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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 publicize 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 pretense 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.

(Photos via National Media Museum)


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