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Kirlian photography

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Kirlian photograph of two coins

Kirlian photography refers to a form of photogram made with a high voltage. It is named after Semyon Kirlian, who in 1939 accidentally discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a source of high voltage, small corona discharges (created by the strong electric field at the edges of the object) create an image on the photographic plate.[1]

Kirlian's work, from 1939 onward, involved an independent rediscovery of a phenomenon and technique variously called "electrography", "electrophotography", and "corona discharge photography". The Kirlian technique is contact photography, in which the subject is in direct contact with a film placed upon a metal plate charged with high voltage, high frequency electricity.

The underlying physics (which makes xerographic copying possible) was explored as early as 1777 by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (see Lichtenberg figures). Later workers in the field included Nikola Tesla; various other individuals explored the effect in the later 19th and early 20th centuries.

Kirlian made controversial claims that the image he was studying might be compared with the human aura. An experiment advanced as evidence of energy fields generated by living entities involves taking Kirlian contact photographs of a picked leaf at set periods, its gradual withering being said to correspond with a decline in the strength of the aura. However it may simply be that the leaf loses moisture and becomes less electrically conductive, causing a gradual weakening of the electric field at the drier edges of the leaf. In some experiments, if a section of a leaf was torn away after the first photograph, a faint image of the missing section would remain when a second photograph was taken. The Archives of American Art Journal of the Smithsonian Institution published a leading article with reproductions of images of this phenomenon.[specify] James Randi has suggested that this effect was due to contamination of the glass plates, which were reused for both the "before" and "after" photographs.[2]


Kirlian photo of a leaf

In addition to living material, inanimate objects such as coins will also produce images on the film in a Kirlian photograph setup. In the United States, Dr. Thelma Moss of UCLA devoted much time and energy to the study of Kirlian photography when she led the parapsychology laboratory there in the 1970s. Much of her time was devoted to efforts to avoid factors proposed by skeptical peer-review.[3]

Also, in the 1970s psychologist Joe H. Slate Ph.D. led research at Athens State University under the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command as project "Kirlian Photography" (Featured in the History Channel's Vampire Secrets).

Current research continues by Dr. Konstantin Korotkov[4] in the Russian University, St. Petersburg State Technical University of Informational Technologies, Mechanics and Optics. Dr. Korotkov has published several books.[5] He uses GDV (Gas Discharge Visualization) based on the Kirlian Effect. GDV instruments use glass electrodes to create a pulsed electrical field excitation (called "perturbation technique") to measure electro-photonic glow.[6]

The Korotkov methods are used in some hospitals and athletic training programs in Russia and elsewhere as preventive measurements for detecting stress. The Russian Academy of Science has approved the GDV techniques and equipment in 1999 for general clinical use,[6] though it should be noted that the "approval", according to the certificates Dr. Korotkov himself is showing in his various web sites, only covers conformity with general electrical safety (standards 61010 and 61326).[7]

There has been some published research in peer-reviewed scientific journals regarding GDV and related material, including several articles in the Journal of Applied Physics and in IEEE articles.[8]


Kirlian photo of a fingertip
File:Kirlian finger 2a.jpg
Kirlian photo of two fingertips
Bioelectrography of a fingertip
Kirlian photo of a leaf
Kirlian photo of two coins

The accepted physical explanation is that the images produced are those typically caused by a high voltage corona effect, similar to those seen from other high voltage sources such as the Van de Graaff generator or Tesla coil. In a darkened room, this is visible as a faint glow but, because of the high voltages, the film is affected in a slightly different way from the usual. Color photographic film is calibrated to faithfully produce colors when exposed to normal light. The corona discharge has a somewhat different effect on the different layers of dye used to accomplish this result, resulting in various colors depending on the local intensity of the discharge.[9]

In popular culture

  • The concert programme from David Bowie's 1976 Station to Station tour featured some results of the technique, and in 1975 Bowie claimed to have achieved markedly different results, using his fingertip and his crucifix, before and after he took cocaine.[citation needed] The David Bowie album Earthling and the single "Little Wonder" used the images Bowie created as part of their cover and interior artwork.
  • Science fiction author Piers Anthony wrote a series of five books (Cluster, Chaining the Lady, Kirlian Quest, Thousandstar and Viscous Circle) based around the premise of Kirlian transfer, the idea that a person's identity resides in his or her Kirlian aura and can be transferred to a host, in effect transferring the individual into another body. The host must be a sapient being (not a beast) but may be of the same or different species and may be many light-years away, thus allowing the main character to traverse galaxies and "be" a variety of aliens during the course of a single book.
  • In the movie Omen IV: The Awakening, Delia's babysitter, Jo, takes Delia to a psychic carnival where she and Delia had their picture taken with a Kirlian camera. The picture came out with Delia's dark and evil aura overtaking Jo's lighter, greenish aura. The actual camera used was a Coggins Aura Camera 6000.
  • Benn Jordan's eighth album is titled Kirlian Selections, in reference to his electric-influenced music style.
  • Kirlia, a species of psychic-type Pokémon, is named after Semyon Kirlian.
  • In the Old World of Darkness book Project Twilight, Kirlian photography is one of the methods available to government vampire hunters to detect ghosts, spirits, and auras. In the New World of Darkness book Hunter: The Vigil, Kirlian photographic equipment is used by some hunters to investigate supernatural phenomena.
  • The electronic darkwave band Kirlian Camera take their name from this phenomenon.
  • In Margaret Atwood's speculative dystopian novel, Oryx and Crake (2002), scientists engineer "Kirilian energy-sensing algae" that is capable of detecting human emotions.[10]

See also


  1. Julie McCarron-Benson in Skeptical - a Handbook of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, ed Donald Laycock, David Vernon, Colin Groves, Simon Brown, Imagecraft, Canberra, 1989, ISBN 0-7316-5794-2, p11
  2. "Kirlian photography". An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 2008-10-14. , derived from:
    *Randi, James (1997). An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0312151195. 
  3. Thelma Moss, The Body Electric, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc., 1979.
  5. Including "Human Energy Field: study with GDV bioelectrography" 2002, NY, Backbone Publishing Co. and "Light After Life: Experiments and Ideas on After-Death Changes of Kirlian Pictures" 1998, NY, Backbone Publishing Co.
  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. See Russian certificates [1], and European certificate [2]. (The European certificate may be purchased at Berlin CERT [3] with no formal requirements of actual testing.
  9. David G. Boyers and William A. Tiller (1973). "Corona discharge photography". Journal of Applied Physics 44: 3102–3112. doi:10.1063/1.1662715. 
  10. Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. 1st. New York: Anchor Books, 2004 p. 201

External links

az:Kirlian effekti


he:צילום קירליאן
pl:Fotografia kirlianowska
pt:Fotografia Kirlian
ro:Fotografie Kirlian
ru:Эффект Кирлиана
tr:Kirlian fotoğrafçılığı