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Kirlian Photography

Kirlian photography, accidentally discovered in 1939, is a photographic method that is considered to be the gateway to the paranormal.  Also known as electrophotography, this process is actually an assemblage of techniques that photographically captures a phenomenon known as electrical coronal discharges.  Since its discovery, Kirlian photography has been the subject of widespread scientific research.  The process is also used by artists and parapsychologists.  Paranormal researchers claim that this photographic method allows them to capture still pictures of the spiritual aura, which is allegedly the life force that surrounds each living thing.


Semyon Kirlian, an Armenian citizen of 1930’s Russia, discovered the process by connecting objects on a photographic plate to a high frequency source of high voltage electricity.  This produced a silhouette of the object that was surrounded by a halo of light often referred to as an aura.  Kirlian, along with his wife, published the results of his experiments in 1958.  The process was subsequently used by thousands of scientists in the Eastern Bloc.


The technique known as Kirlian photography uses high voltage to create contact print photographic images.  The photographer starts by placing a sheet of photographic film onto a metal discharge plate.  An object is then placed on top of the film.  An exposure is created by applying high voltage to the metal plate.  What the film captures is the “corona discharge” that occurs between the plate and the object.  The result of developing the film is a Kirlian photograph.


Kirlian photography is a contact print process and thus does not use a camera or lens.  Although, it is now possible to replace the metal discharge plate with a transparent electrode, and then use a regular camera or video camera.  Many paranormal researchers and enthusiasts claim that the aura that is captured is the object’s “life force”.  Interestingly, however, any conducive or moist inanimate object will also produce such an aura.


Kirlian photographic techniques are used in various ways.  Visual artists use the process to capture strikingly beautiful images.  Currently, Kirlian photography is being used by parapsychologists and pseudoscientists who claim the technique allows them to capture and analyze images of a living being’s aura.


Scientific research on the technique appears to refute these claims.  Researchers have discovered that the images captured by Kirlian photography are greatly affected by an object’s moisture content as well as the ionization of the surrounding air.  Since 1976, research has yet to discover any scientific or paranormal value for the process.


Kirlian photography has been featured a number of times in popular culture.  Most notably, it was used in a concert program for David Bowie’s 1976 concert tour.  It was also featured in the plot of the 1979 movie “The Kirlian Witness”


Claims by paranormal enthusiasts that Kirlian photography can capture an image of the aura of a living being have been largely debunked by scientific research.  Anything with moisture, living or non-living, produces such an image.  And when used in a vacuum where no ionized gases are present, Kirlian photography fails to produce an image.  While some claim the process captures the loss of the aura as a living object dies, this can better be explained by the loss of moisture that accompanies the dying process.