Saturday, January 25, 2014


As a photographic restoration artist for over 35 years and dealing with thousands of images, I have come across my fair share of torn, moldy, faded, damaged old photos and have had some very bizarre requests for photo projects.
With knowledge of restoration comes a understanding of the techniques, materials and learning the age of the photos I've had in  in my possession for a short time. Some times I've been able to clear up are family mysteries; like the time I had a client not understanding why a group photo of her father, grandfather and great-grandfather could be in the same picture together with different period of suits on them. "How could they be wearing such different and outdated outfits if the photo was taken at the same time?" she asked me.
"That's because the group photo wasn't taken at the same time," was my reply. 
Very simply, I explained, the photographer had 3 different photos of the men (through the different eras spanning 40 years) and superimposed or made a vignette of them together as a group, making them appear the same size and same sepia tone to match and unify the composition. In fact, I pointed out the remains of a background near her grandfather's leg with a pedestal that didn't belong there (that the photographer missed cropping out).

She was surprised that photographers years ago (the birth of photography dates to the early 1840's) had the ability to do that and indeed they had great talent and abilities with the materials and methods (some lost to the ages) at their disposal and some adopted clever tricks with their equipment to gain success and fame. One of the most popular of them was Spirit Photography which has a strong history dating back to the late 19th century.

What is Spirit Photography?
It is a type of photography whose primary attempt is to capture images of ghosts and other spiritual entities, especially in ghost hunting using the current camera equipment of the time.

Spirit photography was first used by William H. Mumler in the 1860s.  Mumler discovered the technique by accident, after he discovered a second person in a photograph he took of himself, which he found was actually a double exposure. Seeing there was a market for it, Mumler started working as a medium, taking people's pictures and doctoring the negatives to add lost loved ones into them (mostly using other photographs as basis).
One of Mumler's most famous images, purportedly showing Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her husband, Abraham Lincoln.
In my artist's opinion Lincoln looks to be more of an artist's charcoal drawing rendered onto the background after the first image of Mrs. Lincoln was taken.The high quality cotton rag paper used at the time for photographing images would lend itself a perfectly surface to the medium of charcoal and the whites of the hands could be another person's hands-double exposed or sketched with white pencil or chalk. Mumler's fraud was discovered after he put identifiable living Boston residents in the photos as spirits. Not a very smart thing to do!

Other spirit photographers also started to sell their "other worldly" photographs. A later spirit photographer was Fred A. Hudson, who took many spirit photographs for spiritualists in 1872. Through the 1880s into the early 20th century spirit photography remained popular, with notable proponents such as Arthur Conan Doyle (famed author and creator of Sherlock Homes) and William Crookes.William Stainton Moses, another spiritualist, claimed that spirit photography operated by means of a fluid substance called ectoplasm, in which the spirits take form.

One of the later spirit photographers was William Hope (1863–1933).

An early photo by William Hope pro-portly showing a spirit forming out of ectoplasm or he's having a really bad hair day!.

A psychical researcher Harry Price revealed that the photographs of Hope were frauds. Price secretly marked Hope's photographic plates, and provided him with a packet of additional plates that had been covertly etched with the brand image of the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd. in the knowledge that the logo would be transferred to any images created with them. Unaware that Price had tampered with his supplies, Hope then attempted to produce a number of Spirit photographs. Although Hope produced several images of spirits, none of his materials contained the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd logo, or the marks that Price had put on Hope's original equipment, showing that he had exchanged prepared materials containing fake spirit images for the provided materials.

This image shows two Welsh mediums sitting for a photo in 1920 with the image of their deceased grandmother above them – or supposedly so. (poor man, looks like he could suffocate.) The mediums claimed that it is the only image of their grandmother there was. Hope is likely to have just superimposed a photograph of the woman over theirs to create the illusion.

