Katy Osterwald

Freaks of Photography

Posted in Photography by photokaty on April 30, 2008

I came across this old photography article while researching the old Kansas City Workhouse, and thought it was interesting. It is from the June 13, 1897 edition of the Kansas City Times (over 100 years old!).

Freaks of Photography

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Explanation of Strange Figures That Appear in Pictures

From the American Journal of Photography

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It is no uncommon experience to find upon new plates certain images for which there seems to be no possible explanation, their startling and unaccountable appearance being “wropt in mistry,” causing astonishment not unmixed with uncanny feeling. A gentleman made an exposure upon the interior of a friend’s house; he was doubtful of the time, and proceeded to develop for under-exposure. To his great surprise the plate developed quickly, and to his greater surprise the image was an interior quite different from that upon which he had exposed. The plate was from a fresh box, and could not possible have had a previous exposure.

Another instance of the kind, having quite a sensational and tragic ending, is on record. An exposure was made upon a view having a river in the foreground. The photographer, which developing this particular plate, was perfectly astounded by an appearance which he had not seen while taking the photograph, and for which he could in no way account. On completing the development there was plainly revealed in the foreground of the picture the figure of a woman, apparently floating in the water. Not many weeks after, to complete the mystery, the body of a woman was found in the river at the exact spot where the photograph had been taken. Again, not long since, the account of a traveling photographer, who, upon making an exposure upon the exterior of a reputed haunted house, discovered at one of the windows a portrait of the murdered man through whom the house had gained its evil name. In another case three distinct images, having no connection one with the other, were impressed upon a single film. The plate was exposed upon a garden in the evening—nothing remarkable being seen—but when placed in the developer a man’s hat, of old-fashioned shape, a child’s dress and a dog were distributed over the image of the garden. Such mysterious images were more common in the days of wet plates than now.

A few years back Prof. Burton investigated the matter. Upon tracing back the history of the glass he found that it had been used for other films, and that the images which appeared undoubtedly arose from the remains of previous images. The old glass was thus proved to be the source of the ghosts; it only deepened the scientific mystery, while it cleared away the supernatural. The glass traced by Burton had been washed for some weeks, immersed in strong nitric acid, and every means taken to insure chemical cleanliness; yet, in spite of all this, enough energy remained latent to form a developmental images upon the new film, whether by chemical or physical force remains to be discovered. A complete solution of the difficulty would probably throw considerable light upon the nature of photographical images in general; at least it seems to indicate that light is not absolutely essential in the formation of latent images on a sensitive film.

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