It’s Friday, and sure, I could have been working in the studio or finishing my bookkeeping… but instead I fell into an absolute wormhole, reading about the work of spirit photographer William Hope. And while this doesn’t fall under the category of folklore or mythology, it’s a story that seems fit for The Folklore Files!

Controversial medium and photographer William Hope (1863-1933) was one of the founding members of the Crewe Circle, an early 20th century British group comprised of mediums, spiritualists, and “spirit photographers.” As was common with mediums of the time, the group experienced a swell of popularity following World War I, as grieving relatives sought to contact those lost in the war. By 1922 Hope had established himself in London as a professional medium and spirit photographer, though in the subsequent year was discredited by psychic researcher Harry Price of the Society for Psychical Research, who found evidence of Hope’s tampering with photographic plates.

Price himself became well-known for his work in debunking fraudulent mediums, but what is perhaps most interesting about his work is that he was in fact a believer in the supernatural, and in 1937 Price famously researched Borley Rectory in Essex , describing it as “the most haunted house in England.”

Meanwhile, Hope’s star power remained largely untouched by Price’s exposé, with ardent supporters of his work speaking on his behalf (including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and he continued to practice mediumship until his death in 1933. 

Regardless of its veracity, Hope’s work is indeed enigmatic, and as a former art historian, I am absolutely captivated by his photographic manipulation. However, as an empathetic human, I can’t help but feel that Hope preyed upon the sorrow and desperation in those impacted by the war. Where do you come down on spirit photography? Do you believe in ghosts, and if so, have you ever had an encounter? Do tell! 

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