Our Archives

The College Archives are a unique collection of documentary material dating back to the earliest years of Victorian Spiritualism.

In 1873 the British National Association of Spiritualists was formed and in 1884 this association was re-organised to become The London Spiritualist Alliance which was renamed The College of Psychic Science and subsequently The College of Psychic Studies . Those responsible for the formation of the London Spiritual Alliance were the Rev. W Stainton Moses ("MA Oxon") and Edmund Dawson Rogers. They were both prodigious collectors and it is thanks to them that the College Archives contain such a wide range of spiritual material including a number of very fine Spirit Photographs. Of inestimable research value is the entire collection of LIGHT, continuously published since 1881, and whose first Editor, Edmund Dawson Rogers, subsequently became President of The London Spiritualist Alliance.

WILLIAM STAINTON MOSES COLLECTION

Above: Album with spirit photographs obtained by William H. Mumler, Frederick A. Hudson, F.M.Parkes, Éduard Isidore Buguet a.o., c.1862-1880.

The album belongs to the papers of William Stainton Moses, housed at the archive of the College for Psychic Studies. William H. Mumler (1832-1884) became famous for having taken the first spirit photography in 1861. He was a professional photographer in Boston and New York until 1879. William H. Mumler (Etats-Unis): Two album pages (numbered 18 & 19) showing eight albumen silver prints.

Above: Mary Todd Lincoln with the spirit of her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, 1870-75.

The widow of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Mary Todd Lincoln, was known for her interest in Spiritualism and had held séances at the White House. She visited Mumler's studio in the early 1870s under the assumed name of Mrs. Lindall. She was at first hesitant to identify the likeness as her late husband but, prompted by Mrs. Mumler, who was acting as a medium in a trance, soon declared the resemblance. This portrait was widely reprinted and circulated.

Above: Master Herrod with the spirits of Europe, Africa and America, 1870-72.

Mumler described "Master Herrod of N. Bridgwater, Mass." as a young medium whose trance in front of the camera called up the spirits of Europe, Africa and America. American Spiritualists recognised the prominent place given to spirits in Native American and African cultures, and this image illustrates the kinship they felt toward their spiritual traditions. The picture was advertised for sale by Mumler in The Religio-Philosophical Journal, August 24, 1872.

Above: Moses A. Dow and the spirit of Mabel Warren, c. 1871.

Moses A. Dow, the owner and editor of the literary journal The Waverley Magazine, is shown here with the spirit of his assistant and protegé Mabel Warren, who had died in 1870. Dow had testified for the defence at Mumler's trial for fraud in New York in 1869.

Above: Mrs Fannie Conant, a well known Boston medium connected with the Spiritualist journal The Banner of Light, is seen here with the spirit of her brother Chas.H.Crowell, "fully recognised by all who knew him", 1870-1875

Above: Herbert Wilson of Boston with the spirit form of a young lady, to whom he was engaged

Above: Mrs. French of Boston with her son's spirit, c. 1870

Above: John G.Glover, Quincy, Mass., with the spirit of his mother, 1870-1875

Above: Charles H.Foster of New York with the spirit of Ada Isaak Menken, a prominent actress, 1870-1875


Above: Frederick A. Hudson William Stainton Moses (M.A.Oxon) and Mr and Mrs Parkes with a draped figure, recognised as the mother of the sitters, 1872-1873.

Frederick Hudson was the first spirit photographer in England (and Europe). He started in March 1872 and produced a mass of images at least until 1879.

(An account on his activity may be found in Georgiana Houghton's "Chronicles of the photographs of spiritual beings and phenomena invisible to the material eye", 1882). This image shows the Rev.Stainton Moses, who chiefly experimented with Hudson. He published in 1874-1875 a series of articles on spirit photography, after he had examined several hundred of prints.

In regard to Hudson he was convinced that a great number of photographs were either obtained under test conditions or that there was evidence of recognition. (The "extras" could be identified as portraits of deceased persons.)

Above: Frederick A. Hudson Alfred Russel Wallace with the spirit of his mother, 1874

The renowned scientist Alfred Russel Wallace, a signatory to the College's Articles of Memorandum, profoundly believed in the reality of spiritualistic phenomena. He has written about the image (in "A Defence of Modern Spiritualism" 1875, p.190-191):

"On March 14th, 1874, I went to Hudson's, by appointment, for the first and only time, accompanied by Mrs.Guppy, as medium. I expected that if I got any spirit picture it would be that of my eldest brother, in whose name messages had frequently been received through Mrs. Guppy. Before going to Hudson's I sat with Mrs G., and had a communication by raps with the effect that my mother would appear on the plate if she could. I sat three times, always choosing my own position. Each time a second figure appeared in the negative with me. (...) I recognised none of these figures in the negatives; but the moment I got the proofs, the first glance showed me that the third plate contained an unmistakable portrait of my mother, - like her both in features and in expression; not such a likeness as a portrait taking during life, but somewhat pensive, idealised likeness - yet still, to me, an unmistakable likeness."

