Richard Zakia collection on Ted Serios
Scope and Contents
The Richard Zakia collection on Ted Serios includes correspondence, photographs, clippings, and published material. The correspondence in the collection discusses Zakia's participation in a project where a team of RIT researchers tried to prove the legitimacy of Serios's skill. In several of the letters, Zakia stated that the team found that Serios's claims were untrue and had discovered how he was faking it. The collection also includes photographs from his failed attempts to produce "thoughtographs" while participating in the study at RIT.
In addition, the collection contains clippings from various sources discussing Serios's talent. There are also clippings related to Jule Eisenbud's book, The World of Ted Serios, and the material discussed therein. For instance, one clipping shows a picture of a Russian Vostok rocket. In his book, Eisenbud claims that Serios was able to produce a mental image of a Russian Vostok rocket even though no other picture existed at the time (Eisenbud, 1967, p. 26).
Also in the collection are a copy Eisenbud's book, signed by Ted Serios; Mind Power or Hoax: An Analysis of the Phenomenon Labeled "Thoughtography"; and the October 1967 issue of Popular Photography that includes an article on Ted Serios.
- Creation: 1967-1974, 2005
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to researchers.
Biographical Information: Ted Serios
Ted Serios (1921-2006), born on November 27, 1921, is perhaps the most famous "thoughtographer" to date. When working as a bellhop at a Chicago hotel, Serios met George Johannes. In 1955, the pair conducted a series of clairvoyance experiments during which they discovered Serios’s ability to imprint mental images on a roll of undeveloped Polaroid film. Serios would attempt to project images in his head onto the camera, while taking shots of a blank wall. Several of these images appeared on the film once it was developed.
In 1961, Serios met Dr. Jule Eisenbud, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medical School. Since Eisenbud’s area of research was parapsychology, he was interested in Serios’s unique ability. Over the next three years, Eisenbud ran a series of experiments on Serios, finally concluding that Serios’s talent was legitimate. His findings were published in The World of Ted Serios in 1967. This endorsement from a member of the scientific community helped lend credibility to Serios's claims and he soon became a subject of popular interest. By this point, Serios had switched to using a Polaroid Land camera to provide his audiences with quicker results. He appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and challenged magician "The Amazing Randi" to duplicate his skill.
Despite Eisenbud’s findings, many remained skeptical of Serios’s talent. Serios often selected his own “target images” and had more unsuccessful attempts than successful imprints. Additionally, many of his “thoughtographs” were of buildings and landmarks that resembled images found in other sources. Serios’s method also led many to question his legitimacy. In order to produce an image Serios claimed that he needed to be as close to the camera as possible. To achieve this, he would use what he termed a “gizmo,” a hollow tube that was used to channel his thoughts to the camera’s lens. Although his “gizmos” were often made of materials provided by the experimentation site, many speculated that Serios hid something in the tube when no one was looking.
Responding to skeptics, Serios often agreed to participate in experiments to prove that his skill was legitimate. One such research project was conducted at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). According to Richard Zakia, a former professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, Life Magazine asked RIT to confirm the authenticity of Serios’s ability. As with many, the RIT team was not convinced that Serios’s talent was paranormal in nature. In fact, correspondence from Zakia suggests that the RIT team determined Serios’s talent to be nothing more than an elaborate hoax.
By the late 1960’s, Serios claimed to have lost his ability to produce “thoughtographs.” He died on December 30, 2006.
0.25 Linear Feet (1 half document box)
Materials related to Richard Zakia's investigation of Ted Serios's claimed ability to be able to imprint mental images on camera film. The collection includes a few pieces of correspondence discussing Zakia's project, as well as photographs and photographic negatives of Serios's failed attempts. Also included are clippings and publications discussing Serios's talent.
The collection is arranged by series.
Other Finding Aids
In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the RIT Archive Collections.
Richard Zakia collection on Ted Serios
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was a gift from Richard Zakia, donated in 2002.
Finding aid created by Lara Nicosia in November 2010.
- Eisenbud, Jule (Person)
- Rochester Institute of Technology. School of Photographic Arts and Sciences (Organization)
- Serios, Ted (Person)
- Zakia, Richard D. (Donor, Person)
- Richard Zakia collection on Ted Serios
- RIT Archives
- Lara Nicosia
- 10 November 2010
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note