Documenting Ghosts: The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer

Thursday 8 October at 18:30 in EV-1.615
Concordia University

Louis Kaplan
University of Toronto

In the spring of 1869, William Mumler appeared before Justice John Dowling in the Court of Special Sessions at the Tombs Police Court in New York for a preliminary hearing on an unusual charge. Mumler had been accused of fraud and larceny for making and selling photographs that purported to bring back the spirits of the dead on glass plate negatives. This sensational and highly publicized case put the religious movement of Spiritualism and its belief in communication with the dead itself on trial. "Documenting Ghosts" will review the contrary claims that were made about what these ghostly photographs documented and proved, whether deemed to be darkroom tricks and manipulations or Spiritualist proofs and images made by supernatural means.

Louis Kaplan is Associate Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media in the Graduate Department of Art at the University of Toronto and Director of the Institute of Communication and Culture at the Mississauga campus.  His recent book, The Strange Case of William Mumler Spirit Photographer (Minnesota, 2008) has been nominated for the Franklin Publication Prize of the American Studies Association. He also is the author of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings (Duke, 1995) and American Exposures: Photography and Community in the Twentieth Century (Minnesota, 2005). Kaplan is a member of the international advisory board of Photography and Culture.

Image: William Mumler, Bronson Murray in Trance with the Spirit of Mrs. Ella Bonner, 1872.