WISCONSIN DELLS, Wisconsin – A historic Wisconsin photography studio can produce spooky images popularized 150 years ago.
There are plenty of kitschy places to take old-fashioned photos in the Wisconsin Dells. But only one of these places has been around for almost 150 years.
HH Bennett Photography Studio was established by photographer HH Bennett after the Civil War. He loved to photograph the beautiful landscapes of southwestern Wisconsin.
David Rambow loves the history of photography. He now works at the HH Bennett Studio, which is now owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
“[The studio is] one of the oldest, if not the oldest, photo studio, which operated continuously as a portrait studio until 1998, ”he said.
He uses old cameras and chemical processes to create tinplate photographs, much the same way Bennett did, in the studio Bennett built.
They may even produce spooky photographs first popularized in the 1800s.
“At the end of the 19th century, spiritualism was the thing,” Rambow said.
Spiritualism was the emerging belief that people on earth could communicate with the dead. The Civil War death toll was so high that there were tons of Americans who wanted to know they could talk to loved ones they had lost.
“So many people have lost parents and loved ones during the civil war in our country. A lot of those people just haven’t come back and haven’t had any closures, ”Rambow said.
Some photographers have taken advantage of the trend towards spiritualism and the grief of loved ones left behind. One of the most famous is William Mumler. He would do “spiritual photography”. The family member would sit down for a photo and, when developed, saw a transparent figure joining them in the photo.
It was a hoax. Anyone seated for a tintype should remain completely still for minutes at a time. Mumler would combine this photograph with another, creating the ghostly image. Photographers would also ask other people to capture the photo for part of the exposure time, so that it would become transparent.
First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was known as a spiritualist after losing their son Willie when he was just 12 years old. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, she sat down for a spiritual photography session with Mumler.
“They would make money, people would take up to $ 10 to have their picture taken with their loved one,” said Alyssa Crossley, who also works at the HH Bennett studio. “Even after becoming known, renowned spiritualists debunked them and proved them to be living people who were meant to be ghosts. “
However, with their ancient equipment and process, Rambow and Crossley can still create these images today. We tried it for Halloween.
Crossley dressed to give himself a ghostly figure appropriate for the time. Rambow activated the camera and gave instructions.
Then it was time to process the tintype. Rambow brings it to his darkroom, where he dips it in chemical mixtures to develop the photo.
An audience had gathered to see how the tintype turned out. It developed before everyone’s eyes.
Now creating photos like these is a cool experience to live and see. But back then, mourners were desperate to connect with those they had lost.
HH Bennett Photography Studio will close for the season after Halloween. For more information and to find out if you need to make an appointment, click here.