In the late 19th century, photography was a relatively new medium, and there was much discussion as to what could actually be achieved with the camera.
Indeed, it was often commented upon that the camera might be able to pick up things that remained completely invisible to the human eye, and newspapers were more than happy to report on some of the remarkable results that had been achieved with photography.
On Friday, March 3rd, 1899, the Belfast Telegraph was one of several newspapers that published the following syndicated article that delved into the marvellous, and sometimes strange, world of photography:-
SENSITIVE PLATE DETECTS THINGS IMPERCEPTIBLE THE EVE
That the camera has the peculiar property of seeing and recording things imperceptible to human sight now a well-known fact, and this knowledge has made use of in the examination of documents supposed to have been tampered with.
The following cases illustrate this marvellous power of the camera.
A lady once went into a studio to be photographed.
When the photographer came to develop the negative, he was astonished to see that her face appeared to be covered with small black spots.
Thinking the lens was dirty, he cleaned it with a piece of wash leather and tried again trier. The same result occurred again.
The lady was in reality sickening for smallpox, and the pustules forming under her skin were registered by the camera several days before becoming visible to the eye.
One result of the camera has never been satisfactorily explained.
Mr. J. Traill Taylor, editor the “Photographic Record,” once took several photographs in the presence of a spiritualistic medium. On being developed, the negatives showed a spectral figure in addition to that of the medium. Some were fairly good-looking, while others were repulsive.
This points to the theory that the world is inhabited another order of intangible beings, invisible always to us, but under certain conditions recordable by the camera.
JACK THE RIPPER ON A NEGATIVE
The next example was the outcome of a practical joke.
A young man walked into a studio to be photographed. In appearance, he seemed like any other person. The assistant exposed a couple of plates and took them to his dark room to develop. He was rather longer than usual, and could be heard sharply reproving the shop boy for having meddled with the apparatus.
When he reappeared, he apologised for having used spoilt plates, and exposed two more.
This time when developing them, he uttered a slight scream. He then came out and informed the sitter that there was something in the negative which he could not explain, and would he oblige him once more.
The third, time, while he was in the dark room, the bell rang violently for the master, who came down and was shut up for some time in conference with the assistant.
Then the master himself tried a negative and took it to develop.
Some minutes after he came out and, while apologising for not being able to get a good likeness, he explained that each time, in developing, the words “Jack the Ripper” had appeared written upon the young man’s forehead.
The sitter answered, “Nonsense! My forehead is all right. Can you see anything the matter with it?” And he looked into the mirror.
“I can certainly see nothing,’” said the photographer, “but I shall be obliged if you will go away and not come here again. The whole thing is too uncanny for me.”
At this there was a dreadful row, but, eventually, the young man left and never returned.
IT WAS A PRACTICAL JOKE!
The young man was a bit of a scientist and had been playing joke.
Bi-sulphate of quinine is a chemical which is white to the naked eye, but is seen black by the camera.
Anything painted on the skin with this, while still remaining invisible ordinarily, will come out on a photograph as clearly as if written in ink.
The words were simply inscribed previously on the joker’s forehead, with the above results.”