Taking of Spirit Photographs

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Taking of Spirit Photographs is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Evening Standard on 9 august 1922.

Taking of Spirit Photographs

Evening Standard (9 august 2022, p. 10)




Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes a further letter to the "Evening Standard" replying to some comments by our contributor "The Looker On" in his article on July 17 on the testing of spirit photographs.

"The Looker On" dealt with a pamphlet, "Cold Light on Spiritualistic 'Phenomena,'" written by Mr. Harry Price, of the Society for Psychical Research. Mr. Price put to the test some photographs produced by the well-known medium, Mr. William Hope, of the famous "Crewe Circle."

Two photographs were taken of Mr. Price by Mr. Hope, and when the developing was done on one of these there appeared, in addition to Mr. Price, a "spirit" "extra" — a young woman with down-hanging hair.

Mr. Price stated that he had had four plates invisibly and indelibly marked by means of X-rays, and it was his contention that when examined later the plate was found to be not one of those so treated.

"The Looker On" expressed the view that Mr. Hope ought to explain and meet the position as set forth by Mr. Price. He also intimated that he would like to hear what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as an eminent spiritualist, had to say on the matter.

Sir Arthur's Reply.

Sir Arthur has now written to us as follows:—

"Some little time ago you challenged me as to what I had to say upon this subject. I answered that I would write to you when fuller information was available. The case is not yet complete. When it is a pamphlet will appear covering all the facts. This should be ready in the course of the autumn.

"In the meantime I take advantage of your having broached the subject in order to ask the public not to form premature conclusions about a man whom I believe to be grievously wronged, and who has no access to those legal means of redress which every Briton should command. These attacks would be much more circumspect if it was not understood that a medium in the present state of public knowledge enters a court with a crushing disadvantage.

"While preparing a fuller statement, it is only fair to Mr. Hope to say at once that all the investigation which has been undertaken by his friends tends to show that the pamphlet issued with such indecent haste before he had any opportunity of furnishing a defence, is a document which will not for a moment stand impartial scrutiny.

Were the Marks Permanent?

"The accusation, it will be remembered, was that the psychic photograph should have appeared upon a marked plate, since all the plates in the packet had been exposed to an X-ray process, without undoing the wrapper, which would leave certain marks upon them. The psychic photograph did finally appear upon an unmarked plate, and this was taken to be an absolute proof that the plates had been changed by Hope. There were several minor points, but this was predominant, and if this be eliminated the rest of the case becomes trivial.

"We can claim now that this point has been eliminated. The investigators, Mr. Price and Mr. Seymour, acting as the agents of Mr. Dingwall of the Psychical Research Society, neglected to test the fact whether the X-ray markings were permanent or not.

"One can excuse the others, but it really seems incredible that Mr. Dingwall, a so-called research officer, could have endorsed work which was done in so slovenly and unscientific a fashion.

"Every effort was made to blast a man's good name and undo the effects of fifteen years of psychic demonstration upon the strength of an allegation which could easily have been tested, and which, when tested, has proved to be a complete fallacy.

Other Experiments.

"Experiments made in several quarters by similar plates marked in the same fashion by the same firm, have shown that an exposure up to 15-seconds in a good photographic light leaves the marks intact. Beyond that point the marks fade and disappear, so that the plate becomes quite blank, though with a still longer exposure, say 25 seconds, the marks return in an inverted form.

"Now, Mr. Price has left it on record that though the period of exposure was not taken (imagine this in a scientific experiment!) he counted slowly up to 19, so that by his own showing the exposure was just long enough to reach the point where the marks would disappear — and with them disappears all the main evidence, so far as at present revealed, upon which the case rests.

To be Thrashed Out.

"I will not encroach upon your space at present with the smaller points, as they are trivial in themselves, and will be fully dealt with in the pamphlet. It was felt, however, by Mr. Hope's friends that this interim statement should be issued, lest judgment should go by default. The matter will not be avoided, but will be thoroughly thrashed out in the most public way that can be found. Meanwhile, it is to be remembered that against the mere assertion of his enemies, Mr. Hope has sworn his affidavit as to his complete innocence of the alleged fraud.