In the 1860s, an era fascinated with spiritualism—spirits, the supernatural, messages from the Great Beyond—a small-time engraver named William Mumler realized he could apply the latest technology of his day, photography, to create “spirit photographs.” Almost a visual séance, Mumler’s photographs claimed to reveal the ghosts of loved ones participating in a portrait session. These spirit photographs were highly popular, and Mumler made a small fortune before he was prosecuted for fraud in 1869.
For the full story on Mumler and his spooky images, I recommend reading The Strange Case of William Mumler by Louis Kaplan. Some of the Getty’s Mumler photographs are currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in their exhibition Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop.
Here are five from our collection.