Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fundamentalists head-to-head.

Looking for the oil-painting SW mentioned in comments two posts back, I came across this blog. It's a list of 'ten best ghost photos' but in serious need of updating.

Quick overview of the photos:

10. Brown lady - covered this previously. Not proved to be fake. Could be real.

9. Hampton Court ghost - this was shown to be fake some years ago.

8. Newby Church Monk - a thin, 9-foot monk wearing a 'Scream' mask. Oh dear, oh dear. Someone's not making too much of an effort here. Deliberate fake.

7. Bed-ridden boy. The boy is real, as in alive. Someone stood in front of the camera and blurred the image during the long exposure. You can even see his face! Fake, possibly deliberate, more likely someone messed up a photo and decided to have a laugh with it.

6. Freddy Jackson. Famous one, and still unexplained. Could be real.

5. Favourite chair. Dubious, but possibly real. Remember, double-exposures have been around as long as cameras. I have my doubts about this one. If he's still haunting the place and someone took another photo, I'd perk up.

4. Backseat driver. Famous one, and possibly real.

3. Tombstone. Well, it's easy to take a photo without realising someone's standing in the background. The photographer's attention is on the subject. It could just be another tourist wandering around. Doesn't look like a cowboy ghost to me. Dubious.

2. Sea ghosts. Interesting, since there were multiple witnesses, but once a story goes around a ship, well... Anyway, I'd like to see more of that photo than the grainy enlarged bit shown here.

1. The Wem ghost. Still unexplained and not proved fake. Possible.

Finally, the granny photo. Seen this a few times and it's interesting but I'm suspicious of anything taken after Photoshop-type programs were invented. It's too easy these days.

What's especially interesting about that page is the comments section. It seems largely split between two camps: the 'there is no such thing and you're all gullible idiots' camp, and the 'ghosts are definitely proven to be true' camps. Both camps are fundamentalist in their views. Neither is correct. Ghosts are real, and I speak as one who has met a few. Ghosts have definitely not been proven to be real, in any sense that science would accept. I declined to comment there, since I doubt I'd be very welcome in either of those groups.

Photos are not proof, but they could provide stronger evidence than they do. Take the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, or the ghost in the library (no. 5 above). If they are still in residence, it should be possible to photograph them again. Has anyone made any serious effort to try? Another image of the brown lady, in another part of the hall, would be strong evidence. As would another photo of the man in the chair - but they would have to look the same. It would have to be evident that it was the same person in both photos.

The sea ghosts, Freddy Jackson, the backseat driver and the Wem girl were one-offs at specific events. They are not likely to be repeatable. The Brown Lady should be.

The thing is, spending a lot of time at a single location takes funding, because you'd need to pay someone to keep on looking and pay to have bucket-loads of film developed. Funding for an unproven theory is hard to come by. Catch-22: Prove it, and you'll get all the funding you need, but you need funding to stand a good chance of getting the proof.

Well, those of us who work at this will attempt to find that proof anyway. Multiple cameras are a good option, and one I've taken to using. Cover the same scene from different angles with two or more cameras - it dispenses with refractions, dust, lens artefacts and all kinds of other distractions because they won't appear on both cameras at the same time and in the same place. Cameras such as the Canon EOS series have timers that will take a series of photos at set time intervals. Most video cameras can do this too. All of mine can. They tend to drift apart over time, so it's best to let the EOS (I have the 35mm film version, not digital) take its timed photos and click the other camera when you hear it go off. It's not that much of a chore, really. Lugging around all those extra tripods is the worst part.

Still, it's down to chance. An anomalous image must appear on both cameras simultaneously, in such a way that it must have existed in one place within the area covered by the cameras.

It could still be argued against, it could still have been faked, but it would be much more difficult to fake a pair of images like that. Maybe that won't convince all the skeptics but it's one step closer.

One step at a time. That's how it should be. Claiming that ghosts are 'proved' doesn't make it so. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of pictures haven't convinced the skeptics so more of the same won't either - especially since I have Paint Shop Pro and can conjure up a dozen fakes in an evening. An expert with that program could make better fakes, and faster. No, more of the same won't do. It's time to move on to multiple-camera images and three-dimensional coverage of the test area.

You also need a wide-angle camera covering the whole scene to show where your test cameras are located in relation to the image they captured. It can get expensive, although if you use film, you can get decent SLR's pretty cheap on Ebay and in second-hand shops. Video cameras too - if you use DV or VHS-C, those cameras are dirt cheap. You need new tapes for every investigation but hey, if you want proof you have to make sure there can be no errors. If you're filthy rich, get some of those hard-disk video cameras. I have one, and although it was expensive it has no running costs. No tapes to buy. Eventually I'll replace all my video cameras with those, but it'll take time. They're small and light but delicate and easily broken. All video cameras use digital imaging, so whether they record to tape or disk makes no difference.

For still images, stick with film. Digital photos are too easy to tamper with. I'm not saying anyone would do it, I'm saying everyone would be accused of it and it's impossible to prove you didn't. Use multiple cameras. Stay out of shot if you're using long exposures. I don't apply the 'no smoking' rule because I'm not interested in mists, ghostly or otherwise. Besides, if you don't want mists you have to apply a 'no breathing' rule. Mists are no good. I want identifiable images.

That, I think, has to be the next step. More of these single images won't convince anyone. An image shot from multiple angles won't convince everyone either, but it's a step closer. It would prove the image was really present as a three-dimensional object. It won't prove absolutely that it was a ghost, but it would prove there's something to investigate.

It would prove we're not making this stuff up. That would be a very big step.


Southern Writer said...

I sometimes poke my head into a site where video cams are set up in a supposedly haunted hospital. Another site is set up for those who are watching them to post photos of their captures; and after viewing again the same old famous pics on the blog you linked to, it's got me thinking: why is it that there are never photos of a ghost moving away from the camera? There's the woman in the cemetery, who sits at a right angle to the camera, but other than her, it seems every ghost who has been "captured" posed for the picture. Can you think of any examples where that's not the case?

ThatGreenyFlower said...

SW does have a point. But my question is this: why is Nessie always looking away from the cameras?

I enjoyed the photos.

Romulus Crowe said...

Good point, and one that hasn't occurred to me. Naturally, most of the photos look 'staged' because they were. There are many, many fakes out there. Yet even the unexplained ones have the ghost facing the camera (not sure about the library ghost, no. 5, the face isn't clear).

Freddy Jackson was facing the camera because he wanted to be in the picture with his mates (allegedly). The Brown Lady was coming down the stairs, the camera was facing up. In many cases I suspect ghosts behave just like anyone else when faced with a camera - if they notice it, they look at it. Or they hide/disappear, depending on the individual. So most photos would be full-face or nothing at all. I'll look deeper into it, but it might take a little while. It's tax-return time for us last-minute tax-returners, and there are floods everywhere too. I'm flood-free but the lines between me and my ISP aren't always.

As for Nessie, I don't think there's a photo left that hasn't been shown to be a fake. So the reason he's always facing away from the camera is because it saves the bother of making a face for the model. Either that, or he's camera-shy.

There's a lake-monster or two in the US, isn't there? I recall reading about one named 'Champ', some time ago.

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