The chemist who made big bucks hoaxing ghost photos

The mid-19th century was the heyday for séances, mediums, and psychics. In Boston, a chemist and silver engraver named William H. Mumler saw an opportunity to mix the hot new technology of photography with paranormal activity to make some big bucks. So he announced that if you sat for a picture in his studio, your dead relative might just turn up for the photo opp. Mumler's secret? Ye olde magical double exposure that he stumbled upon after accidentally taking a self-portrait on an already-used negative. From Mysterious Universe:

Typically, he would take a glass photographic plate that held the image of the dead person in life and simply place it over a new glass plate meant to hold the image of the customer. When the photo was then developed the two images would be fused together into a composite and voila, ghost photo. On many occasions Mumler did not have access to an actual photo of the deceased, and so he got creative, using other figures that were blurred just enough that the client could believe that it was the presence of the lost loved one, easy enough to do with a bereaved, gullible person who is willing to do anything to see them again.[...]

Mumler might have been able to keep this going for many more years if he had been a little more careful. He started producing ever more outlandish ghost photographs, including even one of the dead president Abraham Lincoln photobombing a picture of his wife Mary Todd Lincoln.

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Two far-out books about California counterculture reviewed by Erik Davis

I'm honored that in the latest issue of The Burning Shore, Erik Davis, scholar of West Coast counterculture, reviewed The Family Acid: California, Roger Steffens's far-out photo album I published with my Ozma Records partner Tim Daly! Erik's excellent essay is a double review, also focusing on the Anthology Editions reprint of Dennis Stock's striking California Trip book from 1968.

From Erik Davis's The Burning Shore:

Steffens’s use of multiple exposures is perhaps the key gesture here. The decision to re-expose film is a dice throw, an act of faith in the playfulness of multiple perspectives and the value of subjecting an already captured image to the serendipity of leaps through time. Such images are also, of course, hallucinatory, and some of Steffens’ are trippy as shit. They not only recall the formal and symbolic palimpsests of psychedelic vision, but loop the question of the photographic object back into the eye of the beholder: seeing these impossible scenes, we glimpse our own seeing, our own congealing of reality from the virtual.

Other Family Acid images feature artifacts like diffraction spikes, iridescent orbs, and weird lensing effects. (Check out the cover shot up top, which juxtaposes the classic clerestory light of redwood groves with a mandalic UFO flare.) These are special effects, my friends, evidence of that hippie will to hack media tech in the quest for unusual experiences. They also recall the more sacred lights you can only chance upon, in the strangest of places if you look at em right, those wink-wink psychedelic glimmers that occasionally illuminate parking lots, or crumpled beer cans, or goofball commercial signage—Phil Dick’s “trash stratum,” temporarily kindled into something high and holy and wholly profane.[...]

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Charity auction of Andy Warhol's Polaroid photos and snapshots to benefit artists

“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you," Andy Warhol said.

A collection of Warhol's Polaroid photos and snapshots are up for auction at Christie's to benefit the Andy Warhol Foundation’s emergency relief fund for artists. The body of work is title "Better Days."

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Tape as a COVID-19 design intervention

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SkyVille @ Dawson / 16 April 2020

A post shared by Observing Safe Distancing 👀🇸🇬 (@tape_measures) on Apr 17, 2020 at 4:00am PDT

Tape_measures is a fantastic Instagram account of photographs documenting how tape is being used as a design intervention to direct physical distancing in Singapore.

(via Kottke)

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Marsiling Drive / 14 April 2020 [📷: @kwokyt]

A post shared by Observing Safe Distancing 👀🇸🇬 (@tape_measures) on Apr 15, 2020 at 7:36am PDT

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Serangoon Avenue 3 / 11 April 2020 [📷: @graysfoo]

A post shared by Observing Safe Distancing 👀🇸🇬 (@tape_measures) on Apr 14, 2020 at 5:05am PDT

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Ngee Ann City / 6 April 2020 [📷: @hemanchong] — #HemanChong

A post shared by Observing Safe Distancing 👀🇸🇬 (@tape_measures) on Apr 8, 2020 at 11:03pm PDT

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Toilet, Bras Basah Complex / 5 April 2020 [📷: @punkturedfunktion]

A post shared by Observing Safe Distancing 👀🇸🇬 (@tape_measures) on Apr 7, 2020 at 7:00am PDT

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Some very weird stock photos

deMilked posted a fine selection of the "50 Weirdest Stock Photos You Won’t Be Able To Unsee." Many more at Bored Panda's archival post "177 Completely WTF Stock Photos You Won’t Be Able To Unsee." And for a constant stream, there's always r/WTFStockPhotos!

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Locked-down wedding photographer shoots beautiful LEGO wedding

UK wedding photographer Chris Wallace is on lockdown like so many of us. To keep his creativity alive, he staged and photographed a fantastic LEGO wedding. You can see the photos and Wallace's narration of the nuptials over at Petapixel. It looks more romantic and fun than many real weddings I've attended!

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Unreal photos of foggy streets dreamily illuminated with stoplights

Photographer Lucas Zimmerman captured these dreamy long-exposure shots on foggy streets near Weimar, Germany. He followed up on the original 2013 series a few years later with Traffic Lights 2.0.

"...Photography shows us things we otherwise overlook, such as a simple traffic light on the street," Zimmerman says. "An all-known object, which produces a strong effect in an unnatural situation with a simple photographic setup."

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Photo of boxing orangutan wins wildlife photography award

Yesterday, I posted Sam Rowley's fantastic photo of two brawling mice on a subway platform that won the London Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People's Choice award. Also in the animals-that-fight vein is Aaron Gekoski's photo of a pugilist orangutan, a beautiful and ultimately tragic image that earned Gekoski a Highly Commended award in the Natural History Museum's competition. From the photo caption:

Orangutans have been used in degrading performances at Safari World, Bangkok – and many other locations – for decades. The shows were temporarily stopped in 2004 due to international pressure, but today the shows continue – twice a day, every day – with hundreds of people paying to watch the orangutans box, dance, play the drums and more.

Image: Aaron Gekoski/Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. Read the rest

Photo of mice brawling on a subway platform wins wildlife photography award

Sam Rowley's fantastic image of mice brawling over crumbs on a London Underground platform won the London Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People's Choice award.

"With the majority of the world living in urban areas and cities now, you have to tell the story about how people relate to wildlife," Rowley told CNN.

Over the course of a week, Rowley staked out multiple train stations each night to find the shot.

Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, Sir Michael Dixon said that the image "provides a fascinating glimpse into how wildlife functions in a human-dominated environment."

The mice's behaviour is sculpted by our daily routine, the transport we use and the food we discard. This image reminds us that while we may wander past it every day, humans are inherently intertwined with the nature that is on our doorstep – I hope it inspires people to think about and value this relationship more."

Image: Sam Rowley/Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. Read the rest

Woman used badly photoshopped image to convince boss she had a flat tire

Twitter user @sydneywhitson reported that "her coworker called in (yet again) and said she had a nail on her tire that caused her to have a flat" and reportedly sent in the above photo as evidence. Zoomed version below. Of course, Twitter delighted in the stupidity.

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Absolutely magnificent black-and-white photos of trees in the fog

These are just a small sample of Michael Schlegel's glorious photographs of trees in Fanal, the laurisilva forest of Madeira, Portugal. The otherworldly images reassure me with their quiet calm.

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This is the first known family photo taken at Stonehenge

According to a new exhibition titled "Your Stonehenge -- 150 years of personal photos," this image of was taken at the Wiltshire, England's magical megalithic structure in 1875 and depicts the family of Isabel, Maud and Robert Routh. Personally, I wouldn't be so sure those aren't Zippies on their way to a rave in 1994.