Above: F.M.Parkes and Mr. Reeves Portrait of a man with a spirit form, 1872-75.

F.M. Parkes had no experience in photography, until he learned it under direction of the spirits who communicated with him. He succeeded in taking spirit photographs from April 1872 onwards, mainly with the assistance of a certain Mr.Reeves, the proprietor of a dining–room near King's Cross in London.

The pictures showed only on rare occasions "fully developed forms" or clearly marked faces of deceased persons, like on the photographs obtained by William Mumler or Frederick Hudson. They had a crude design and showed flashes of light, white blurs or cloudy appearances, which sometimes had an allegorical meaning. Although the "unlikely character" of the images, Parkes had for some years a lot of success and was able to build his own glass house for the experiments. But he also took some photographs outside his home under conditions which convinced Stainton Moses of "the interference by the spirits with the plate".

Above: Éduard Isidore Buguet Auto-portrait of the photographer with the spirit of a lady, c. 1875.

Buguet produced between 1873 and 1875 spirit photographs, mainly in his studio at the, Boulevard Montmatre in Paris, but also during a stay in June 1874 in London. Among others the scientist William Crookes went to Buguet and received his portrait surrounded by a spirit form. In April 1875 Buguet was arrested for fraud and later sentenced, with his own confession, to imprisonment for a year and a fine of 500 francs. He stated that the spirit photographs were frauds, simply produced by double exposure. Either he dressed up his assistants to play the part of the ghost (after he learned form the sitters what they were expected to see on the plate) or he used a doll for this purpose. This figure was seized by the police in his studio.

In spite of the disclosures a lot of his clients remained convinced that Buguet had produced genuine spirit portraits. They believed that he was the victim of an organised conspiracy and forced to make a false confession. Anyway, after the trial (Buguet escaped for some time to Belgium) the photographer started to make "photographies anti-spirite".

He now arranged openly photographs showing spirit forms or phenomena like telekinesis for the amusement of the public Please note that the reproduction or distribution of these images in any way and on any medium is illegal without prior written consent from The College of Psychic Studies.

Above: Mary Todd Lincoln

Picture by William H. Mumler, ca 1870-75.

With the onset of 'modern spiritualism' in 1848, communication with the other side had become a mass social movement in which the photographic method played a major role. This particular means seems to have been made for the spirit world, for it always had an aura of magic about it, particularly in those early days. Like spiritualistic mediums, it worked at the very point that divided the visible and the invisible worlds. Many occultists could understand it as a tool that was as sensitive to communications from the other world as the physical eye is to this world. Naturally it was of great significance that at the same time the photographic instrument seemed to provide an objective technique for documentation and was seen to be an adequate tool for the positivistic view of reality that predominated in science in those days.

Thus, in 1861, the first spirit photographs became available in public – enjoying great popularity until about 1930. Particularly in Great Britain, numerous mediums specialized in producing spirit photographs (the first image was made by Frederick Hudson in April 1872 in London). They were supported by many people, among them well-known individuals like the scientist Alfred Russel Wallace (in 1875 Hudson took a photograph which showed the figure of Russel Wallace together with the spirit of his deceased mother), or after World War 1, the writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The history of spirit photography as a whole was characterised by emotional controversies, with exposures over fraudulent techniques, legal court cases etc., but also by an unshakeable belief in the genuineness of the pictures.

Apart from spirit photography, the photography of supposed human radiations, like auras and vital forces or fluids, played an important role. It forged the central idea in many occult systems that invisible rays representing certain physical, psychical or transcendental states surround the human body. It gained particular significance in France after the discovery of X-ray photography in 1896. At the turn of the century such photography became almost officially recognized by the natural sciences until it disappeared from public perception after it had partly been exposed as a photographic deception. In the context of such experiments, the first attempts into thought-photography were also undertaken and widely discussed.

Photographs documenting mediumistic experiments were of central importance for the beginning of scientific occultism; the purpose of these photographs was not only to control the origin of the alleged phenomena, but also to present a permanent record to a critical public. For example, there were photographs of so-called spiritual materialisations (these are formations of visible spirit forms by the medium) and photographs of experiments into telekinesis (the first photographs appeared in the 1890's showing the levitation of a table by the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino).

