Kirlian Photography: Revealing Nature’s Electrical Aura
by Christina Badal
Kirlian photography is the term used to describe the techniques used to capture the phenomenon of electrical coronal discharges. It is named after Semyon Kirlian, a Russian electrical engineer, and his wife Valentina, who in 1939 discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a high-voltage source, an image is produced on the photographic plate.
The Kirlians developed the technique after observing a patient in Krasnodar hospital who was receiving medical treatment from a high-frequency electrical generator. When the electrodes were brought near the patient’s skin, they noticed a glow similar to that of a Neon Discharge Tube. Afterwards, the Kirlians conducted experiments in which photographic film was placed on top of a conducting plate, and another conductor was attached to the a hand, a leaf or other plant material. The conductors were energized by a high frequency high voltage power source, producing photographic images typically showing a silhouette of the object surrounded by an aura of light.
Though the Kirlians reported the results of their experiments in 1958, their work remained virtually unknown until 1970, when two Americans, Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander published a book, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. While Kirlian photography has been the subject of mainstream scientific research, it has largely been co-opted by promoters of pseudoscience, parapsychology, and paranormal health claims. In many ways, the technique has effected greater mass influence because of these associations, and speaks to the ways “energy-culture” enters popular thought.