You won’t believe the spirits hidden in these photos

by Liam McCabe

posted Friday, April 11, 2014 at 1:31 PM EDT

Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries

For as long as photos have existed, photographers have been altering their shots, and viewers believing what they want to believe. But it’s hard to understand how anybody could be convinced by the "ghostly presences” in these particular photos.

A post over at the Slate Vault explores the dubious history of “spirit photography” and the “mediums” that practiced it, like brothers Craig and George Falconer. In their traveling show, which ran in the years following World War I, the brothers would let spectators load film into a camera and then sit for a photograph—and, gasp, spirits appeared in the prints.

The Falconers' photos usually featured a “ghostly presence” suspended in “ectoplasm” that somehow appeared to “float" on top of the otherwise typical portraits. Today, we recognize these phenomena as “paper cut-outs of a face” arranged in “cotton” in one-half of a "double exposure.” The show came to an end in 1931, when police in South Africa arrested the duo. Although, according to Slate, the pair were only fined and subsequently resumed their "craft." 

Photos: Courtesy Swann Auction Gallery

A collection of the Falconer brothers’ work will go on sale at Swann Auction Galleries in New York on April 17, and is estimated to sell for somewhere between $1,000 and $1,500—not bad for a hoodwink!

(Via Slate Vault)