A Leap of Death
Buffalo Courier Press photographer I. Russell Sorgi did a little impromptu ambulance chasing on his way back from another job. He wound up snapping photos of a woman standing on a ledge at the Geneese Hotel as she waved goodbye and started her fall to her death. He quickly reloaded his camera and caught the last second of her life, 15 feet above the cold sidewalk below. Her name was Mary Miller. There is something about seeing her frozen here in the middle of her last, irreversible action, a moment before her death, that is truly haunting.
On a creepy side note, this photograph was used in a psychological study and it was found that 96% of the people given the photo didn’t even notice her body caught mid-fall in the middle of the picture on their first examination of the shot. Did you?
Ghost Photography of the 19th Century
Photo manipulation is nearly as old as photography itself, and what early photographers lacked in Photoshop, they made up for in ingenuity. Photographers identified nine different methods that could aid in the photographic imitation of “spirits”, including techniques like multiple exposure and combination printing. As David Brewster, in his 1856 book on the stereoscope, explained:
For the purpose of amusement, the photographer might carry us even into the regions of the supernatural. His art, as I have elsewhere shewn, enables him to give a spiritual appearance to one or more of his figures, and to exhibit them as ‘thin air’ amid the solid realities of the stereoscopic picture.
William Mumler was the world’s first known “spirit photographer”. He photographed people who were morning the loss of a loved one and would superimpose their image on the photograph to show that they were still with them in spirit.
Mumler got caught with his fraudulent photography because of P.T. Barnum. He had captured an image of Barnum posed next to a ghost of an exceptionally notable variety: that of the recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln. During Mumler’s 1869 hearing for fraud, Barnum was called to the witness stand to testify against Mumler. Barnum would serve as an expert on “humbuggery.”
Spirit photography lived on well into the 20th century, fueled in part by the Civil War and, later on, by World War I. In the U.K., in the aftermath of the first Great War, the spirit photographer William Hope would develop a following for his work that included Arthur Conan Doyle. The Sherlock Holmes’s creator supported Hope against claims of Mumlerian fraud and wrote a book called The Case for Spirit Photography in 1922. He would also end his friendship with the famous Harry Houdini when the magician publicly claimed that spirit photography was “farcical.”
(Source: The Atlantic)
War Time ID Badges
At the onset of World War II, almost every business or manufacturer who did work for the war effort required employee ID badges for permission to enter the premises. These curious photographic objects are collectible examples of a time before the high-tech security, fingerprint and iris scans we have today.
Mark Michaelson, author of the book Least Wanted, has a fabulous photostream on Flickr with hundreds of photographic mugshots, ID badges, and other similar examples of identification. These photo badges, which can occasionally be found at estate sales and antique stores, make a very visual and affordable collection if you want to start looking for them.
George Konig - Vera Bland chooses the right colour eyeballs for a wax head of Cardinal Bernard Griffin, Archbishop of Westminster in the workshop of Madame Tussaud’s, London, June 1946.
Madame Tussauds is a major tourist attraction in London, displaying waxworks of historical and royal figures, film stars, sports stars and infamous murderers.
The Invention of “Home” Photography
Popular photography can properly be said to have started 120 years ago with the introduction of the Kodak camera, the invention of an American, George Eastman (1854-1932). It was a simple, leather-covered wooden box – small and light enough to be held in the hands. Taking a photograph with the Kodak was very easy, requiring only three simple actions; turning the key (to wind on the film); pulling the string (to set the shutter); and pressing the button (to take the photograph).
The Kodak produced circular snapshots, two and a half inches in diameter. The Kodak was sold already loaded with enough paper-based roll film to take one hundred photographs. After the film had been exposed, the entire camera was returned to the factory for the film to be developed and printed. The camera, reloaded with fresh film, was then returned to its owner, together with a set of prints. To sum up the Kodak system, Eastman devised the brilliantly simple sales slogan: ‘You press the button, we do the rest.’
Ghosts of the Past - Decayed Daguerreotypes from the Matthew Brady Studio, 1844-1860
Daguerreotype portraits were made by the model posing (often with head fixed in place with a clamp to keep it still the few minutes required) before an exposed light-sensitive silvered copper plate, which was then developed by mercury fumes and fixed with salts. This fixing however was far from permanent – like the people they captured the images too were subject to change and decay. They were extremely sensitive to scratches, dust, hair, etc, and particularly the rubbing of the glass cover if the glue holding it in place deteriorated. As well as rubbing, the glass itself can also deteriorate and bubbles of solvent explode upon the image.
The daguerreotypes above are from the studio of Matthew Brady, one of the most celebrated 19th century American photographers, best known for his portraits of celebrities and his documentation of the American Civil War which earned him the title of “father of photojournalism”. The Library of Congress received the majority of the Brady daguerreotypes as a gift from the Army War College in 1920.