"People have been visiting Stonehenge for centuries, for all sorts of reasons, and taking photos of themselves and their loved ones in front of the stones since the very earliest days of photography," Susan Greaney, a historian at English Heritage, the organization that manages Stonehenge, told CNN. Read the rest

Vintage UFO photos sold at auction, including the one from The X-Files "I Want To Believe" poster

In the 1970s, "Billy" Eduard Albert Meier documented the extraterrestrials who visited him by taking fantastic photographs of their spacecraft zooming over the Swiss countryside. Meier, founder of Freie Interessengemeinschaft für Grenz- und Geisteswissenschafter und Ufologiestudien (Free Community of Interests for the Border and Spiritual Sciences and Ufological Studies) says the spacecraft are called "beamships" and that they are piloted by beings called the Plejaren. Meier's ex-wife has since said that the UFOs in the photos are actually household objects and that Meier is a fibber, but, well, I want to believe. And in fact, one of Meier's photos was the source for Fox Mulder's "I Want To Believe" poster on The X-Files. That original snapshot and more than a dozen others just sold at a Sotheby's auction with one collection of six photos going for $16,250. From Sotheby's:

The second grouping includes two photographs which appear to show a single UFO moving slowly over the town of Berg Rumlikon, in Switzerland on June 14th, 1975 at 1:16 and 1:20 pm, and four images depicting a single UFO in a forested hilly area of Schmidrüti, Switzerland on March 18th, 1975, from 4:45 to 5:40 pm.

One of these photographs became perhaps the most famous and notorious UFO image of all time when 'The X-Files' chose it to appear in the famous "I Want to Believe" poster.

The poster hung in Mulder's office for the first three seasons of the show, but was changed in the 4th season due to an intellectual property suit brought by Meier, as the creators of the show never obtained permission to use the image.

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Photo proof: Greta Thunberg is a time traveler who has come here to save us from ourselves

Found in the the University of Washington Libraries's Special Collections, this c.1898 photo of badass climate activist Greta Thunberg proves that she is a time traveler who is here to save us from ourselves. Or, perhaps Twitter user @bucketofmoney is correct: "The Greta Thunberg time-travel conspiracy theorists have got it wrong: the photo is from the future."

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Robert Doisneau's famous street photo "The Kiss" was actually staged

In 1950, French street photographer Robert Doisneau captured his iconic image Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (The Kiss). It wasn't until the 1980s that Doisneau was forced to reveal that the photo was staged. Over at PetaPixel, Martin from All About Street Photography writes:

To be fair, Doisneau was actually commissioned to take photos of kissing couples by Life magazine, and he later justified his actions by explaining that he would not dare to photograph kissing people on the streets.

The fact is that the secret was actually hidden to the public until the 1980s, when a retired couple named Jean and Denise Lavergne (Lavern) thought they recognized themselves. When they confronted Doisneau, he did not initially refute their claim. Then, seizing the opportunity, the couple sued Doisneau for money for violating their privacy. That lawsuit led Doisneau to finally reveal that the subjects of the photo were actually hired models paid to pose for the photo.

To make matters worse for the photographer, the hired model sued him too and demanded a percentage of future sales, but she lost. This was a very unpleasant and shocking experience that, as his daughter later said, “ruined the last years of his life.”

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The real reason people in old photos are almost never smiling

I always thought that the reason people look so grim in antique photos is because it would have been exhausting to hold a smile for long exposures that I imagined were required by ye olde cameras. Nope! From the always-informative Smithsonian magazine:

...Exposures from the early days of commercial photography only lasted about 5 to 15 seconds. The real reason is that, in the mid-19th century, photography was so expensive and uncommon that people knew this photograph might be the only one they’d ever have made. Rather than flash a grin, they often opted to look thoughtful and serious, a carry-over from the more formal conventions of painted portraiture, explains Ann Shumard, senior curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.

According to Shumard, it wasn't until Eastman-Kodak founder George Eastman's 1888 invention of the mass market portable camera that informal snapshots of smiling people became common.

"Why Don’t People Smile in Old Photographs? And More Questions From Our Readers" (Smithsonian)

image: Eugene Pelletan portrait c.1855 by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon Read the rest

Vintage found photos of robots

Esteemed collector of vernacular photography Robert E. Jackson curated this delightful collection of snapshots depicting the history of our robotic future. See more: "15 Fabulous Vintage Snapshots Of Robots"

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