The Truth about 'Psychic Photography'

Author/publisher/editor Maurice Barbanell reported about "extraordinary psychic phenomena" after extensive firsthand observations in Europe and North America over the course of decades.  Maurice included a chapter about 'psychic photography'—or what other psychical researchers called 'spirit photography'in his memoir Power of the Spirit (1949), considering photos showing phenomenally manifested images as "permanent records of survival."  He observed: "If you receive a photograph of a loved one and you are satisfied beyond doubt that the production of this extra, as it is called, could not be explained by trickery, then you have a treasured memento."
Maurice's experiences revealed that the psychic photographers whom he encountered were unquestionably authentic.  However, among a large segment of the public the anomalous photos were simply too unexpected to be considered a subject worthy of closer examination.  Nonetheless, due to his own evolution from agnostic to Spiritualist, Maurice found himself able to sympathize with people who had a questioning perspective toward the photos.  He acknowledged:
I do not blame inquirers for thinking that the explanation of psychic photography must be fraud.  The production of successful extras is so remarkable a happening that you require incontrovertible proof before being convinced that the face of your loved one has been placed on the plate by spirit power.

The information about the subject of 'psychic photography' in Power of the Spirit offers some details about the work of three people who unexpectedly found themselves to be photographer mediums during the course of their careers: Ada Emma Deane, John Myers and William Hope.  Maurice's commentary explains some of the confusion arising from the work of these three individuals.  The following three photos provide examples. 


Plate 12 from Maurice Barbanell's case study biography of John Myers (d. 1972), He Walks In Two Worlds (1964): "A spirit 'extra' of Lord Balfour . . ."

This photo is identified as one taken by Ada Emma Deane (1864-1957) circa 1922.  (other examples 1, 2)

This photo is identified as one taken by William Hope (1863-1933) in the 1920s.  (other examples 1, 2)

The following excerpts are from Chapter VI of Power of the Spirit by Maurice Barbanell.

As with all cases of physical mediumship, the word "exposure" has been frequently bandied about, although in most instances the "exposure" was nothing more or less than an exposure of the ignorance or incompetence of those who made the charge.  Judged by normal standards, the results are so incredible that it is easier to cry "fraud" than to believe that you have a genuine spirit extra in your possession, even when every precaution has been taken to make the seance fraud-proof.

For years, I was involved in the many controversies and arguments that centred around the mediumship of one psychic photographer and was familiar with this attitude of disbelief, especially on the part of newspapermen and professional photographers, to whom the taking of pictures is part of their everyday life.  Besides, you must remember that for many  years the Press behaved rather stupidly towards Spiritualism in general and to physical mediumship in particular.

There was the case of Mrs. A. E. Deane, who had a raw deal from one newspaper.  In my early days in Spiritualism, I knew her well.  Over a period of many years I regularly took a party of friends to her seances and sometimes we obtained striking results.  Mrs. Deane, like other psychic photographers and physical mediums, was at first keen on giving test seances.  But again, like the others, she became tired of the constant atmosphere of suspicion and refused to give tests.  I sympathised with her attitude.  After all, though you begin your psychic career with enthusiasm, with the passing of the years you resent the idea that your honesty is in question.  Moreover, you know that in reality the acid test of psychic photography depends upon the recognition of the extras.  Leaving on one side the credulous person who will see a likeness when one does not exist, there are thousands of cases of identifiable extras, which are among the best evidence for life after death.

Fraud entails the use of a highly complex organisation that could not be kept secret.  The medium must know in advance who is coming for a seance.  Somehow or other, there must be access to old family albums, with photographs removed for copying without this fact being discovered.  Alternatively, the medium must learn the town where the deceased person lived, and conduct a long search among its photographers, looking for pictures taken thirty, forty and fifty years ago.  If all this were the explanation of how extras are obtained, it would soon come to light.  You cannot break into houses and steal pictures from albums without being found out.  Neither can you conduct long and exhaustive inquiries among photographers without arousing suspicion.

Another important factor is the antecedents of the medium, the years spent in cultivating and developing the psychic gift, the obtaining of partially successful results until finally, with full unfoldment, the medium is ready to give seances to strangers.

