Spirit Photography

The UK’s National Media Museum has digitized a collection of the Spirit Photographs of William Hope, one of the most well-known spiritualists and practitioners of spirit photography in early 20th century England. The classic spirit photograph captured the likeness of a living person or people, and the eerie spirits who accompanied them. These ‘spirits’ were created by multiple exposure techniques. All of Hopes’s photographs uploaded to Flickr Commons are dated 1920.

The image below is a very typical example of a Hope spirit photograph; a sitter and a spirit are posed in front of a dark background. The curator’s notes say that the reverse of the photograph reads “Why is the child always pushing to the front?’ and ‘Do we get messages from the higher spirits?” – possibly questions that the sitter had for her ghost.

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The image below is the only example of a mourning photograph in the online Hope collection; it depicts a woman and her son standing by their deceased husband and father, whose ‘ghost’ is also visible.

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This unique spirit photograph a couple pose by their car, which is occupied by the ghost of the dead son.

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We invite you to explore Flickr Commons and share the good stuff you discover.

The Demon Maguire

Late last year the British Library uploaded onto Flickr over one million high-quality scanned images images from its rich collections. As The Appendix explained, the images are in the public domain, free for people around the world to peruse and reproduce to their hearts content.

You can spend hours and hours looking through this treasure chest of historical illustrations and prints (we have!). The fantastic illustrations from Francis Grundy’s Australian children’s book “The Demon McGuire” published in Sydney in 1885 is one of the most exciting set of images that HiTM has discovered so far.

The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature describes the book as ‘a verse story… about an enormous demon who roams around Sydney causing havoc in his wake”. The Demon is a metaphor for a great wind or a storm. This villain “is finally exiled to the Moon by Father Christmas and Father Time” (The Oxford Companion to Australian Children’s Literature, 196).

Why do we like these illustrations so much? Well, first off it is one of the oldest examples of illustrated Australian children’s literature. In addition, the giant, ugly protagonist is very amusing, and you can catch glimpses of real Sydney architecture and landscapes in some scenes. For example, Government House and Sydney Harbour are visible in the title page below;

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(compare the illustrated turrets above to this contemporary photograph of government house)

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It’s not surprising that a book written in a port-city had strong maritime themes: several of the drawings (like the one above) depict the  demon destroying ships in port. Image

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Other illustrations show the demon threatening children, or at least terrifying them by his proximity (including a group hanging out on the roofs of their homes), which is befitting of a book that targeted a young audience.

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Unfortunately the British Library Flickr project only scans images, so you cannot read the full story online. The good news is that there are four copies in Australia between the National Library, and the State Libraries of NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

So Anastasia wasn’t the first: on nineteenth-century selfies

History in the Making hasn’t quite finished with selfies. As the people who bring us the Oxford English Dictionary have just named ‘selfie’ the word of the year, we’ve decided to dedicate yet another blog post to this phenomenon.

The OED defines a selfie as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”. The Guardian was reported that the word has Australian roots: it can be traced back to a post on an Australian online forum in 2002: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

So what about selfie’s in history? A recent post on the Oxford University Press (OUP) blog has persuaded us that Anastasia’s 1913 self-portrait was not, in-fact, the world’s first selfie. The OUP blog explains that many early photographic portraits shot by daguerreotypists were self-portraits (Like this mid 19th century photo below of an anonymous daguerreotypist).

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Ever wondered what would WW2 look like if the smart phone was invented in 1940? In selfie-related alternative history, the Huntington Post this week published a titillating gallery of famous photographs reimagined as selfies (created for an advertising campaign for a South African newspaper. The doctored photo of Churchill below gives you a taste of what we’re talking about;

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