Hudson, Frederick A. (ca. 1877)

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Hudson, Frederick A. (ca. 1877)

The first British exponent of spirit photography. In March 1872 Samuel Guppy and his wife, Agnes Guppy-Volckman, who made several unsuccessful experiments to obtain psychic photographs in their own home, went on an impulse to Hudson's studio, which was nearby. A white patch resembling the outline of a draped figure was obtained behind Mr. Guppy's portrait. The experiment was repeated with increasing success.

After report of these pictures spread, the accusation of imposture soon arose, but, according to Alfred Russel Wallace, even those who were most emphatic about fraud believed that a large number of genuine pictures were taken. Wallace obtained two different portraits of his mother, representing two different periods and unlike any photograph taken during her life.

William Howitt obtained the likeness of two deceased sons, one of whom even the friend who accompanied him was ignorant. A Dr. Thompson obtained the extra of a lady whom his uncle in Scotland identified as the likeness of Thompson's mother. She had died in childbirth and no picture of her remained.

The editor of the British Journal of Photography investigated, using his own collodion and new plates. He found abnormal appearances on the pictures. Nevertheless, from time to time Hudson was caught cheating. Once he was exposed by Stainton Moses, for whom he produced many spirit photographs that agreed with his clairvoyant visions. To play the part of the ghost, Hudson occasionally dressed up or made double exposures. The duplication of the pattern of the carpet and other parts of the background showing through the legs of the sitter and of the ghost was ingeniously explained by refractionthe spirits being quoted as saying that the spirit aura differs in density and refracting power from the ordinary terrestrial atmosphere. Such resourceful explanations, coupled with the belief that Hudson produced many genuine spirit photographs, helped to reestablish his shaken credibility.

However, according to psychical researcher Harry Price, in his book Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter (1936; reprinted in 1974), Hudson used an ingenious camera manufactured by Howell, a famous London maker of conjuring apparatus. This camera was of the old square wooden type and contained a light metal frame that in its normal position rested on the bottom of the smaller of the camera's two telescopic portions. This frame held a waxed paper positive of the desired ghostly "extra." When the dark slide was pushed into the camera, it actuated a lever, raising the frame to a vertical position in contact with the photographic plate. When the picture was taken, the extra image was also printed on the plate. When the plate was drawn out of the camera the frame automatically fell back to its hidden position.

Fifty-four "spirit photographs" taken in this way are reproduced in the book Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings, by Georgina Houghton (1882).


Price, Harry. Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter. London: Putnam, 1936. Reprint, New York: Causeway Books, 1974.

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Hudson, Frederick A. (ca. 1877)

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