5 of History’s Most Famous Photography Pranks

April Fools’ Day has origins dating all the way back to the 14th century, and photography can be traced to the 1800s. It only makes sense that the two would intersect and we’d see some shenanigans. Here are a few of the most famous pranks ever played with the aid of a camera.

The Cottingley Fairies

famous photography pranks cottingley fairies

A series of photographs brought to public attention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) that he used as evidence to support his theories of the existence of fairies and psychic phenomena.

William H. Mumler’s Spirit Photography

famous photography pranks mumler ghosts photos

Mumler started a relatively lucrative career as a spirit photographer after the Civil War (when the deaths of many loved ones was still fresh). He would photograph a living person and doctor the image to have a deceased relative in frame too. The photo above was taken of Mary Todd Lincoln with the “ghost” of her deceased husband, the former president.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

famous photography pranks brown lady ghost

One of England’s most famous hauntings (mostly due to the above photographic “evidence”), the ghost of a Lady dressed in brown haunts a house after her death in the early 18th century. The photo above (which was more likely than not a simple double exposure or a simple superimposition) was taken by Country Life magazine in 1936.

The Loch Ness Monster — “The Surgeon’s Photograph”

famous photography pranks - loch ness surgeons photo

The first photo of the head and neck of the famed Loch Ness monster (taken in 1934) was actually nothing more than a toy submarine with some extra plastic built onto it.

Hippolyte Bayard’s Self Portrait as a Drowned Man

famous photography pranks - the drowned man

Though a little morbid, the first known “staged” photograph belonged to that of an inventor lashing out at the perceived injustice of not being recognized as an inventor of photography (he invented a process known as “direct positive printing”). In 1840, he photographed his own “suicide” by drowning and wrote the following on the back of the image:

The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government, which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life…!

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