Accidentally spooky: Photographs from Te Papa’s collections perfect for Halloween

Happy Halloween! Curator Historical Photography Lissa Mitchell gets into the spirit of the occasion with a selection of frightfully fantastic photographs where not all is as it seems.

=""

Miss Douglas, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045456)

Taking a photograph of someone can be a tricky business even for professional photographers. In the 19th century a certain kind of mistake created a new category of photography – ‘ghost’ or spirit photographs.

Once it was discovered that what appeared to be a ghost could be included in the image via the use of double and under exposure techniques many photographers intentionally made images such as the one below by Wellington photographer, Joseph Zachariah (aka ZAK).

=""

Man and a ghost, Zak (Joseph Zachariah), about 1900-01, Wellington, gelatin silver print. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (O.03856)

But sometimes strange effects happen on the way to a good portrait. So here is a selection of commercial studio portrait photographs by William Berry’s Wellington studio Berry & Co that on first appearance seem to be standard portraits. But look closer and find crazy eyes, missing legs, hovering ghosts, wiped out faces, and other accidental spooks!

=""

Miss Oldham, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046193)

=""

Man, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.044692)

=""

Mrs Phillips, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046193)

=""

Four children, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.046136)

=""

Hanson, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045983)

=""

Jackson, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045145)

=""

Brasch, William Berry, about 1920, Wellington, gelatin silver glass plate negative. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.045452)

3 Responses

  1. Judith

    No human woman would allow a photograph to be taken with that hair!

    Reply
  2. Margo

    Love these! Just not sure what’s spooky about Mrs Phillips. Am I missing something?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)