The spirit photography of Ada Deane – The Armistice Day Series

Jim Warwood takes a look at some controversial spirit photographs. Though apparently having many psychic experiences as a child, it was not until Ada Emma Deane was fifty-eight years old that her career as a photographic medium began.  After becoming involved with Spiritualism, she was encouraged by a North London medium to develop her psychic powers and in June 1920 obtained her first psychic photograph.

Ada Emma Deane – photograph with extra

Initially her work was regarded as controversial because she apparently needed to hold the unexposed photographic plates to “magnetise” them. Some researchers felt that this was an opening for fraud, a view reflected in the American Journal of The Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), Vol 15 1921 p.364, suggesting that “control of the experiments is … so unsatisfactory that at present it is impossible to arrive at any conclusions of value”. A later ASPR Journal, however, took a different view, being more supportive of her work, according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his review in Volume 2 of the History of Spiritualism. Doyle relates how Dr Allerton Cushman, Director of the National Laboratories at Washington USA, upon a surprise visit  made to the British College of Psychical Science, in July 1921, received a photograph with the image of his deceased daughter.

Agnes Cushman – comparison of psychic likeness and photograph

The same year Ada commenced the first of her series of Armistice Day photographs that brought her great notoriety. These were taken at the Cenotaph in London in November 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924.

The 1922 pictures received widespread coverage in the press.

Ada Deane Armistice picture from 1922, taken just before the 11th hour of the 11th day

Ada Deane Armistice picture from 1922, taken at the exact moment of Armistice in which the ‘spirit extras’ appeared

The 1923 photo is notable for the fact that H. Dennis Bradley, having received a communication from his brother-in-law in spirit to do so, found what he believed to be his face in the picture. The story is related in Bradley’s 1924 book Towards the Stars.

Ada Deane Armistice picture from 1923

The 1923 picture drew controversy with the Daily Sketch claiming that the faces were those of famous sports stars indicating the picture was a fraud. This was strongly denied by Ada Deane’s supporters, especially Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Daily Sketch front page claiming to expose an Ada Deane picture as a fraud

In her 1925 booklet, Faces of the Living Dead, Estelle Stead published letters written to the editor of the Daily Sketch. These stated that the greatest authority on “anthropametic” matters, Sir Arthur Keith, had decided that the faces in the photograph were in no way identical to those published by the newspaper.

Ada Deane was subjected to considerable investigation. Whilst investigators such as Hereward Carrington were prepared to accept that something was happening, others continued to think it was pure fraud. Yet most of those who decided upon the negative view did so just because she held the plates for a while before use. However, when several investigators substituted their own plates without Mrs Deane’s knowledge they obtained results including all of the phenomena usually associated with her work.

As Martyn Jolly notes in Faces of the Living Dead (2006), Ada Deane became “one of Britain’s busiest photographic mediums, holding over 2,000 sittings, many of which were for ordinary people. “ One good example of this, in our personal library, is a photo taken in 1923 showing a Mrs Fillmore, of Eltham, with a spirit extra recognised by the sitter as her control, ‘Sister Alicia.’

Ada Deane's 1923 psychic photograph of Mrs Fillmore

8 responses to “The spirit photography of Ada Deane – The Armistice Day Series

  1. Fantastic photos that I have not seen before. Psychic photography is a very unique and rare gift that should be shared with the world.

  2. Very dramatic looking photographs. As always, the sceptics will scoff.

  3. The photos, Faces of the Living Dead almost have to be real as they are the same type faces that I see in my head while awake but with my eyes closed and almost but not quite in a medative state. The faces are 3- dimentional and sometimes there are just parts of faces. Sometimes they turn and look straight at me. I’ve never recognized any of them. Once in a while, although usually being in black and white, one or two of them will have brilliant blue eyes.

    My husband also sees faces in his mind but before going to sleep. He hasn’t recognized any of them either.

  4. I am glad that people have enjoyed the story and seeing these unique photographs. In trying, at midnight Australian time, to line up the pictures just prior to the publication of Issue 2 we obviously hit one glitch.

    The first armistice photo above is not just before the eleventh hour 1922, it is actually the 1921 photograph. There is another photo I have of just before, which obviously got lost in the email traffic trying to ensure the files were not too large. I also saved space for the 1924 picture by using the Daily Mail version only not the original 1924 picture which I have.

    It is a fascinating story, given Ada Deane’s age when he gift appeared it is one which reminds us all that people’s Mediumship may begin to flower at any stage in their life.

  5. The sceptics’ scorn for this work seems to be rooted in the thought that because it is possible to fake such photographs using two negatives, and because some unscrupulous people have faked such photographs and then claimed they were genuine spirit photographs, then all such photographs must be fakes and all such photographers must be using darkroom tricks. This no more follows than that all doctors are quacks because some doctors are. At least Ada herself and those closest to her would have known that her work was genuine, and this must have been of great comfort to her.
    This impugning of one’s personal honesty and integrity must nevertheless be hard to bear, especially when you know you are a principled person of the utmost sincerity, as I am sure Ada Deane did, and was; although the wonderful results she obtained were surely more than enough compensation for the scepticism and ridicule she had to endure.
    I hope we shall soon be seeing spirit photographs taken with digital cameras and fresh, unhandled secure digital cards, with which double exposures are impossible, and spirit extras would be much harder, if not impossible to fake. Software used to restore deleted and over-written files could surely ascertain whether any tampering of the secure digital card had taken place.

  6. Phil Hotchkin

    These spirit photographs are amazing particularly when you know they were taken in the 1920’s an age of emerging era of photography mostly still on glass plates where it was probably practically impossible to forge images of spirit phenomena in the manner shown in Ada’s photographs. Even by today’s standards of digital technology it would take considerable effort & skill to produce the Cenotaph photo showing spirit guides & World War I military leaders. Equally the Armistice photographs could easily be faked with present day computer programmes but in the 1920’s this would be virtually impossible. I do not have any doubt that Ada’s photographs are genuine images of spirit phenomena.

  7. Check out William Hope’s spirit photography. Jah bless

  8. Intersesting but obviously a fake!

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