I am sure that Mrs. Deane, and her two charming daughters, will forgive me if I say that she is a simple woman—very lovable for that reason—who does not possess the kind of cleverness that would enable her to be a fraud.  She was nurtured in the Roman Catholic faith, but despite that went to a Spiritualist meeting where she was told by the medium that she was a photographic medium.  She did not understand what he was talking about and afterwards asked him to explain what he meant.  The explanation was so interesting that she thought she would try to develop this gift.

The medium and his wife arranged to visit her house and help her.  Mrs. Deane bought some plates and took eight photographs, but nothing psychic appeared and she was getting tired, apart from being disappointed.  However, on the two remaining plates extras did appear.  This made her so excited that she wanted to go out and buy some more plates immediately, but she was told not to repeat the experiment for a few days.

Mrs. Deane was possessed of limited means and had no proper facilities in her working-class house for the taking and developing of plates.  Her background was a tablecloth pinned to the kitchen wall.  It was always a source of amusement when sitters looked behind the cloth to see whether spooks were hidden there.  The kitchen table was her dark room.  She placed hooks all round the table and on them hung a cloth made from some old dresses and petticoats.  Her red light came from a paraffin lamp with red glass.  When it was necessary for her to load the camera and plates and to develop them, she would crawl under the table.

In the early days of her mediumship, priests from the Roman Catholic church tried to persuade her to renounce her work.  She resisted their blandishments and refused to accept their suggestion that the whole thing was evil and had some connection with the devil.  Too many mourners had visited her and received comfort by obtaining extras of their beloved dead for her to entertain so preposterous a theory.

For many years after the 1914-1918 war, Mrs. Deane took pictures of the Armistice Day service held at the Cenotaph.  These experiments were made under the supervision of Estelle Stead, daughter of the famous journalist, W. T. Stead, who laid down the conditions to ensure that no accusation of trickery could later be made.  Usually the pictures contained a crowd of spirit faces superimposed on the section of the large gathering shown on the plates.  Many of these faces were afterwards recognised.

1924 Armistice Day photograph

As an example of unfair Press treatment, I cite what happened in 1924 when the Daily Sketch published an article stating that the Armistice photograph taken that year was fraudulent.  It alleged that the extras were not those of dead people, but actually pictures of living ones, including some well-known sporting persons.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had the brilliant idea of submitting these photographs to Sir Arthur Keith, a distinguished anthropologist who, if anything, was an anti-Spiritualist.  He was also shown the photographs of the men and women whom the Daily Sketch said the extras resembled.

Sir Arthur Keith made a detailed examination of them all and returned them to Conan Doyle, saying he could trace no resemblance between the faces of the living persons selected by the Daily Sketch and the extras which appeared on the Armistice plate.  Conan Doyle sent Keith's letter to the Daily Sketch, which refused to print it.  Yet, for years afterwards, it was usual when Mrs. Deane's name was mentioned to be met with the reply, "Oh, wasn't that the woman exposed by the Daily Sketch?"
*        *        *

For many years I was closely associated with John Myers, whose psychic photography was a storm-centre of controversy.  The first intimation I received of his mediumship was when I launched Psychic News.  A few days before the first issue was due to appear, I received an account of how he had accepted a challenge made by a parcels officer at the South-Western District Post Office in London.  This postal official, a sceptic so far as Spiritualism was concerned, had imposed all his own conditions and was surprised to find that two of the plates had extras.  I published the account and decided to follow up the story.

I learned that John Myers was a dentist in Victoria.  His interest in Spiritualism had been aroused when a medium told him that he possessed the gift of psychic photography.  Among friends and sympathetic Spiritualists he formed a circle and developed his gift, with startling results.

Very often, in Spiritualism, the evidence that we receive is similar to the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle.

Scores of people received through his mediumship identifiable extras of dead relatives and friends, some of them reproducing earthly defects or characteristics which made the recognition unmistakable.

One striking result that I obtained was the reproduction of a signature of a woman who was known to me.

