Joseph P. Donnelly

I came across Joseph Donnelly a modern-day photographer and contemporary pictorialist when I was researching about early spirit photographers, which included:

Joseph loves to evoke the quiet, still beauty of the Pictorialist masters of the early 20th century, Alfred Stieglitz, Clarence White and Edward Steichen. For a series of photographs, Donnelly studied spirit photographers of the late 19th Century who rode a wave of commercial success with their images purporting to show spirits and ghosts.

When the double exposure photographs, which included darkroom trickery, were marked as fraudulent, this type of photography quickly fell out of favour. Although fakes, in reality, they often looked aesthetically nice, artistic by accident and often ethereal and unique.

William H. Mumler  (1832–1884) – One of the first of his kind. Mumler’s first spirit photograph was apparently an accident—a self-portrait which, when developed, also revealed the “spirit” of his deceased cousin.



Fredric Hudson – A British spirit photographer who was active in the 1870s. He is credited as being the first spirit photographer in Britain.



William Hope – A paranormal investigator, (1863 – 1933) was a pioneer of so-called “spirit photography”. Based in England and a member of the well-known spiritualist’s group, the Crewe Circle.



In his series of photographs, Joseph attempts to re-create the spooky but beautiful look of the spirit photographs. Without the use of double exposures or fraudulent post-processing. The double images and ethereal effects are the results primarily of the shutter being open for long periods under extremely low light conditions. None of the images could be re-created, as they are serendipitous interactions between the moving subjects and extraordinarily faint, fleeting light.

There are two techniques I would like to re-create here (not necessarily on the same shoot). The first being, a spirit-lifting from the body using double exposure and a second, the shutter left open for long periods under extremely low light conditions.