Thoughtography (Thought Photography)

A spectacular example of thoughtography, or “psychic photography,” that is, mental or psychokinetic affects on photographic film, is right on the cover of my book, The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof.

A group of precocious teenagers, the most gifted of whom, Gilbert Roller, was a budding amateur photographer, attempted during their séances, to get some kind of impressions on film.  This was in the early 1930s and they were using emulsion-coated glass plates that were inserted into the camera and exposed one at a time.

Thought photograph produced by Ted Serios

Thought photograph produced by Ted Serios


The boys took the plates into the bedroom and placed one, chosen at random, on the table. For the first trial they decided to have someone place his hand on the plate in the darkened room. As usual we kept a vigilant contact of hands and feet.

They sat expectantly in the dark waiting for a rap to signal them when the required time had passed. After several minutes, they got discouraged and put the plate aside thinking it wouldn’t be worth developing since it was impossible for the plate to have been affected.

They went on with the sitting asking the “force” to give them a message, if it had any, by knocking after the appropriate letter in the alphabet as it was called off by one of the sitters. The rappings immediately spelled out “p-l-a-t-e.” They grabbed the metal holder, jumped up and made a bee-line for the bathroom.  As Gil dunked the glass in and out of the chemicals, the others watched in awe. Sure enough, the distinct image of the hand appeared.


They repeated the experiment with the other plates; not only with hands, but also with any object they happened to think of. Someone put his keys on the plate holder. This time they received the “rap” signal after just a few moments.

Again they ran to into the bathroom. Now they received a clear, distinct image of the keys. They tried a spoon and got a clear outline of it.

Besides the obvious fact that it was “not possible” to get such exposure through the metal container, especially in a nearly dark room, these pictures were unusual in that they were “shadowgraphs.” That is, “positives” rather than “negatives.” (The images on the negatives were light when they should have been dark and conversely the printed pictures show dark objects instead of light.) It looked as though some radiation had penetrated from above the metal holders casting a “shadow” of the object onto the plate.


One spontaneous test proved conclusively to the even then every-questioning Monte Ullman, the budding psychiatrist and psychic investigator, that no one could have been “preparing” these plates in any way beforehand or by sleight of hand during some point in the procedure.

 It involved one of the “hand” pictures. The hand on the plate was that of the guy next to Monte. At the last moment, as the hand was placed on the plate, Monte moved his own hand, already clasping the one to be photographed, and placed his thumb over the plate, on top of the other boy’s hand. The developed plate showed the hand with Monte’s thumb clearly superimposed over it.

Thought image of a bottle on an emulsion-covered glass plate

Thought image of a bottle on an emulsion-covered glass plate

Not content with these small miracles, they then attempted “thought photographs.” Instead of placing an object on a plate, they had one sitter hold the plate up to his forehead while they concentrated on some image they spontaneously decided upon.

They first lit upon a common object found in most homes in the 1930s, a milk bottle. They switched off the lights and concentrated on the familiar image of a bottle. What emerged from the developing pan this time was a picture of, not a milk bottle, but an iodine bottle. Upon close examination a label could be seen bearing part of the skull and crossbones (used to warn users of poisonous substances) and part of the name of the local drug store, Rio Pharmacy.

It could also be observed that the bottle’s image was somewhat distorted, as though the plate had somehow been slightly “bent” or curved. (Remember, this was not flexible film but rigid glass.)

Thought image of an amulet on glass plate

Thought image of an amulet on glass plate


Next they decided to attempt an image of a person known to only one of them. Larry had a new girl friend named Olympia whom none of them had met, so they decided to try to get a picture of her. Again Larry held the plate to his forehead while they all tried to obtain Olympia’s image telepathically and project it onto the plate.

Gil’s mind, however, for some reason kept turning to thoughts of American Indians. When they developed the plate, what emerged was the silhouette of a Native American amulet that he recognized as one that his aunt had bought on a trip out west and that he had seen years before.


Months later, in December 1933, when they had received written messages from an ostensible “Dr. Bindelof,” they asked if they could obtain a photograph of him.  They received a long written list of “instructions:”

The message read, “I shall attempt to give you a picture of myself.”  It then listed a “process:”

  1.  Use full aperture in total darkness 
  2.  Set focus for five foot point, focal clarity to be at the center of the table 
  3.  Set plate. Remove cover.  
  4.  Open lens in total darkness for period of 20-30 seconds
  5.  Develop



What resulted was the portrait of a distinguished looking, bearded gentleman whose wing collar would be quite fashionable in the nineteenth century. The picture is slightly out of focus but quite distinct. It is in three quarter profile and resembles more a portrait one would sit for than a snapshot. A half century later it still boggled the minds of the remaining members of the group that this image could have resulted from the short time exposure of an empty plate that was in a camera focused at the center of a table and taken in total darkness.


It still boggles my mind!  It might be one of the most spectacular of such mental effects on film, but, although unbeknownst to Gil and his companions, it was not the first.


While a  Japanese man named Tomokichi Fukurai, a professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo at the beginning of the 20th century  was investigating two women subjects who seemed to be telepathic or clairvoyant, he accidentally discovered that a photographic plate had somehow been imprinted with the image of a (Japanese) calligraphic character.

