Ask someone what they associate with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and their answer will almost certainly be Sherlock Holmes. It’s elementary.
But, though the author may be intrinsically linked with his most famous creation, Conan Doyle had many other interests.
While the much-loved detective (created while Conan Doyle was working as a GP in Southsea) stood out for his practicality and logical thinking, the writer himself was fascinated with fairies, ghosts and spiritualism.
By the 1920s he was internationally recognised as an authority on the spirit world, having published articles and books on the subject and given lectures to audiences all over the world.
Southsea artist, filmmaker and historian, Dr Patti Gaal-Holmes has curated a free exhibition about Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism.
On display at Portsmouth History Centre at the Central Library until the end of July, Catching the Unseen: Spirit Photography from the Conan Doyle Collection includes photographs, archives and books taken from the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection – Lancelyn Green Bequest, many of which have never been displayed before.
Says Patti: ‘These are strange and enigmatic photographs including women materialising ectoplasm, “real ghosts” or “extras”, spirit writing and photographs and letters documenting experiences with fairies.’
The photographs might look ridiculous to the modern day eye, but the Victorians were fascinated with spiritualism and the paranormal and wanted to believe in the images.
Attempts to scientifically prove spiritualist activity and, alternatively, to uncover fraudulent spiritualists or mediums formed a significant part of the spiritualist movement and many of the 600 photographs in Conan Doyle’s collection were investigated by the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures.
There are now infamous examples of some well-known fakes. But, as spirit writing in one of the photographs on display says: ‘Before you can advance you must remove all doubt. The goal is reached by faith alone. Doubt creates confusion and obscurity.’
The exhibition is open Monday to Thursday and Saturday until the end of July.