Types of spirit photograph
For the most part, spirit photographs consisted of revealing the invisible spirits connected to a sitter during the development of the photographic plates. Rarer, was the practice of capturing spirit activity during a seance which could include floating objects, orbs of light, ectoplasmic protrusions from the orifices of the medium to full body materialisation in the case of Florrie Cook and her materialised spirit, Katie King.
Developments by Madge Donohoe in the 1920s heralded a new type of spirit photograph called the skotograph (a term coined by College member and investigator, Felicia Scatcherd). The skotograph did not even need a camera. It involved a person holding the plate to the body, normally the forehead, to transmit thoughts or messages from the spirit world. Once developed these eerie forms would appear much to the delight of the beholder.
From the 1930s spirit photography’s popularity waned due to the relentless accusations of fraud and offering images of deceased loved ones became the realm of artists such as Frank Leah and Coral Polge in their roles as spirit portrait mediums.
The College archive holds an unparalleled collection of spirit photographs from all the major practitioners mentioned above as well as many more. Its fascinating history is also well documented in the books and periodicals of the library.
Feature image: Skotograph © Madge Donohoe from the College archive
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