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William Hope: Spirit Photographer

He saw dead people – but only through a camera lens.

Way before the Long Island Medium started making house calls, spirit wrangler William Hope owned a disreputable-yet-thriving practice conjuring deceased loved ones in his London photography studio.

William Hope's life’s work first materialized in 1905, when he claims he captured the wispy image of a spirit in a portrait shot in his hometown of Crewe, England. Whether or not Hope saw a ghost that day was irrelevant; what Hope actually saw was dollar signs. He hand-selected a group of other paranormal photographers, who called themselves the Crewe Circle. Together they began publicizing their special talents to locals who were willing to pay.

Once World War I ended—and scores of soldiers did not return home—Hope’s business really started to soar. He set up shop in London and began turning out some of his most recognized pieces.

In 1922, spiritualist investigator and skeptic Harry Price published an article exposing Hope’s photographs as nothing more than a trick of glass plates etched with ghastly images. To Hope’s relief, notable friends, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, stood up for him, and his clients continued to seek his services  until his death in 1933.

Click through to see Hope’s portraits of the living and dead sitting side-by-side.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

This veiled onlooker was the sister of a man in the Spiritualist Church in England.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

A disembodied hand reaches up to hold the table during communication with the other side.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

The two brothers featured in the photograph were fellow mediums from Wales.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

The sitter booked the photo session to try to contact his stillborn daughter Rose. Unfortunately, his portrait only includes the impression of his deceased father, not his child.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

A husband and wife have each other for company, and a friendly spirit protecting them.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

The bright light around this apparition was caused by extreme overexposure, blowing out details on the subject's face.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

Since most portrait subjects kept such serious expressions, this ghost?s smile is especially unnerving.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

The photographer's friends did an outdoor session and were surprised to capture an image of their deceased son behind the wheel of their car.

william hope spirit photography
  • Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Media Museum / Flickr Commons

The National Media Museum says the back of this photograph is inscribed with two questions: ?Why is the child always pushing to the front?? and ?Do we get messages from the higher spirits??

Published on 30 Sep 2014

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