Spirit Photography refers to the use of photographic technology to document the existence of the occult. While this topic necessarily includes the study of the photographic medium and occultism, spirit photography is characterized by the intersection of the two. It can be defined more specifically as the recording of phenomena that may or may not be visible to the human eye using sensitive surfaces with or without the use of a camera.
The history of spirit photography owes to the history of both photography and occultism separately. But both have deep, rich ancestry that can be rigorously studied separately. The best understanding of spirit photography is that it is a societal application of a popular technology and thus, an extended look into the origins of either photography or occultism becomes increasingly irrelevant as the intersection of the two renders its own history more specific.
Photography was truly born in 1839, but the life of spirit photography occurred between 1860 and 1930. This isn't to say there were never any instances before the invention of photography or after the death of spirit photography. But this time period was the height of spiritual photography because it brought together the most severe factors from the technological and sociological aspects of the medium.
William H Mumler is credited as being the first photographer to claim to capture an image with the company of a ghost or spirit. He worked in America in the 1860s. His work was followed by that of Frederick Hudson and Edouard Isidore Buguet in Europe a little later in the early 1870s. As was characteristic of early spirit photography, these men used it to document ghosts and spirits themselves. But as time went on, people began using it for purposes of research. The greatest developments of experimental use of spirit photography came around the turn of the century with the work of Karl von Reichenbach. But the history of spirit photography would not be complete without acknowledging the extensive documentation of famous mediums such as Florence Cook, Eusapia Palladino, and Marthe Beraud who used spirit photography as a way to record their practices and rituals more than evidence of the occult.