He assumed it was a result of the subject’s psychic concentration and began a series of experiments, including one in which the sensitive was directed to mentally imprint a Japanese symbol on a photographic plate sandwiched in between two others.

 After many successful experiments with a variety of subjects, he published his work in 1913. It was also published in English as Clairvoyance and Thoughtography in 1931. This was the first time this term was used and underscores Fukurai’s contention that these were not spirit photographs but resulted from the minds of the subjects.

 Predictably, Fukurai was severely attacked. Despite his integrity and the innocence of his subjects, he resigned from the University. One of the subjects with whom he worked died from “influenza”; the other committed suicide.


Felicia Scatcherd, a British spiritualist, mentally imprinted written messages and symbolic drawings on unopened packs of photo plates. She called them “skotographs,” Greek for “dark writing.”

 And in 1911 Julian Ochorowicz, working with another potent medium, Stanislawa Tomczyk, obtained “psychographs” of “etheric hands” on sensitive film. The images were larger than either his or the medium’s hands and one was wearing “the shadow” of Stanislawa’s ring.

Ochorowicz picked up a silver thimble of hers and put it on his own finger. The medium mused, “Perhaps the thimble will pass to my hand.” They repeated the experiment with her (unadorned) hand at least a foot away from the plate. The developed image shows four fingers; on one is a thimble.

Other experiments in thoughtography were carried out in America and France in the first two decades of the century but then because of the fakes that entered the business, psychic photography fell into disrepute and disappeared from references for the next thirty or so years.


It was in the 1960s that the “genius” of thoughtography came upon the scene; an alcoholic bell-hop from Chicago who taught himself to put his mental images on film. His name was Ted Serios, and his fascinating story is detailed in Ted Serios & Thought Photography.


Others who learned of the Serios experiments became interested in psychically affecting film. Psychologist Lawrence LeShan was discussing Dr. Jule Eisenbud’s research on thoughtography with the well-known medium Eileen Garrett. At the time, LeShan was working for Garrett at the Parapsychology Foundation, which she had founded. She expressed some interest in the idea of affecting unexposed film so he had a photographer come to the office with a Polaroid camera.

The day they arrived Mrs. Garrett was occupied with papers at her desk and had lost interest in the project.  When reminded of their discussion, she said she was too busy and to “forget it.”  When LeShan protested that he had gone through a great deal of trouble to set it up, she answered angrily, “All right, I’ll influence films 1, 3, 5 and 7.  Now, I really am busy.”

LeShan and the photographer retired to another room and, after making sure the lens cap was still taped firmly in place, pressed the shutter mechanism , waited until the first film was ejected and then repeated it until all the photos were face up on the table.

As the prints developed they saw that all except four were completely black, as would be expected. Each of these four had four or five white circles, from an eighth- to a half-inch diameter on them.  When they turned the four over to read the numbers on their backs, they read 1, 3, 5 and 7.

Felicia Parise (who is also mentioned in paranormal metal bending), had been a very successful participant in dream telepathy research and taught herself to move small objects and deflect compasses without touching them. She also affected unexposed film in a similar way. For instance, she was demonstrating her PK ability on a compass in a laboratory at Duke University.  Packets of unexposed film were placed under a metal detector on a chair immediately in front of her. After her concentrating on it for some time the compass needle moved about 15 degrees over a period of about two minutes, and remained there.

Parise walked to a far corner of the room but the compass needle remained at 15 degrees off north and was found to be totally unresponsive to a knife blade or a bar magnet, both of which had deflected it earlier.  When the compass was removed a few feet away it returned to north and was responsive to the metal, but when returned to the spot on the chair, it again moved to 15 degrees off north and was again immune to the metal’s influence.  It gradually functioned normally over the next 25 minutes. This phenomenon, also called the “linger effect” is also described in the section on paranormal metal bending.

The film under the compass was found to be almost totally exposed.  The other three packs were partially exposed, the exposure decreasing in proportion to the distance between the film and the compass.

Nina Kulagina, the Russian woman who performed many PK feats for Soviet scientists also was able to affect film.  In her case she would mentally “draw” figures, such as stars, circles, squares, etc. on photographic paper that had been enclosed in black envelopes.  She was even able to expose film shielded by 1.5 mm lead sheets and other materials used for electrical insulation.

The last case I’ll mention concerns by ex-husband who was very uncomfortable about having his picture taken. A few times he seemed to cause the shutter to jam or to prevent the flash from working when he didn’t want to be photographed. He once reluctantly allowed a woman to whom he was attracted to take his picture. The camera functioned normally and his image was clear on the two shots she took of him, but a small “lightning flash” of static electricity appeared near the bottom of each of his pictures. All the other pictures on that roll of film were normal in appearance and a photographic expert at Kodak who examined the prints could find no explanation for the anomalous effects. (Years later I told Jule Eisenbud about these photos and he said that he had seen similar effects produced by other subjects.)

Now that hardly anyone uses photographic film anymore I doubt we’ll see more such cases, but it’s possible that digital cameras might be affected in some way.

Read more about Dr Jule Eisenbud and Ted Serios.

Explore more topics “outside the séance room”
JOTTSParanormal metal bendingPoltergeistsPsychokinesis (PK)
Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK)Thoughtography