Living in a paranormal world

If this book sounds interesting, readers might also like to look at my own piece on this blog, titled “The Passing of Andrew”, which has two photos posted along with it, which I believe are the spiritual energy (or ghost) of my dog Andrew.


Ghosts Caught on Film 3: Photographs of the Supernatural

Author: Gordon Rutter               Hardcover, 160 pp.        US$16.99

Publ. David & Charles


Sixty-six thought-provoking photographs comprise this slim but fascinating volume. Except for one taken by the author, it appears that all the photos come from ordinary members of the public, not professional photographers. Each image gets a page to itself, while each photo-facing page carries an evocative title (“A Pub with Spirits,” “The Ghost in the Water,” “A Ruff Day at Tantallon Castle”) and a short discussion of the most significant circumstances surrounding the picture’s existence.

The photographs are grouped into eight theme-based sections. The book begins with entries from Edinburgh, Scotland, under the heading “The world’s most haunted city?” Mobile phones rate their own category, simply because they have made it so much more possible to take a quick snap anywhere, any time.  “Orbs and lights” brings together various phenomena which seem to be largely the result of photographic anomalies, rather than spiritual ones (but readers should draw their own conclusions).

“Location, location, location” offers ghostly photos from both famous haunting sites such as Warwick Castle, and places that one might expect hauntings, such as a former mental institution and former orphanage. “Figures that shouldn’t be there” and “Heads up, it’s a ghost” present, respectively, whole-figure and head-only apparitions.

“Family gatherings and parties” is the smallest section, with only three examples, which could perhaps have been absorbed into other categories; although for myself, I feel that there is something decidedly ghostly about all three of these. The last part is “Most likely to be a ghost — the top five” which were voted on by the public, from among all the images which were submitted to a website by private individuals. (I only agreed with two of the five.)

This is a surprisingly skeptical book, given the title. It takes a strongly rational, scientific approach to making sense of the variety of apparitions presented. Of course, when one is engaged in researching in a “questionable” field, one must apply a greater degree of rigor, than much “accepted” science often requires. Author Gordon Rutter (who helped to organize a 2009 “Science of Ghosts” conference in Edinburgh, and is head of the Charles Fort Institute) takes pains to explore “rational” explanations for each photo; but his analyses also imply that when every possible aspect has been studied, and still found to be inadequate as an explanation of all known data, then what is left, is a genuine mystery, and possibly something genuinely paranormal as well.

After spending some hours with this book, I concluded for myself, that between twenty-five and thirty of the photographs probably have some claim to paranormalcy, although I would not necessarily consider all of them to be ghosts in the traditional sense. By my reading of his commentaries, the author also seems to lean toward thinking that about thirty of the pictures have some ultimately unrationalizable aspect.

(My opinions do mostly overlap with Mr. Rutter’s, although not one hundred percent. For instance, in regard to an entry titled “The Holy Ghost,” I feel there might be something otherwise causing the unusual flame-like energy that seems to be dancing about among the African congregation, than the given explanation of a “bright screen” plus long exposure.)

I was interested to learn that there is a word — paradolia — for the brain’s ability to organize random visual impressions into recognizable faces and patterns. This means, that in some photographic cases, the “ghost” is probably only light and shadow on things such as stone, tree branches, mist, or window glass. Paradolia is one of the two most common rational explanations offered by Mr. Rutter, for a number of the images in this book.

His second tool for deconstructing the potentially mystical, is his own detailed knowledge of photography and photographic science, and how various phenomena may be produced (deliberately or accidentally) with a variety of photographic equipment. He delves into such factors as sources of ambient light, length of exposure, whether the camera was film or digital, whether a flash was used, and even whether the air was likely to be very cold at the time of the photo, resulting in the photographer’s breath creating a sort of fog around the lens. For a handful of photos, the author’s third method of debunking is the most direct — he reveals that these are either deliberate hoaxes by the photographers, or poor identification of existing geographic or meteorological reality.

This is a nicely-presented hardcover book which at 160 glossy pages, and a 7×8 inch format, I would characterize as an ‘end-table book,’ for living rooms that are too small for a coffee table. With an intriguing cover it invites picking up and browsing through. All the text is printed in white or light colors on black pages, enhancing the spooky feeling. The smallish format means that my husband and I both found we needed a magnifying glass to really see some of the ghostly details; but to be fair, the amateur quality of most of the snaps, means that these images would have been much less visible if blown up for a larger format.

This could be a wonderful conversation-starter book, since the subject matter tends to evoke strong feelings (pro or con) in almost everyone. At $16.99, it seems a little pricey for a small book; I got it for about $11 with a discount coupon at a chain bookstore, and felt that it was a very good buy at that price. On the other hand, if it provokes some really interesting discussions and revelations among people who have never before shared ideas on this topic, then as that TV credit-card ad suggests, it might be priceless.

As we are fast approaching October 31, I think this would be a great book to prominently display at one’s own Halloween or Day of the Dead party, and would likewise make a great hostess-gift at someone else’s. The publishers have a handful of similar titles available, including Monsters Caught on Film, Paranormal Caught on Film, and  two earlier volumes of Ghosts Caught on Film. I so much enjoyed Ghosts … 3  that I plan to read all the others at the first opportunity.


Comments on: "Ghosts Caught on Film 3: Photographs of the Supernatural" (2)

  1. Very interesting!!!

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