Robert Boursnell (England, 1832-1909)

Couple with the Spirit of an Old Family Doctor who Died Around 1880

Collodion print, 4 x 5.75 inches

January 3, 1893

Boursnell claimed to have made spirit photographs as early as 1853, when "extras" appeared on portraits he was taking. The photographer, it was said, did not recognize the supernormal nature of these interlopers and blamed their appearance on improper cleaning of the glass used in the negative. One day, in a fit of anger, he dashed the negative to the floor, damning both the glass and the people who appeared on it. The "extras" did not return until 1886, when Boursnell became acquainted with spiritualism.

Because spirit photographers and mediums were subject to prosecution in Great Britain, Boursnell handed a printed slip to his patrons which denied the "extras" were spirits--instead, it proclaimed, they were "shadows in the background." Critics charged that the same spirits appeared unchanged in different photographs, a sign of fakery. That revelation seems to have made no difference to Boursnell's supporters.

A hundred of Boursnell's spirit photographs were exhibited at the Psychological Society in London, and in 1903 the spiritualists of that city presented the photographer with a signed testimonial and a purse of gold.

The mount of this photograph is inscribed, "Taken by R. Boursnell in London Jan. 3, 1893. The spirit is an old family doctor who died around 1880."




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