Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Spirit Photography of Edouard Buguet

 This photo, titled Effet Fuidique, or, The Fluidic Effect (1875) is by the famous French spirit photographer, Edouard Buguet.
It's one of those photos that are hitting the social media scene hard.  I've seen it on both Facebook and Pinterest in the last week or so.  And, as most people have already assessed, this image is a hoax; it does not show an actual levitating chair.

Nevertheless, intrigued by such images and the history of spirit photography, I decided to dig a little further into Edouard Buguet's work.  What I found was that Buguet was well known for faking more than this early example of telekinesis (well, in this case, just a levitating chair, since the term 'telekinesis' wasn't coined until 1890 by Frederick Meyers)!

Born presumably in France in 1840, Buguet really hit the spirit photography circuit in 1874.  Influenced by the French Spiritualist movement that emphasized Mesmerism, before conducting a spirit photography session, Buguet would have both his camera and himself mesmerized.  The resulting photos were routinely featured in Revue Spirite, a French Spiritualist magazine published by M. Leymarie. One such photo that at the time was deemed one of the greatest spirit photographs of the time was the 1874 Woodbury carte de visite,  Mons. Leymarie and Mons. C. with Spirit of Edouard Poiret.

And, as early as 1874, Buguet came under the suspicion of fraud. However, it wouldn't be until a year later that he would actually be arrested for fraud, a crime that he originally confessed to.  The arrest came following a raid on Buguet's photo studio produced two shrouded dummies and 299 photographs of heads mounted onto cardboard.  At the September 1875 Spiritualist Congress held in Brussels, however, Buguet recanted this story, and said that the props were only used by his assistants when he was out sick...and that 2/3 of his spirit photographs were completely legit.

Even the testimony of several prominent clients combined with those statements couldn't keep Buguet out of jail for fraud, though.  He AND M. Leymarie were both sentenced to a year, and despite Buguet's claims that he was innocent and only made his confession in exchange for leniency, he never again took up the business of spirit photography.  He passed away in 1901.

Beyond the Grave: A Brief History of Spirit Photography
The Spirit Archive
The American Museum of Photography

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