Whatever doubts people may have about the brilliance of some of the explanations for Kirlian photography, few can doubt the brilliance of its visual effects. A type of photogram formed when a source of high voltage is hooked up to an object placed directly onto a photographic plate, Kirlian photography was embraced in pseudo-scientific circles from the moment it was brought to light – and today the debate about its underlying causes burns on brightly.
Discovered by chance: A Kirlian photograph of poker symbols
Kirlian photography gets its name from the guy who accidentally discovered it, a Russian amateur inventor and electrician by the name of Semyon Kirlian. Kirlian was tinkering around in his workshop back in 1937 when the small corona discharges that would define his discovery first lit up his awestruck eyes.
Electric veins: Paper smeared with a small quantity of alloy liquid metal
Through the early 1940s, Kirlian would go on to pioneer the process of capturing photographs of electrical corona created around objects affected by high voltages. However, far more contentious than the techniques Kirlian used were the claims he made about this uncanny, halo-like phenomenon.
Nice aura? A Kirlian photograph of a hand
Kirlian argued that the images he was investigating might register the presence of auras. The Russian proposed that the glowing radiation could prove the existence of mysterious energy fields generated by living entities. A famous experiment involves taking sequential Kirlain photos of a leaf plucked from a tree, with the weakening strength of its supposed aura held to correspond to its gradual loss of life.
Experiments in Kirlian photography: A leaf and a leaf corona
Needless to say, sceptics have been as withering as the leaf itself was about the credulous conclusions drawn from this experiment. It now seems likely that as the leaf is less able to conduct electricity, it simply loses moisture, and so a steady fading of the electric field occurs at its drier edges.
Sour reception? A Kirlian photograph of a slice of lemon
Strangely, in some versions of the experiment, a ghostly trace of the leaf appeared to show up on film even after part of it was torn away – though this too has been explained away as down to moisture residue left on the glass plates which the leaves lay on.
Bright idea: A random shape cut from foil
It is now generally accepted that the effects of Kirlian photography are no more than the sparks discharged by a grounded object between itself and its surrounding electrical field. However, the paranormally inclined persist in viewing Kirlian photography’s coronas of light as embodying something more pseudo-spiritual, and it is even used as a diagnostic technique in some alternative therapies.
New age hokum? Quartz crystal plasma
Other, more serious practice and research continues under the auspices of physicist Dr. Konstantin Korotkov of the St. Petersburg State Technical University of Informational Technologies, Mechanics and Optics in Russia. Following personal contact with Semyon Kirlian himself, Korotkov has taken up his countryman’s baton and continues to study stimulated electro-photonic glows around the human body and other objects.
Wow: Kirlian photograph of water aura before exposure
Korotkov is more than open to ideas about auras, contending that our lives are not only material body and existence but first of all energy. Under the banner of biolectography, he uses GDV (Gas Discharge Visualization) instruments rooted in the Kirlian effect to create pulsed electrical field excitation. And despite what the sceptics say, Korotkov’s methods are used in certain Russian hospitals and athletic training programmes as measurements for detecting and preventing stress.
What’s your money on? Kirlian photograph of a coin
Though it’s supernatural past might have escaped it for the most part, it seems the glow of Kirlian photography is not dead yet.