The difficulties of producing a nineteenth century spirit photograph revealed with the help of Craig Tuffin and Lisa Clunie!

Last year I was enjoying watching the participants of the Alchemists Workshop make tintypes and salt prints at the ANU School of Art, which they were doing after having their minds blown by the early photography collection of the National Gallery of Australia. The highly knowledgable and highly generous Craig Tuffin, and the intelligent and light hearted Lisa Clunie, agreed to help me in riffing off a carte de visite of the Melbourne spiritualist Dr Walter Lindsey Richardson and a kneeling spirit, taken by the spirit photographer Frederick Hudson in London in 1873-4, and now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. I have previously written about this very important carte de visite, and its reception back in Australia. And I kind of thought I sort of knew how Hudson had made it. But it is only when you are confronted with the task of creating a similar image, under similar conditions and using wet collodion emulsion, as Hudson did (although he used collodion on glass, not metal as we did) that you realize the complexity of detail and organisation which Hudson needed to command. If the exposure was made on one wet plate, and if Richardson was to remain unaware of the presence of the human model for the incarnate spirit, then, while Richardson was detained, perhaps with chatter from an accomplice, in the small waiting room of Hudson’s suburban backyard glasshouse studio, the spirit must have been exposed, but against some kind of moveable black screen. Then both spirit and screen must have been removed out of sight before Richardson was invited to enter the glasshouse. The alternative is a negative sandwich, but to me the similar sharpness of both Richardson and the spirit does not suggest a sandwich.

Craig Tuffin, Lisa Clunie and Martyn Jolly, response to spirit photograph of Dr Richardson by Frederick Hudson, tintype, 2015

Craig Tuffin, Lisa Clunie and Martyn Jolly, response to spirit photograph of Dr Richardson by Frederick Hudson, tintype, 2015

Frederick Hudson, Spirit photograph of Dr Walter Lindsey Richard, carte de visite, 1873-74

Frederick Hudson, Spirit photograph of Dr Walter Lindsey Richardson, carte de visite, 1873-74. Collection: National Gallery of Australia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s