Another example we see the eerie appearance of an ethereal woman's face to the right of the man, a ghost said to be the man's deceased first wife. Many believe Hope either already had a picture of the woman or asked the man for a picture to help him contact her in the 'ether-world' of the spirits.
William Hope continued his work all his life but had another major denunciation in 1932 when Fred Barlow, a former supporter, gave a speech to the Society for Psychical Research, concluding that he was fraudulently placing other images over the people seated in his photographs. Hope died in 1933, so it is hard to say if this had any effect on his reputation at the time.

Here we have a group in the middle of a seance, taken in about 1920. It's spooky effect makes it look like the table is levitating, though the most likely scenario is that the image of a mystical arm has been double exposed onto the picture.

In his book Fifty Years of Psychical Research, Price listed many spirit photographers who had been exposed as frauds. Price who had spent most of his life studying psychical phenomena wrote that "There is no good evidence that a spirit photograph has ever been produced." Which is also the view of most psychical researchers today, but research in this field is being taken very seriously by members of the paranormal a community and likely to advance to unexpected discoveries with the advent of new equipment and techniques.

Who knows? Perhaps William Mumler,William Hope and the others really did find that there is more to life than we can see with the naked eye! Although unlikely, they did a good job in the days before digital photography to conjure up "ghosts"!

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Haunted house stories abound, but tales of haunted paintings are far less common. It seems most ghosts prefer spacious mansions and sprawling cemeteries to the limited space found in a framed portrait or painting. However, not all ghosts limit themselves to traditional haunting grounds. Here are four haunted paintings and the paranormal activity that made them famous.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - this is one of the earliest writings(classic) that deal with a haunted painting. The book tells the story of a beautiful, innocent young man's seduction, moral corruption, and eventual downfall. When painter Basil Hallward and his close friend, Lord Henry Wotton, are discussing the subject of Basil's newest painting, a gorgeous young thing named Dorian Gray. Basil and Henry discuss just how perfectly perfect Dorian is – he's totally innocent and completely good, as well as being the most beautiful guy ever to walk the earth. Lord Henry wants to meet this mysterious boy, but Basil doesn't want him to; for some reason, he's afraid of what will happen to Dorian if Lord Henry digs his claws into him. However, Lord Henry gets his wish – Dorian shows up that very afternoon, and, over the course of the day, Henry manages to totally change Dorian's perspective on the world. From that point on, Dorian's previously innocent point of view is dramatically different – he begins to see life as Lord Henry does, as a succession of pleasures in which questions of good and evil are irrelevant. 
     As the years progress Dorian lives a hedonistic life that includes the cruel breakup of his engagement to Sybil Vane, a young, beautiful and talented actress which results in her suicide, the later murders of the painter, Basil and Sybil's brother, the painting that is now hidden but documents this turn for the worst is the portrait, which alarmingly begins to exhibit the inward corruption of Dorian's soul; the beautiful image changes, revealing new scars and physical flaws with each of Dorian's dastardly actions. 
     As years pass, the man in the picture grows more and more hideous, as Dorian himself stays unnaturally young and beautiful. 
Dorian decides to destroy the picture, the visible evidence of his dreadful crimes, and the closest thing to a conscience he has. Dorian slashes at the painting with the same knife that killed Basil, trying to destroy the work as he did the artist.
      A terrible cry alerts the servants and they go upstairs to check it out, and are horrified by what they find: a portrait of their master, as beautiful as ever, hangs on the wall, and a mysterious, grotesquely hideous dead man is lying on the floor with a knife in his heart. Upon close examination, the rings on the dead man's hand identify him as Dorian Gray!

Notice the Egyptian Cat that was suppose to have granted Dorian's wish to remain young forever

The film was shot in black and white but views of the painting were shown in color. For the final view of Dorian’s decayed portrait he commissioned the hyper-real artist Ivan Albright (1897–1983) whose shockingly grotesque picture (below) provides a memorable climax to the film. That painting now resides in the Art Institute of Chicago

Portrait of Bernardo de Galvez

A number of spirits reportedly haunt The Hotel Galvez in Galveston, TX. However, the stories surrounding the portrait of Bernardo de Galvez are some of the most chilling.

