearing a black top. He has tried to keep out of the camera and present his arm as a disembodied limb wrapped in a cloth.

The image was created using a technique known as double exposure. First, the photograph was taken of the ghostly hand. The negative (which would have been a glass plate at this time) was then given to Burchett to take her own photograph.

The result is one see-through image laid on top of another. This is why you can see the top of Burchett’s head behind the palm of the hand.

The effect is certainly ghostly. But in this case at least, it certainly isn’t evidence of a ghost.

Author: Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager
 

 

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