Say Cheese: Ghost Photography

With a little digging it’s easy to find ghostly photographs online or in books.  Some show actual ghosts (or fakes) and some, streaks of light, orbs, or other irregularities that signal a paranormal presence. An interesting place to explore for examples is, which analyzes photos for paranormal contents. There are links to many photos that look ghostly but aren’t, as well as those they’ve deemed authentic.

The history of ghost photography is as old as the camera.  In mid-Victorian times, people were believers: spiritualism was a popular fad. There were séances and all kinds of spirit phenomena (again, much of it fake).  There was much societal upheaval caused by the industrial revolution in the mid to late 1800’s, which created much emotional and spiritual discomfort.  People reached out to the mediums and others who offered support from the Other Side.  The camera was coming into its own.  So were creative photographers willing to take advantage of a wanting-to-believe public. A great many of the photos of this period have been debunked by the experts.

The popularity of spirit photography has soared during times when culture and society were hungry for spiritual nurture.  The Great War was such a time.  Nothing like it had been experienced by the world.  The death and injury toll was enormous.  People were hungry for reassurance that connection with their loved ones might bring. So planchettes (or Ouija boards) and table tipping, séances and mediums all grew in popularity during this period.

The most famous ghost photo of all, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, was studied in the 1930’s by the well-known and reputable expert, Harry Price.  Price thought it authentic, but this assessment has been disputed by some modern photographers.

Some ghosts seen in cell phone camera shots are a result of the way these cameras work, and are not actual phantoms.  Some: but not all.

Currently, ghosts are popular topics for television, podcasts, and youTube. We live in uncertain times.  Terrorism pops up unpredictably.  International relations have become at times quite strained.  Many never recovered from the economic downturn of 2008-9, generated by the housing crisis. It is possible that society’s insecurities push this but certainly modern technology does.  Today it is relatively easy to make videos for popular internet consumption, to blog and share special interest websites.  This makes information much more accessible for those interested as well as easier to disseminate by those who have material to share.

Have you taken a photograph that contains a ghostly image?  I did, once.  I used a 35mm throwaway camera on a trip (around 1996) to Victoria, B.C.  In the Empress Hotel, my group had tea in a parlor apart from the main crowd.  It contained period furnishings and portraits.  I used the portrait wall as a backdrop and when everyone was seated, I took a snapshot.  When developed, it  had very odd streaks of light (over the heads of the group and in front of the portraits), which I think might be more than photographic anomalies.  I’d had a feeling of being watched during our tea, and I learned later that the Empress has a reputation as a haunted hotel, and witnesses have supplied many reports of paranormal phenomena there.

Most ghost photography doesn’t actually capture apparitions, but there are a percentage of these pictures in which paranormal phenomena cannot be ruled out.  Most cell phone ghosts are cell phone oddities, but maybe that weird image caught on your iPhone photo is genuine, after all.

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