But irrespective of any certainty about the likeness, there is overwhelming evidence that these supernormal portraits really do occur, and in thousands of cases they have been recognized.
Mr. Edward Wyllie (1848-1911) had genuine mediumistic gifts which were tested by a number of qualified investigators. He was born in Calcutta, his father, Colonel Robert Wyllie, having been military secretary to the Government of India. Wyllie, who served as a captain in the Maori war in New Zealand, afterwards took up photography there. He went to California in 1886. After a time spots of light began to show on his negatives, and as they increased threatened to destroy his business. He had never heard of spirit photography until a lady sitter suggested this as a possible explanation. Experimenting with her, faces appeared on the plate in the spots of light. Thenceforth these faces came so often with other sitters that he was compelled to give up his usual business and devote himself to spirit photography. But here he encountered fresh trouble. He was accused of obtaining his results by fraud, and this so wounded him that he tried to earn his living in some other way, but he did not succeed, and had to come back to work as a photo-medium, as he was called. On November 27, 1900, the committee of the Pasadena Society for Psychical Research conducted an investigation with him at Los Angeles. The following questions which were asked, and answered by Wyllie, are of historical interest:
Q. Do you advertise or promise to get spirit faces, or something out of the ordinary for your sitters?
A. Not at all. I neither guarantee nor promise anything. I have no control over it. I merely charge for my time and material, as you see stated on the card there against the wall. I charge one dollar for a sitting; and if the first one is not satisfactory, I give a second trial without extra charge.
Q. Do you sometimes fail to get anything extra?
A. Oh, yes, often. Last Saturday, working all afternoon, I gave five sittings and didn't get a thing.
Q. About what proportion of such failures do you have?
A. I should say, with an ordinary day's business, they would average three or four failures a day-some days more and some less.
Q. About what proportion of the extra faces that do appear do you estimate are recognized by the sitter or friends?
A. For several months last year I kept a record on this point, and I found that in about two-thirds of the sittings some one or more of the extra faces appearing were recognized. Sometimes there would be only one extra face, and sometimes five or six, or even eight at once, and I couldn't keep a tally of them, but only of the total number of sittings, as shown by my book account.
Q. When a sitting is made, do you know as a psychic whether there will be any "extras" on the plate or not?
A. Sometimes I see lights about the sitter, and then I feel pretty sure there will be something for him or her; but just what it will be I don't know, any more than you do. I don't know what it is until I see it on the negative after it is developed so I can hold it up to the light.
Q. If the sitter strongly desires some particular discarnate friend to appear on the plate, is he more likely to get that result?
A. No. A wrought-up or tense state of mind or feeling, whether of desire or anxiety or antagonism, makes it more difficult for the spirit forces to use the sitter's magnetism towards producing their manifestations, so it is less likely that anything extra will then come on the plate. An easy, restful, passive condition is most favourable for good results.
Q. Do those who are Spiritualists get better results than disbelievers?
A. No. Some of the best test results I have ever had came when the strongest sceptics were in the chair.
With this committee no "extras" were obtained. An earlier committee of seven in 1899 submitted the medium to strict tests, and four plates out of eight "showed results for which the committee are unable to account." After a minute account of the precautions taken, the report concludes:
As a committee we have no theory, and testify only to "that which we do know." Individually we differ as to probable causes, but unanimously agree concerning the palpable facts.