Con-man and so-called pioneer of “spirit photography” William Hope made a tidy sum with his corny pictures of ghosts photo-bombing loved ones’ portraits.
Hope started his career in England as a carpenter, but in 1905 he quickly wised up to the potential fame and fortune that could be made from passing off double-exposed pictures as “genuine” images of ghosts. His photos achieved considerable acclaim with some notable fans including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned The Case for Spirit Photography in support of Hope’s work. Mind you, the creator of Sherlock Holmes was unfortunately someone who believed in fairies at the bottom of the garden.
Yet, the need of many to be reassured of life after death encouraged Hope to form the Crewe Circle—a group of like-minded spirit photographers, which included Archbishop Thomas Colley—to make money out of bereaved families after the slaughter of World War One.
Thankfully, Hope was eventually exposed as a fraud in 1922 by “psychic investigator” Harry Price, who marked Hope’s photographic plates, which when printed proved Hope was double exposing negatives to achieve his famed spirit portraits. Price wrote in his report:
William Hope has been found guilty of deliberately substituting his own plates for those of a sitter… It implies that the medium brings to the sitting a duplicate slide and faked plates for fraudulent purposes.
It’s easy to think our super-smart minds wouldn’t have been fooled by Hope’s fakes (ahem), but one need only turn on the television to witness a host of TV mediums claiming they can talk to the dead to appreciate we’re just as dumb.
Looking at these photos, it’s not the Scooby-Doo like phantoms that intrigues me, but the faces of the sitters, and their dress—heavy wool and tweed clothes—which must have made the wearer uncomfortable and no doubt highly odorous.