Kirlian Photography

Kirlian photography is a process by which an animate or inanimate object is photographed while being subjected to an electric charge. The resulting image shows a band or halo of light surrounding the object, which some people say is an aura—a theoretical life force that they say emanates from all living and nonliving things.

There are several methods for accomplishing Kirlian photography. In the most commonly used method, the object is placed against a flat metal plate, beneath which is the photographic film, and then pulses of high-voltage current are passed through the plate. This current of high-frequency electricity causes the object’s image to be transferred to the film, even though no camera has been used. When the film is developed, the resulting image of the object is dark but surrounded by the halo of light, sometimes streaked as though radiating outward.

Animate objects—living things—display a wide variety of halos in regard to colour, size, and shape, and each of these halos continuously changes. For example, the fingers of most healthy humans, when photographed in this way, prove to be surrounded by a blue and white halo, while the forearm is typically greenish-blue and the thigh olive green, but when people are upset, all of these areas become reddish. Inanimate objects, however, have a constant, unchanging halo that is bland and regular in appearance.

Interestingly, when researchers cut a piece from a living thing, such as a leaf, before subjecting it to Kirlian photography, the resulting image often shows the band of light surrounding the object as though it still had its original, whole form. In other words, the missing part is not missing on the image. Believers in auras have suggested that this means the aura is connected to some aspect of a living thing that is unaffected by external changes—its essence, perhaps, or spirit.

Kirlian photography was invented by Russian electrician Semyon Kirlian in 1939. At that time, Kirlian had observed that an electrode sometimes flashed when a person’s fingertips were nearby, and he suspected that the fingertips were emitting some kind of electromagnetic energy that in turn was causing the electrode to discharge. Kirlian designed his photographic equipment and technique to prove this theory. In his first attempt at the process, he simply attached electrodes to one of his hands, placed his hand on a photographic plate, and turned on the power. He burned his hand, but he also concluded that the rings he saw in this, the first Kirlian photograph, were evidence of what he called bioplasmic energy.

This idea was displaced, however, by the concept of auras during the 1970s. By this time, many people involved in psychic healing were claiming that they could see auras, and that these bands of light told them whether a patient was healthy. Consequently, researchers such as parapsychologist Thelma Moss, then with the University of California–Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute, decided to examine whether Kirlian photography could be used to diagnose illnesses. These researchers discovered that when subjecting a person’s body parts to the process, the halos change in response to changes in the person’s emotions and level of health. They also change when the person is the subject of psychic healing. Skeptics, however, argue that the rings are merely the result of static electricity built up in the air and discharged during the process of performing Kirlian photography.

SEE ALSO: aura; psychic healing


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning