Psychic Photographs. Sir A. Conan Doyle and the Negatives

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Psychic Photographs is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Yorkshire Weekly Post on 8 october 1921.

Psychic Photographs

Sir A. Conan Doyle and the Negatives

Sir, — In your courteous review of my book Wanderings of a Spiritualist - which by the way costs 12s 6d. not 18s. as marked in your paper your reviewer comments upon my refusal to produce negatives for the Auckland photographers and adds "Is it to be assumed that this is the end of the matter?"

It is evident that I could not carry negatives which did not belong to me all round the world, but the objection is removed now that I am home again, and I will gladly assist your critic or any other competent observer to apply in the proper quarter for a sight of any of these negatives.

The fairy negatives are kept by Mr. E.L. Gardner, 5, Craven Road, Harlesden, N.W., who has had them inspected by several of the first authorities in England, who have found no flaw in them. When one considers that these are the first photographs which these children ever took in their lives it is impossible to conceive that they are capable of technical manipulation which would deceive experts.

As regards purely psychic or spirit pictures a large selection — some of which I hope to exhibit shortly in Leeds — are in the hands of Mr. F. Barlow, Bryntirion, Springfield Road, Moseley, Birmingham, who would also, I am sure, assist any honest critic by allowing him access to negatives.

The matter is complicated by the absolute ignorance of the average photographer as to psychic science, or the results of the accumulated experience since the historic day in 1861, when Mumler of Boston received the first extra upon a plate. What can you do with men who have never heard of psychographs, and do not know what you mean when you talk about matters which are at the very root of the subject? A psychograph is a picture which produces a photographic effect without having been exposed to light at all, the image being impressed in some way which is unknown to our present science, but possibly vaguely analogous to the present long distance wireless reproductions of faces. I have myself at Crewe received the impression upon a plate which I brought myself and handled myself, of the face of a sister who died 30 years ago, in a dark slide which was held between our hands and never put into the camera or opened. Such a psychograph —and I believe the normal psychic photograph is such — is independent of the laws of light, so that one can imagine how utterly at sea a photographic critic would be who judged its authenticity by shadows or any such tests. Mr. Traill Taylor made an exhaustive study of these psychic photos, using his own apparatus and chemicals. He was Editor of the Journal of British Photography and a non-Spiritualist. He received many extras under test conditions, but he observed that when he used a stereoscopic camera all else came out rounded, but the psychic face came out flat — showing that they were direct impressions upon the plate and not objective. I hope to show some of Traill Taylor's results in Leeds.

The photographic phenomena are only a small branch of a great subject, but they are important because they are the only proofs which can be shown to a large audience. It is difficult and unseemly to produce actual mediumistic results upon a public platform. In considering this particular pathway which leads to the central knowledge, I would implore your readers to put aside for ever those explanations of "fake" with which the public has so long been gulled. They are inexpressibly absurd to anyone who has actually worked upon the subject, and who is acquainted with those men of sanity and honour who testify to the facts. On the other hand there is a broad margin of thought form production which does afford reasonable ground for debate, especially when taken in conjunction with ectoplasmic moulds. Making every possible allowance for thought forms — as every cautious investigator has done — you come at last to the question whose thought, and the answer to that is the real crux of the question. Most of us, like Dr. Crawford, are forced to the absolute acceptance of the independent intelligent unseen co-operator, even when he produces, as he sometimes does, pictures which are reminiscent of, or facsimiles of, models which already exist. The problems are many, but mere stupid negation will not help us forward.

Yours, etc.,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, Sept. 30, 1921.