Elizabeth A. Breakey
Most in the paranormal field credit William Mumler with the first paranormal photograph. Unfortunately, Mr. Campbell, of New Jersey, is forgotten in Mumler’s famed glory. A year before Mumler’s first spirit photograph of himself and his deceased cousin, W. Campbell took a test photograph of an empty chair, only to discover upon development, a young boy in the photograph.
It is easy to see how this original photograph was looked over, with the remarkable photographs of Mumler overshadowing. Of course, as we know today, Mumler was the inventor of the original “Photoshop”. Through manipulation of long exposures and burning and dodging during development, he was able to add images of “spirits” into his photography. Most famously of which is a portrait of the disturbed and misunderstood Mary Todd Lincoln and the spirit of her dead husband, Abraham.
The direct contrast between these two photographers is exactly what has made one obscured, and one infamous. Mumler went on, after that first fateful photograph, to have a very successful career in spirit photography. And although, several respected photographers sat for portraits and watched the entire development process with no explanation to the figures behind them, he is easily debunked and mocked today. But Mr. W. Campbell, what became of him? He fell into obscurity. He was so shocked by his discovery that he attempted to recreate it over and over again, with no luck. He eventually faded and was erased from the Paranormal History Books.
Mumler paved the way for countless photographers to take advantage of unsuspecting patrons. For decades, people across the country would line up for their chance to have a picture made with a photography medium. Most of these images are so obviously faked it is hard not to laugh. But of course, at the time, the living being in those photos was incredibly grateful for the closure they brought.
After the rise of the Photography Mediums, we start seeing what many argue as genuine spirit photographs. The Brown Lady, Lord Combermere, Mrs. Chinnery’s Mother, Freddy Jackson… Photos that still spark legend and interest today. But as both a photographer and a Paranormal Investigator, I always go back to Mumler and Campbell.
I often wonder what became of Mr. Campbell when he and his photograph fell into obscurity. Did he continue to pursue the paranormal? Did he continue to attempt to recreate his photograph? Whatever became of him, I respect him so much more than Mr. Mumler. He stood by his photograph. He felt he found true evidence of the other side. He did not go on to use that photograph to make his fortune. He did not exploit his evidence to take photographs of widowed First Ladies. He simply held it close as a proud moment in his life.
How much is there to be learned from these two? To truly respect this field, you do it for the knowledge, for the amount you can help others and for the respect of both your evidence and the spirits themselves. To be truly successful in your work, often means remaining obscure to the masses.