By this point, it’s common knowledge that people who lived during the Victorian Era had a special relationship with death.
From our contemporary perspective, it’s hard to imagine how much living these people possibly could’ve done when there was such a strong focus on dying. That being said, times change, and their approach to mortality was just as valid then as ours is now.
The connection to death was so strong back then that many people believed that they could communicate with the dead. While some mediums took people’s money and offered them a false sense of comfort through seances, others tried to solidify their so-called “abilities” by capturing the dead on film through the practice of spirit photography.
Spirit photography in its most basic form began to gain interest in Europe back in the 1850s.
Using light tricks and manipulating film during the development process, photographers were able to make it look like they actually took photos of spirits.
Some of the most skilled spirit photographers even inserted realistic faces of people’s loved ones into their images.
Spirit photography was pretty much exclusive to Europe until the end of the Civil War in 1865. The grief of the post-war era allowed this bizarre phenomenon to take off in America.
The photos were obviously fake.
It’s likely that the people purchasing these photographs knew that on some level. But even worse than spending money on fake photos was the prospect that their loved ones really were gone for good.
As the 1800s rolled into the next century, Europe and America were faced with brutal conflicts that eventually led to World War I. This meant that there was ample work available for entrepreneurial spirit photographers.
As spirit photography became more popular, people needed to continually change up their techniques to avoid being found out.
To many, it was readily apparent that the extremely lifelike faces in these photographs were fraudulent.
That’s when the technique of using ghost stamps came into fashion. Ghost stamps allowed photographers to manipulate images in a way that looked more authentic. Surprisingly, people bought it.
(via Vintage Everyday)
By the 1920s, it was understood that spirit photographers were nothing but manipulators. Once the Great Depression rolled around, the art of spirit photography was all but forgotten.