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The early camera – and before that the camera obscura – likewise concentrated the appearance of things through a glassy curvature: the lens.
Spirit histories, as they are called, documented the ephemeral appearance and actions of revenants, demons, witches and occult practitioners (Glanvill 1681: 1–191).
Typically, Hope would photograph a living sitter in the manner of conventional studio portraiture.
When the glass plate was developed the image showed, in addition, the less distinct face or figure of someone who was dead and, often, known to the sitter (Harvey 2007: 42–3).
Thus, the technology of the printed word and image (that is, illustrative engravings) could preserve, illuminate and disseminate accounts of spirits, but imperfectly and inadequately.
The technology had one further limitation: it could not authenticate the phenomena, for there was no indexical relationship between these interpretative agencies and the phenomena itself (Barthes 1981: 81–9).
Even if the veracity of an account could be vouched safe, its emotional and lexical expression was, according to Edmund Burke (1729–97), insufficient to the task: ‘A lively and spirited verbal description can raise a very obscure and imperfect idea of … Likewise, drawn and painted portraits or interpretative illustrations of narratives of spirits, while providing a more tangible idea, often failed to communicate the sublimity or otherworldiness of their subject.