Saturday, July 19, 2008

Book Review: Ghosts Caught on Film

To follow up on the recent posts about Moundsville, I wanted to mention a book I checked out of the library just before going on vacation. The title, says it all: Ghosts Caught on Film: Photographs of the Paranormal (published by David & Charles Limited, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0-7153-2728-9)

Double exposure photographs are not unusual--I once had one of our Volkswagen going in two directions at once, and a whole roll that transposed family Christmas photos over Aaron's trip to Europe.

There are other explanations for the strange things that show up in photos--tricks of light, optical illusion, film abnormalities or exposure to heat/light, and these days even PhotoShop and other software that allows manipulation of images.

But this book contains many photos taken before the techno age, and several that are Polaroid shots. So how to explain all the ghostly appearances in the pictures? The author, Dr. Melvyn Willin, makes a strong effort to search out any possible fakes in the photos presented. Some, he asserts, are probable frauds; others are double exposures and tricks of light. Dr. Willin has a checklist of questions he poses for each photo he examines, both those included in this book and others that come to him for explanation.

One question the author poses in his introduction invites conversation: what should a goes look like? a shadow? an actual person? a form? a vapor or mist? There are as many answers, opinions, as there are supposed sightings of otherworldly creatures. No one can definitively answer the question, which leaves all possibilities (or none) open to continued debate.

The most intriguing photo in the book, I think, is the one of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln with her dead husband standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. Mrs. Lincoln had lied to the photographer ( William H. Mumler)about her identity, and he did not know who she was when he took the photo. In later years Mumler was discredited as a fraud. But in this instance, was it purely coincidence that he chose Lincoln to be included in the photo, or was this truly a ghost photo?

Another surprising photo is of The Madonna of the Fountain. There is no mistaking the image in the picture, taken in 1995. Is it simply a trick of the light reflecting on water? The reader can decide.

In the end, it is up to the reader to determine the truth or falseness of all the photos in the book. Whether viewed as a mental exercise, a study of unexplained mysteries, or as trick photography, the book is entertaining and interesting as it explores the history behind each picture. This is a fun read for summertime evenings.


Grand Life said...

Love your post on "Ghost/Film". I'm going to order it from our library. Thanks so much for your visits to my blog and your comments. We are winding down fromn a 2 week marathon of visitors but it's been great. I'm looking forward to getting back to commenting and visiting my favorite blogs again. Have a great week.

Tracey said...

This looks interesting. O am going to have to check it out.

Tracey said...

I mean I....silly me!!

City Mouse said...

I'm going to have to check into this book! Thanks for the suggestion. I have a few spirit photography books, but hadn't seen this one before. The Mary Todd photo is pretty cool, I think. It's pretty famous, but I had not seen it in quite a while.

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