. . . R. L. Parish, a New York business man, was cured through Myers's mediumship.  His interest was first aroused by Myers's psychic photography.  When Myers agreed to allow him to conduct some experiments, Parish was determined to have a test that permitted of no loopholes.  He insisted that he himself should purchase everything necessary for the test, from the camera down to the developing materials.  Myers was not allowed to handle any part of the photographic apparatus.  The medium's sole contribution was to be present in the room when the photographs were taken.

Parish experimented with different types of camera, employing expert photographers to load the plates in a huge wall cupboard fitted up as a dark room in his hotel suite.  Often the medium would clairvoyantly announce, during the taking of pictures, the results that subsequently appeared on the plates.  At one test, when two different cameras were employed, Myers declared that identical extras would be obtained, and they were!

In all my seances with Myers, I noticed one outstanding fact.  Though he often broke all the rules of photography, the extras were not affected.  Plates were fogged, but the extras would be clear.  Plates were dropped and cracked, but the cracks would never come across the extras.

Once I called on Myers soon after the passing of William Hope, another outstanding psychic photographer.  At 10:45 p.m., just as I was thinking of going home, we discussed some aspect of psychic photography and Myers suggested that we try an impromptu seance.  There were two unopened packets of plates lying there, one of which I chose.  In loading the camera I pressed rather hard and cracked a plate.  I received on this plate a large extra of William Hope, whose face came on the portion of the plate which was uncracked.

Many of Myers's seances were held in a room attached to his dental surgery.
*        *        *
I always regret that I did not have a closer relationship with William Hope, the Lancashire medium who had a raw deal—yes, it was one of those "exposures"—from alleged researchers.  He gave thousands of successful seances, but it was not long before he announced that he was tired of giving tests.  Yet when I happened to be passing through Crewe and called on him, he insisted on having a seance and demanded that I should go and buy the plates to make a test of it.  The results were genuine, but unfortunately I could not recognise the extras I obtained.

Hope refused to use any camera other than the ancient, battered one presented to him by a clergyman, Archdeacon Colley, who succeeded in obtaining on a half plate a remarkable result.  This plate was sealed so that no light could have access to it and was held between the hands of six persons for thirty-nine seconds.  It was developed without being exposed, and contained an Easter sermon on the Resurrection, consisting of eighty-four lines made up of one thousand seven hundred and ten words!

Hope related with great gusto, and in his own marked Lancashire dialect, the story of how he discovered his mediumship.  At the time he was working in a factory.  He was asked to take a photograph of a fellow-workman.  The exposure was made outside the factory gates on a Saturday afternoon.  The friend had arranged to develop and print the pictures.

One day during the following week, this friend met Hope with the strange statement, "Billy, thou'rt got a dead 'un on t' plate!"  Hope looked at him in amazement.  The friend produced the photograph and showed him that on it there was an extra of a dead relative he could identify.

They were so puzzled that they determined to repeat the experiment the following Saturday.  Hope took another picture.  Once again, he was told there was a "dead 'un" on the plate and that the extra was recognisable as a dead friend.  Neither Hope nor his colleague had any knowledge of Spiritualism and they did not appreciate the significance of the extras.

A long time afterwards, Hope wandered into a Spiritualist meeting at Crewe.  When the service was over, he approached some of the officials.  Taking the psychic pictures out of his pocket, he asked if they could explain what they meant.  The officials immediately realized that Hope was a potential psychic photographer and advised him to develop the gift.  When he asked how this could be done, he was told that in Crewe there was a woman named Mrs. Buxton who was sitting for the development of her mediumship.  Hope went to see her and thus began a famous partnership, which lasted for many years, for the production of spirit extras.

I should like to mention that Mrs. Buxton was not altogether surprised at meeting Hope.  At several Spiritualist meetings she had been told by mediums that they could see her holding what looked like a piece of glass up to the light.  She did not connect these messages with spirit photographs until she met Hope and learned his story.

In the decades that have followed the epoch of 'spirit photographs,' the development of new technology related to video and audio recorded media have resulted in showing an array of visual imagery signifying forms of transcendental communication, altogether given the term 'Instrumental Transcommunication' (1, 2) by researchers.  Below is one example from worlditc.orgA previous blog article is "Ted Serios and the Lehrburger Sequence".



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