Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sepia Saturday - Ghost Photographs

Today's Sepia Saturday Suggestion
shows a pair of extraordinary examples of (probably) deliberate double exposures or perhaps just a bit of darkroom juggling of a couple of negatives.

LOST GALLERY updated a page of (probably) accidental Double Exposures just a few days ago. Here's a couple samples below and right.

Triple exposure
Pretty maids all in a row

So today, for Sepia Saturday, LOST GALLERY has some photographs of some other kinds of ghosts.

ALERT: If Memorial Cards featuring deceased individuals are distasteful to you, skip the first four photographs.

Or just click on one of the above photographs and go to the page about double exposures and skip this page.

The first examples are real live dead ghosts. The post mortem photograph or more delicately, the Memorial Photograph, was a popular idea starting from when camera's were invented back in the mid 1800's and eventually lost popularity near the end of the 19th century.

According to Mary Warner Marien, "postmortem photography flourished in photography's early decades, among clients who preferred to capture an image of a deceased loved one rather than have no photograph at all." (from Wiki)

Many of these "late" photographs were posed to make the deceased look still living. That didn't work usually but if it did, how could we tell now?

In the example at the right, if the sunken eyes of the seated man don't convince you that he's deceased, look at the expression on the woman's face.

Oh dad, poor dad.

Girl and baby

This one is a tintype with a bit of a rusted corner and a serious crease in the metal backing.

One cannot help but feel the sadness in this one. The photograph probably was indeed the alternative to having "no photograph at all."

There were many opinions on whether this is a post mortem photograph or not. The little girl's face certainly tells how she feels about the whole situation.

One could argue this photograph might not be a post mortem memorial. The instructions to the photographer on the reverse seem to indicate a head/shoulders crop was the wish.
On the reverse:
Mrs C. E. Manning
Wellsville No.3
Gennessee PA R. F. D.
1 Crayon
Bust Measure
Remove Chair

If they were going to all that trouble for a head/shoulder portrait why not just take another picture? P0ssibly because the woman was no longer available to pose.

Woman and chair
Woman and chair

Gone and unfortunately, forgotten.

There's probably no doubt about this example. He's even lying down.

There is an additional sad element about this photograph. It was found, marred and wrinkled, in a pile of trash destined for the dumpster. So this youngster is not only gone, he's also forgotten.

Now lets look at a couple REAL ghost photographs. Okay, they are called "ghost images" because they appear on their own, unexpectedly. When old cabinet cards and mounted photographs are stacked together for a long time, sometimes the image of one photograph transfers to the back of the mat board of the photograph just on top of it. It takes a long time for this to happen.

The photograph to the right is not a photograph at all. It is the impression of a photograph on the back of the next photograph up in the stack.

Reverse of Portrait of young man

Trio on matting
reverse of matted portrait

This small photograph of a family trio was stacked on a photograph of a lovely woman. She looks like Jean Simmons, the movie star.


Here is another example of the ghostly transfer, except the imprint has gone the other way. The back of a postcard (probably an RPPC) has transferred to the face of this photograph of three women. The ink on the postcard apparently leeched the emulsion from the photograph and left ghostly white reversed lettering that appears to be floating between the trio and the camera.
...and the girls appear to be reading it.

Cabinet Card woman

While the reverse side of this young lady's portrait was being enhanced to read the name written there ...

...this uniformed gentleman appeared.

cabinet Card Woman (reverse enhanced)

Below is one more favorite from the LOST GALLERY review of Double Exposures

Ghost car

Who ya gonna call?
Just return to the
Sepia Saturday home page and see what other ghosts might appear.

Bassingbourn 1944 384th Bomber Group, B17 landing
Long lost negatives taken during the winter of 1944-45 at Bassingbourn AAF base in England.

Area 51 and a Half Area 51 and a Half You are probably not authorized to see these.

Don't take my picture! Oh! You DID didn't you! completely unaware of the photographer This is a collection of photographs that disappear on the way home from the photo processing shop.

And don't miss
Cabinet Card Gallery
Square America
Tattered and Lost
Vernacular Photography
The best
sites on the web.

And for postcards try
And see what's going on over at
Sepia Saturday!

All images are the property of Lost Gallery and the author. Permission must be granted for their use. All rights reserved.

THE KIDS Lesson one.
It is always a mystery how a photograph of any of these precious children could end up lost or abandoned. Here are a few. You will probably say "Ooh..." at least once.

Dee and the Business School Dee and the Business School
The beautiful Dee. A curious story; What do you see?

Neiffel and Helvetica Typehigh

"What are they doing?"


  1. Those memorial photos (what a clever euphemism!) are dreadful; I absolutely love the double exposure of the men with the car...especially the one sitting on the fender! Great find...

    1. Thanks Deb Gould. I agree! I am so glad that tradition burned out a century ago. And I am glad to find I am not the only one who saves old double exposures.

  2. I hadn't thought about the transfer of stacked photos as the reason for some of the ghost photos.

    1. Thank you Kathy. Since I discovered the possibility, I look for them. I don't think I have very many. They have to be left in a stack for a very long time for that to happen.

  3. I'm surprised you don't have photos taken in the coffin. Maybe you do -- another post later maybe?? Anyway, best line of the day: real live dead ghosts. Love an oxymoron.

    1. Thanks Wendy. I think I have a couple coffin shots but for this page I was concentrating on photographs where the photographer tried to make it appear the deceased was still living. Glad you had a chuckle.

  4. I don't like the memorial photos at all! They give me a chill. We have one of my husbands grandfather (in the coffin) and I just don't like looking at it! Silly I know!

    1. Thanks Sharon. I completely agree. We have come a long way culturally I hope! Not silly at all.

  5. Post mortem photography seems a very odd idea, but I don't get the impression that that baby in your photograph is dead. I know people these days like to have photos taken of their stillborn babies so that they can remember them. The car photograph is lovely.

    1. Thanks Jo Featherston. You are probably right about the baby. The dealer where I bought it claimed it was a port mortem but I have always been skeptical. It's a very odd idea indeed and I am glad the practice became unpopular. I do think some times the deceased is photographed in a coffin or at a funeral but posing the body like it was still alive might even be illegal now.

  6. Post mortem photography is understandable for the time when it was popular. Ordinary people didn't have cameras to take pictures of their loved ones when they were alive, so wanted something to remember them by. The trouble with that is people seen in a post mortem photograph, or lying in a coffin, no longer look like themselves because their spirit - the thing that truly made them who they were, is no longer there. I remember viewing my Grandmother in her coffin & thinking "That's not her." Her makeup had been gently applied & her hair coiffed with a talented hand. To an unknowing eye she would have appeared as she always did. But to me, without her spirit present, she simply was no longer my Grandmother, just a sort of life size look-a-like doll.

    1. Thanks La Nightingail. I think you have hit the very heart of it. The post mortem photograph lost popularity because they were not effective. They didn't portray the lost loved one at all. I too remember attending a funeral for a friend and wondering if I had arrived at the wrong service. It didn't look like him at all. A post mortem photograph of him would not help me remember him at all.

  7. The man in the chair reminds me of our prompt a couple of weeks ago - he’s defintely a gonner; some of the others I’m not so sure. The ghost car is wonderful.

    1. Thanks Little Nell. The group and the car is certainly one of my most popular rescued photographs. Double exposures are rare because most of the time they get thrown away.



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