Born in 1746, Bernardo de Galvez was a Spanish military leader who aided the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. Bernando, who died in 1786, is also Galveston’s namesake.

A portrait of Bernando de Galvez hangs at the end of a downstairs hallway at Hotel Galvez. Legend has it the portrait’s painted eyes follow guests as they walk by. People who approach the painting often feel chilled or uneasy. The portrait’s haunted reputation naturally appeals to tourists who try to photograph the painting. However, it seems guests can’t get a clear photo unless they ask Bernando for permission. A paranormal investigation team snapped a picture of the infamous portrait, but the photo was marred by a skeletal image. Perhaps they forgot to ask the long-dead Bernando for his consent to be photographed?

“The Hands Resist Him,”

a.k.a. the “eBay Haunted Painting” is one of the world’s most haunted works of art by Bill Stoneham. The painting features a boy and creepy doll standing in front of a glass paneled door. 
Stoneham created the painting in 1972, and The Godfather actor John Marley purchased it a few years later. A couple in California eventually acquired the painting and put on eBay in February 2000. Though the painting is creepy, the story behind it is even more so.

According to the couple, the figures in the painting moved around at night and even left the canvas altogether. However, the boy and doll didn’t simply disappear from view. They entered the room in which the painting was displayed. It seems the artwork’s curse didn’t just affect the owners. People who viewed the painting online reported feeling sick and faint. Some people claimed their children ran away screaming after seeing “The Hands Resist Him,” while others claimed to be gripped by an unseen entity. One person tried to print a downloaded image of the painting, but their brand new printer refused to cooperate.

An art gallery in Grand Rapids, MI purchased the painting for just over $1,000 and eventually tracked down Bill Stoneham. The artist was surprised by the haunting stories, but did note that the gallery owner who displayed the “The Hands Resist Him,” and the art critic who reviewed it, both died within a year of viewing the painting. Stoneham has since painted two sequel works, “Resistance at the Threshold” and “Threshold of Revolution.”

BBC, Wikipedia

The Anguished Man -Artist Unknown

In 2010, a man named Sean Robinson reported strange activity in his home. Sean blamed the eerie events on a painting known as “The Anguished Man” and set up a camera to share the paranormal activity with viewers.

According to Robinson, his grandmother originally owned the painting and believed it was cursed. She told Sean she saw dark figures near the painting and heard moans and cries in the night. She also claimed the artist had committed suicide after finishing “The Anguished Man” and that he had mixed his own blood with the paint. Sean inherited the painting after his grandmother’s death and experienced the strange events for himself. Videos Robinson uploaded to YouTube show slamming doors, rising smoke, EVPs and the painting falling from a wall. 

Many viewers, however, are far from impressed. Robinson uploaded the last video on December 15, 2011. 
Did the activity die down or was it all just a hoax? You decide?

Reflections of an artist

As an artist myself I deal with the wonderful creative and tactile aspect of putting paint to canvas, or pencil to paper to illustrate or convey my emotional approach to a subject I decide is worth further exploration perhaps in a way other people may never seen before. The process is a mysterious one of putting yourself into a "zone" of creative burning fire that takes over you as you loose track of time, loss of appetite and the desire to eat and even wearing the same old paint splattered clothes with no thought of fashion. People look everyday at the world and all the things around them- but do they really see. 

Portraits are a powerful statement even if you don't know the person. Their spirits could still be attached to this great moment of triumph of recognition. They are frozen in time and for all history. Think of a self portrait by van Gogh, or by Rembrandt, or the Mona Lisa. We view them even today and feel a powerful even visceral connection to their lives.Who are we to think that the artist, the environment and gift of creative energy bringing an emotional psychic connection between artist and the subject share- just dissipates after the commission? Perhaps not. Creative energy can never be destroyed; it continues it's journey in the Universe looking for it's next Muse!