by Ellyn Siegel
I handed my friend Graham a print out of the portrait I’d just taken of him and he burst into tears.
He was sitting in the tapestry chair with his elbows resting on the wooden, carved lions head armrests, gazing into the near distance, exactly as I’d asked him to pose.
I had no idea where the dog image had come from.
Graham explained that the dog was Bo, his childhood pet that had died one summer while he was away at camp, and he’d never had a chance to say goodbye.
“He was the best dog ever,” he stifled more tears.
“How did you get a picture of him into your camera?” he demanded.
I told him I didn’t know how the image of a dog got onto the print. Also, this was my first time hearing about his childhood pet.
He sat on the velvet-covered loveseat in the corner, gazing forlornly at his portrait, with just the hint of a smile beginning to play on his lips. Was it my imagination, or did I hear the faint, happy barking of a dog greeting its master?
Meanwhile, I sat Lucy in the chair and gave her a bouquet of silk roses to hold in her arms.
I had her look directly into the camera with her long, curly red hair flowing over one shoulder.
She had the same reaction as Graham when she saw her finished portrait.
“That’s my dad,” she told me as the tears fell. “He died five years ago. I still miss him so much.”
There was a pale image of a man standing behind the chair with his hands on her shoulders in a protective stance.
She wasn’t as freaked out as Graham had been, and thanked me over and over again, for reuniting her with her father.
Lucy didn’t seem to care how or why this double image had occurred. She was just happy to see her beloved father again.
So, that’s how my accidental “Spirit Photography” studio got its start.
The Victorian building downtown had caught my eye every time I walked past it, and the “For Rent” sign on the round, tower room of the second floor was still there every time I looked up.
I’d been dreaming of quitting my corporate job for more than a year now, while I improved my photography skills.
The inspiration for how I set up my studio came to me in a dream. Down to the sheer curtains framing the curved windows, the embroidered and tapestry furniture, and various props set around the room on marble pillars.
I was using modern day, digital photography, but just for fun had set my camera on a tripod like the old style glass plate photographers did, and even ducked my head under a blanket to take the picture.
I thought people would get a kick out of putting on a hat, or a feather boa to pose for their portrait, kind of like the photo booths they have sometimes at county fairs.
Setting the mood for a simpler time, I played old-timey music from the 1930s and 40s. I wanted to take people on a sentimental journey so they’d relax in front of the camera and forget about their daily worries and routines.
But, this was beyond my wildest dreams.
Word got out about the surprising spectral images that were emerging from my photo sessions.
I had no idea where the spirit people and pets came from, but not one of my prints ever emerged without a second image playing around the edges, or somehow interacting with the person sitting for their portrait.
People of every race and religion were giving themselves up to my artistic whimsy and their secret longings,
I’d never really thought before about all the loved ones and pets people had lost to this world. That still haunted their dreams and lived a parallel life beside them.
It was always emotional when I handed over their printed portrait
Couples who’d lost a child, asked me tearfully, “You really don’t hear the sound of laughter?”
Women who’d lost babies swore the scent of talcum powder suddenly filled the air when I handed them their photos.
Grown men in business suits, crying like little girls to finally be reunited with their dearly departed, were convinced they heard the voices of their loved ones calling out to them, “Son? Is that you?”
I never claimed to have any supernatural gifts, and definitely had no idea who these extra people were who appeared in the photos I took.
Occasionally I did feel the temperature in the room drop suddenly, but chalked it up to the loose fitting doors and windows of a building that was over a century old.
“That reminds me,” I said to him, my voice breaking. “I need to call my mom.”
“You really should,” he replied. “There’s no time like the present.”
We both laughed.
But mostly, I was just glad to be the medium, to help all of these grieving people finally find their missing person.
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