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A Communion of ShadowsReligion and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America$
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Rachel McBride Lindsey

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469633725

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469633725.001.0001

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Agents of a Fuller Revelation

Agents of a Fuller Revelation

Chapter:
(p.113) Three Agents of a Fuller Revelation
Source:
A Communion of Shadows
Author(s):

Rachel McBride Lindsey

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469633725.003.0004

Intense debates around spirit photography started immediately upon its discovery in late 1862. This chapter frames these debates around the career, trial, and demise of America’s first and most notorious spirit photographer, William Howard Mumler. In the context of the American Civil War, Mumler claimed to have discovered a gift for photographing spirits of departed souls and immediately became the subject of public interest and scrutiny. His uneasy affiliation with modern Spiritualism, his public ridicule by the photographic guild, and his brief celebrity in the 1860s provide a window into the at times intense uncertainty around the camera’s ability to reveal spiritual truth to modern beholders. His hearing before the New York Police Court in the spring of 1869, in particular, facilitated a very public debate around the authority of the Bible and the camera in newspaper accounts that were circulated throughout the country. In this chapter, spirit photographs emerge as a hinge between corporeal referents in studio portraiture, on the one hand, and practices of biblical beholding, on the other, that asked beholders to see what was really there.

Keywords:   Spirit photography, Biblical authority, Religion and law, Spiritualism

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