The Xotype Files

The following instances of 'alternative photography' were recorded by C.M.Archer as an 'Anecdote History of Photography' in Recreative Science: a record and remembrancer of intellectual observation, Vols 1 and 2. (London: Groombridge and Sons, 1860/1).
(But the titles are mine.)


No case is one-half so difficult of belief as that alleged marvellous discovery by Dr. Conyers, who, it is said, on anatomising a gentleman who died for love, found an impression of the lady's face upon his heart.


Mr. Septimus Piesse has called attention to the delicate shading or finishing of leaves produced by the photographic touch of the sun, in the case of geranium and other leaves, where one leaf produced a shade upon the other, the under leaf presenting a beautiful photograph of the upper one, its serrated edge and form being perfectly defined. Wherever the shade was cast, that part of the leaf was of a deep green, while the unshaded parts were of a pale sea-tint.


The first principles of a peculiar photographic process were discovered in 1845 by M. Bayard, on the amber and purple surface of a peach. Proud of his peaches, M. Bayard, it is said, was accustomed to mark them with his initials. To effect this he was in the habit of gumming on to the surface his initials cut in small paper characters, and which, under the action of the autumn sun, left their impression on the ripening fruit.


It has been concluded by doctors in America, that the last image formed on the retina of the eye of a dying person remains impressed upon it like the image on a photograph, and that if the last object seen by a murdered person was his murderer, the portrait drawn upon the eye would remain a fearful witness in death to detect him and lead to his conviction. Dr. Sandford, of New York, reports that he examined the eye of a murdered man at Auburn by means of the microscope, and found impressed on the retina the rude, worn away figure of a man, supposed to be the assassin!


On August 26th, 1823, a little girl was standing at a window, before which was a young maple tree. After a brilliant flash of lightning a complete image of the tree was found imprinted on her body.
M. Raspail records that in 1855 a boy climbed a tree to rob a bird's-nest. The tree was struck and the boy thrown to the ground, and on his breast the image of the tree, with the bird and nest on one of its branches, appeared very plainly.

There have been numerous other recorded instances of keraunography, e.g.:-

In 1812 Mr Shaw communicated to the Metereological Society a most peculiar case. Six sheep lying in an open pasture surrounded by woods were killed by lightning; the surrounding landscape was pictured so clearly on the inner surface of each skin that the view was immediately recognisable by those who were acquainted with the district. These skins were actually exhibited publicly at Bath for some time. (British Journal of Photography, 10 February 1888 p89.)

Jonesville, Michigan, 1887: farmer Amos J. Briggs is shooing cats away from his woodpile when it is struck by lightning. The cats die instantly. Briggs' watch explodes and his clothes are shredded. Returning inside, his wife is horrified to find the silhouette of a startled cat imprinted on his bald pate. The image fades after two days. (Mark Pilkington, The Guardian, 3 June 2004).

The following myth is taught at an early stage to most students of photochemistry:


It has been claimed that Alexander the Great exploited light-induced colour changes in a dye, in order to coordinate the battle-order of his army, which proved crucial to the succcessful outcome of his campaigns. The Macedonian troops supposedly wore around their wrists bands of rag which were impregnated with a photochromic dye. Their exposure to the light of the rising sun caused a colour change which signalled the moment of attack. This device has been referred to as -Alexander's Rag Time Band.

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