vintage, nostalgia and memories

May 10, 2012

Vintage 'Ghost' Pictures: The Spirit Photographs of William Hope From the 1920s

These photographs of 'spirits' were taken by a controversial medium called William Hope (1863 - 1933). Born in 1863 in Crewe, Hope started his working life as a carpenter. In about 1905 he became interested in spirit photography after capturing the supposed image of a ghost while photographing a friend.

He went on to found the Crewe Circle – a group of six spirit photographers led by Hope. When Archbishop Thomas Colley joined the group they began to publicise their work. Following World War I support for the Crewe Circle grew as the grieving relatives of those lost to the war sought a means of contacting their loved ones.

By 1922 Hope had moved to London where he became a professional medium. The work of the Crewe Circle was investigated on various occasions. The most famous of these took place in 1922, when the Society for Psychical Research sent Harry Price to investigate the group. Price collected evidence that Hope was substituting glass plates bearing ghostly images in order to produce his spirit photographs.

Later the same year Price published his findings, exposing Hope as a fraudster. However, many of Hope’s most ardent supporters spoke out on his behalf, the most famous being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Hope continued to practice, despite his exposure.

Couple with a spirit in their car

Two of William Hope's friends lean on their motor car whilst a figure - the couple's deceased son - is revealed at the wheel. Hope had suggested a photo opportunity for the 'chance' of obtaining a spirit impression.

A clergyman and two spirits

The clergyman and his wife had attended a seance at which a voice was heard, claiming to be their stillborn daughter - whom the 'spirit people' had named Rose. The voice asked them to sit for a psychic photograph, telling them she would try to appear in it.

'Rose' is not clearly apparent in the image. The image of the man was identified as the long-deceased father of the clergyman. Hope may have asked the clergyman to bring a photograph of his father, under the pretence of using the image to contact the spirit world.

A séance

The information accompanying the spirit album states that the table is levitating - in reality the image of a ghostly arm has been superimposed over the table- stand through double exposure.

Couple with a female spirit

A woman's face appears above the couple - identified at the time as the sister of a man prominent in the Spiritualist Church. Her cloak adds to the ethereal effect.

The signature in the upper left hand corner is by one of the sitters, to authenticate the plate. The couple are the parents of the person who compiled the spirit album.

Elderly couple with a young female spirit

Family group with two spirits

Two faces - that of a man and a girl - appear, surrounded in 'mist', above the group.

Joe and Will Thomas and their grandmother's spirit

A photograph of Welsh mediums and brothers Joe and Will Thomas. The Thomas family claimed that the image superimposed over the sitters was the only photograph of their deceased grandmother in existence. Hope, however, would have used an existing photograph of a woman to create the illusion.

Joe Thomas and unidentified spirit

The shrouded woman's face appearing in the photograph was not identified by Thomas - but it may indicate some form of collaboration between him and Hope.

Man surrounded by signs of spirit presence

Swirls of light appear to surround the sitter.

Man with a female spirit

A face appears over the man's image on the left of the photograph, covered in a cloak. Although indistinct, the man apparently identified the 'spirit' as an ex-work colleague who had died thirty two years earlier.

Man with a spirit face appearing

A male face appears on its side above the sitter's head.

Man with a spirit face appearing

A man's blurred face appears next to the sitter, surrounded in an ethereal-looking 'mist'. The signature in the upper right hand corner belongs to the sitter.

Man with the spirit of his deceased first wife

A woman's face appears in a 'misty' cloud to the right of the man - identified as that of his deceased first wife. Hope may have already held her photograph in his studio, or he may have asked the man to supply her photograph under the pretence of using the image to contact the spirit world.

The signature in the upper left hand corner is the sitter's, authenticating the plate.

Man with the spirit of his deceased second wife

A woman's face appears in 'misty' drapes around the man. He was said to have been asked to sit for a photograph by a voice heard at a seance held on 6 May 1923.

This man had also identified the 'spirit' of his deceased first wife in an earlier photograph. He now identified this 'spirit' as his deceased second wife.

Man with the spirit of his helper

The image of a young man's face appears prominently over the man, draped in a cloak. The signature at the base of the image belongs to the sitter.

The man had links with the person who compiled the spirit album, and he gave the photograph to her as a keepsake. He apparently recognised the young man's face.

Mourning scene

A woman mourns for her husband in a Chapel of Rest, standing by his body which is wrapped in sheets and laden with flowers. The woman's son stands beside her.

The image of a man's face has been superimposed over the original photograph. The spirit album notes that the family were Roman Catholics and believed in life after death.

Mrs Bentley and the spirit of her deceased sister

A photograph of Mrs Bentley, once the President of the British Spiritualists Lyceum Union, taken by Wylie, about 1920. A superimposed image - that of Mrs Bentley's deceased sister's face - appears at the lower right of the photograph.

Two men with a female spirit

The face of a younger woman appears between the men, surrounded in an ethereal-looking 'mist'.

Two women with a female spirit

A woman's face appears above the heads of the women, surrounded in an ethereal-looking 'mist'.

Two women with a spirit

The face of a young woman appears over the woman on the right of the photograph. The reverse of the photograph reads: 'Why is the child always pushing to the front?' and 'Do we get messages from the higher spirits?' - perhaps questions the women wanted answering. One of the sitters, at Hope's request, has signed the plate for authentication.

Three elderly people with two spirits

Two faces appear around the group - one, an elderly person, and the other that of a younger woman shrouded in a cloak.

Will Thomas with an unidentified spirit

A man's face appears in a haze of drapery on the right of the photograph. Thomas, a medium from Wales, did not recognise the superimposed image.

Thomas has signed the bottom of the photograph, 'Sincerely Yours Will Thomas' - perhaps this indicates a friendship with Hope.

Woman with two boys and a female spirit

A woman's face - draped in a transparent cloak - appears over the group.

(via National Media Museum)


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