Science Rends the Veil
Project info

At nearly the same time that photography was invented, the practice of Spiritualism was being born in the "burned-over district" of New York. Central to its belief was the practice of communication with discarnate human spirits. These two developments would intertwine in 1861, when William Howard Mumler produced the first spirit photograph.

Photography has always been used as a form of objective truth. Following the carnage of the American Civil War, people looked to spirit photographs as proof of the continued existence of their loved ones. This practice involved a human "medium" who would make contact with the dead. This process was unreliable and prone to fraud. Mumler himself, who photographed Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of the slain president, was brought to trial with none other than P. T. Barnum testifying against him. He was acquitted, but ceased to practice and died in poverty.

At the same time, others sought new technologies which, like the camera, could extend human senses and without human intervention conclusively reveal the existence of life beyond the grave. These individuals brought all the technologies of their day: magnetism, electricity and steam to bear on the challenge of revealing the existence of life beyond the grave.

The images presented here document some of these inventors and their creations used to manifest discarnate spirits. We may doubt the truthfulness of their claims, but one thing is certain: the camera does indeed let us see the dead again, not as ghostly manifestations, but as meaningful and precious documents of those that once lived.