I CAN’T REMEMBER HOW I heard of this book. Probably it came up during my research into the history of photography, and it sounded so excellent that I had to track it down. It is really quite incredible. My copy is the 10th edition, “Revised and Enlarged” and published by the American Photographic Publishing Co. of Boston in 1931. The first edition was from 1896.
It’s basically a how-to book for amateur photographers itching for a little photographic experimentation. Just look at that Table of Contents. Not only does this book have lessons in “Spirit Photography” and “Doubles” but also “Freak Pictures by Successive Exposures,” “Photographs on Apples and Eggs,” (that’s on apples and eggs, not of apples and eggs), and “Pictures with Eyes which Open and Close.” And don’t let me forget the always essential “A Man in a Bottle.” What did I do with myself before I owned this book?
So, let’s look at how one takes a spirit photo. The first method, say authors Frank R. Fraprie and Walter E. Woodbury, is to engineer a simple double exposure.
“Suppose we want to make a picture something like Fig. 6. We must first prepare our ‘ghost’ by dressing someone in the orthodox ghost style, by draping a figure in a white sheet…Then we pose the sitter and the ghost in appropriate attitudes and give part of the required exposure. Then, leaving everything else just as it is, we remove the ghost and complete the exposure. On developing the film, we find the sitter and the background properly exposed and only a rather faint image of the ghost, with objects behind it showing through on account of the double exposure.”
Another way to make ghost pictures, Fraprie and Woodbury tell me, is to take an underexposed picture of a spirit against a black background and then use the same film or plate another time for another photo. In this way, the sitter is not aware of the ghost picture while they are posing. I have also read that people dressed up as ghosts would sneak into the back of a picture without the sitter noticing. Kinda like when someone does “bunny ears” to some unaware person in a snapshot. But it seems unlikely that someone wouldn’t notice a person in a big ole sheet.
“Of course it is not necessary to dress up the ghost in a white sheet and we believe that far more convincing effects can be obtained by having the ghost dressed in the ordinary way.”
See figures 8 and 9, below, as lovely examples of dressing in the “ordinary way.”