A selection of approximately two hundred photographs from the described area will be presented at the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris (i) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (ii). The photographs mainly originate from 1870 to the 1930's and they will be divided into three parts (corresponding to their given descriptions): (1) spirit photography, (2) photography of fluids and (3) photographs related to other mediumistic experiments. The exhibition will contain very rare original prints from William H. Mumler, who discovered spirit photography (including the famous portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln and the spirit of Abraham Lincoln). Also a large selection of photographs from British mediums will be shown, for example by Frederick Hudson, F.M. Parkes, Richard Boursnell, William Hope, Ada Emma Deane or the largely unknown Madge Donohue, who produced in the 1920's most remarkable 'Skotographs' (they are photographs made without the use of a camera and ordinary light). The section of the photographs of fluids contains, among others, early electrographs from around 1895 showing the aura of human hands from Jacob Narkiewicz-Jodko (Jodko anticipated the invention of so-called Kirlian photography by about fifty years). Most remarkable are the photographs made by the Frenchman Louis Darget from 1895 onwards. He is supposed to be the first who made not only many experiments in thought-photography, but also produced colour photographs on glass plates mainly showing human fingerprints with aura forms. Also presented are thoughtographs of Ted Serios, who became famous in the 1960's due to the investigation of Jule Eisenbud in Denver. The third part starts with two of the famous photographs of the phantom 'Katie King', produced in 1874 by the distinguished scientist William Crookes. Another prominent scientist who investigated these phenomena was the late Nobel-prize winner Charles Richet. In 1905 he registered on photographic plates a phantom named 'Bien Boa'. Other spectacular prints in this section include the medium 'Margery' (Crandon) producing ectoplasm in 1925. A number of prints also show the levitation of different objects by different mediums.

It is most remarkable that such renowned museums are ready now to exhibit a selection of photographs from the history of psychical research. The aesthetic appeal of the photographs plays an important role in such a decision. In this regard the exhibition continues the historical tradition of the legendary exhibition 'Film und Foto' of 1929, a milestone of the avant-garde photographic art. It included twelve prints of materialisation-phenomena of Albert von Schrenck-Notzing. A further reason for today's interest is attributable to the growing knowledge that such images (and history of occultism in general) can contribute to a broader understanding of the social and cultural history in the 19th and 20th century. Only recently it was recognized that occult and spiritualistic phenomena reflect a broad social movement, which has also inspired many cultural fields, for example literature and fine arts, especially the beginning of modern art. But such a topic is not only of historical interest, it also underlines the fact that such phenomena are still of great interest to many people today.

The selection of the photographs (which consist of only original prints and a few modern prints from the original negatives) is not only connected with the historical meaning of a given case and its aesthetic quality, but underlines the fact that obviously many photographs as well as other materials from the history of psychical research have disappeared or were destroyed. Many personal files of researchers went missing after their owners'death; (as early as 1843 the French writer L.A. Cahagnet described such a case, where valuable papers of a mesmerist were given to a spice dealer) (iii), societies and organisations disappeared, and many items were destroyed by natural disasters or as a result of wars. There are, however, a few institutions with a long history which fortunately still maintain such archives. They contain most valuable documents for understanding the history of spiritualism, mediumship and related topics. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, one should mention, of course, the British and American Societies for Psychical Research (SPR in London and ASPR in New York) and also the College of Psychic Studies in London. The latter organisation houses a remarkable collection of historical photographs. Among them are many spirit photographs produced by Frederick Hudson, about which Frank Podmore remarked in 1902 that they already were difficult to obtain (iv). They form part of the papers of Rev. Stainton Moses, who was one of the first who had written a study on the subject. Of special interest are the already mentioned scotographs from Madge Donohoe. Besides some other institutions connected with the history of psychical research (v), there are also a few private and public collections, like the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Gilman Paper Company Collection in New York who have kindly agreed to lend some rare pictures to the exhibition.

It is the intention of the curators of the exhibition and the authors of the catalogue (vi) to take a neutral and, especially, an unprejudiced attitude towards the topic. It was not their task to deny the belief in such photographic phenomena or, on the other hand, to support their reality. Within the limit of such a project, the motivation that gave birth to such images, the controversies and the historical background, should all be presented. On such a basis a further elaboration of such materials can be pursued. Such an exhibition project is also connected with the hope – and this would be a justification in itself – that the cultural value and historical uniqueness of such pictures is increasingly recognized. This could add to the readiness to secure collections of this kind. It could be a further goal to develop a common strategy aimed at the documentation, the long-term security and public accessibility for researchers and other interested people.

  • The title of the exhibition is in French: Le Troisieme oeil. La photographie et l'occulte
  • The exhibition in New York will have a reduced size
  • 'Die Geheimnisse des Jenseits', Leipzig,p.4
  • 'Modern Spiritualism', London, Vol.2, p118
  • For example the 'Institute metapsychique international' (IMI) in Paris, or the 'Institut fur Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene' (IGPP) in Freiburg, Germany
  • The catalogue will be published in a French and an English edition by Gallimard in Paris. It will contain reproductions of every exhibited photograph, some articles and a bibliography on the subject Andreas Fischer is the Curator of Photographs at the Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene (IGPP) in Freiburg, Germany.

Sign into my account


Forgotten your password?

Create an account or purchase membership

Create an account, or purchase membership, today to take advantage of all the features the website has to offer.

Register