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Kirlian photography refers to a form of photogram made with 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 voltage an image is produced on the photographic plate.
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 charged metal plate.
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 said that the image he was studying might be compared with the human aura. An experiment in evidence of energy fields generated by living entities involves taking Kirlian contact photographs of a picked leaf at set periods, its gradual withering corresponding with a decline in the strength of the aura. 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.