A Devilish Discovery in Photography

Frontispice, engraving by Cisera, in Madrid al Daguerrotipo (Madrid, 1849) by Barón de Parla-Verdades (pseud.)

Frontispice, engraving by Cisera, in Madrid al Daguerrotipo (Madrid, 1849) by Barón de Parla-Verdades (pseud.)

What better way to begin this year’s Halloween post than with an engraving of the devil making a daguerreotype? I love seeing the tail on the devil, and that on his scribe and on his reclining sidekick. Here is the devil making a daguerreotype of Madrid, Spain, and not of Madrid, Georgia, but I’m sure Mr. Devil of Georgia would look much the same. Of course, we do know that The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

My thanks to Roberto Ferrarihistorian of science and the early photography of Argentina, for pointing out this image, and to William Becker of the American Museum of Photography for noting that the book Madrid al Daguerrotipo containing this image is available for download via Hathi Trust.

In my Halloween post last year (2014), Look Out! It’s Spirits, Bodiless Heads, and Mr. Death of Georgia, I mentioned spirits, ghosts, and apparitions in relation to trick photography, and told you about the career of Harry Death, a Georgia photographer.

In 2013, in my first Halloween post, I discussed photographs made via the eyes of the dead, which was believed to be more than a possibility. Take a look (no pun intended!) and see what you think: Trick or Treat? Photographs on Eyes of the Dead, of Ghosts and Spirits

The past year I have come across a few more articles related to Ghost Photographs, and to Spirit Photography. In a news article out of New York republished ten days before Halloween in the Americus [GA] Times Recorder (October 20, 1891 p.2 c.2) Arthur S. Green gives instructions for making Spectre Photographs, in particular of a man “starting back in terror from his own specter.”

Make a background of the proper size by stretching out some black material. Place the subject, draped in white — to the right or left of the center — then focus the camera and expose the plate for half a second. The impression — a shadowy and ghostlike figure. [Then place a] chair in the center of the background, and a table on the side away from the ghost.

Seat the subject in the chair, with his head turned to the ghost [take another photo, develop and print]. Other devices of the kind might be mentioned, but it will be more interesting to leave them to the ingenuity of the amateur.

In the same Americus Times Recorder issue, on the same page (but in column 6) is an Atlanta advertisement for Phillips & Crew (musical instrument sales, but at one time stereograph sellers and/or publishers) entitled “Ghost Stories”:

When you hear a man say that “So and so” keeps a better line of musical goods than we do, just add one more to your list of ghost stories…..Ghost stories frighten children, but not mature and sensible people.

Stereograph, Angel and devil try to influence a friar, Philadelphia : From James Cremer's Stereoscopic Emporium, ca. 1900; Harper Stereograph Collection, Boston Public Library, Print Department

An angel and a devil try to influence a friar, a stereograph from James Cremer’s Stereoscopic Emporium, Philadelphia, ca. 1900; Harper Stereograph Collection, Boston Public Library, Print Department

But how about A Devilish Discovery for this year’s post? A significant year in the history of photography is 1896. Early in that year the Xray, a process of photographing through opaque objects, was made public.

The process was discovered in late 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen, a German physicist, who named the new form of radiation X-radiation, using X to stand for “Unknown.” One week after his discovery, Rontgen took an X-ray photo of his wife’s hand, and incredibly, her wedding ring and her bones were quite clear. For more detail see Mary Bellis’s article “History of the X-Ray”.  The harm these xrays could do was noticed by July 1896 when the first protective device was produced.

On January 3, 1896, the process was made pubic and news of it spread around the world. On February 16, 1896 the Atlanta Constitution published an article titled “First X Ray Pictures Brought to Atlanta Yesterday,” recounting the “Successful Experiment” of Professor McKissick of Auburn University, who “Produced the Strange Light.”

The new photography is here. —- The pictures shown in today’s paper were taken last Wednesday and Thursday at the college at Auburn, Ala., a three hour’s run from Atlanta. They were brought to Atlanta yesterday by Professor A. F. McKissick — the first ever seen in Atlanta, the first ever seen in the south.

He brought only the negatives — leaving many with Atlanta photographers to be developed.

The article goes into detail about McKissik’s experiments (“He is a Cornell man. He keeps up with the news in electricity.”) Prof. McKissik said of “The New Photography – Cathodography,” that

The practical applications of this new photography will be many and varied. There is no doubt that it can be successfully used in surgery —.  Already, in Germany and America, cathodographic lantern slides are being advertised. By means [of which] we can not only see an outline of the animal but its structure, its bones and joints will be made plainly visible. — we could construct a complete view of the living human skeleton.

Illustration of Pofessor McKissick's xray photo of a student's hand in Atlanta Constitution Feb. 16, 1896 pg. 19

Illustration of Pofessor McKissick’s xray photo of a student’s hand reproduced in the Atlanta Constitution Feb. 16, 1896 pg. 29

This news of the possibilities of the x-ray came as a shock to many of those in the general, non-scientific, population.

In an article on the Early History of Xrays published in the summer 1995 issue of the periodical Beam Line (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center), author Alexi Assmus cites a poem published January 25, 1896, in Punch; a few lines read:

We only crave to contemplate

Each other’s usual full-dress photo;

Your worse than “altogether” state

Of portraiture we bar in toto!

And to return to our Mr. Devil, with whom I began:

In “A Devilish Discovery,” the author of an article from the Montgomery [AL] News, republished in the Waycross [GA] Weekly Herald on February 22, 1896 (p.1, c.4), agreed with the thoughts of Punch’s poet regarding Roentgen’s discovery:

The discovery is almost devilish in its ingenuity, its possibilities and its capabilities.  Of what use is it to hide anything? What’s the use of clothing?

Citing all the ways that the discovery was supposed to help the medical profession, the writer goes on to speculate:

But will it stop here? Will science not presently be able to get pictures of the “viewless spirits of the air,” and put on paper before our eyes the ghosts that stalk abroad at midnight?

Suppose the photographer goes around with his infernal kodak and catches the thoughts of the men and women who pass, and hangs them up in his show window! How long would it be till he would have a whole community by the ears? Men and women would have to stop thinking in public —

The invention is a devilish one, that’s about the size of it.

Happy Halloween to all the devilish photographers out there, and to everyone else, have a fun day as you are haunting and gathering treats!

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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