There are literally thousands of books on ghosts each containing numerous stories which claim to be true accounts that have occurred to people throughout the centuries. There are also a few books which claim to show photographs of ghosts. A lot of these photographs are somewhat dubious to say the least so therefore it was pleasing to be sent this book to review as it had some many different categories to it. The author Melvyn Willin, is the Honorary Archivist of the prestigious Society for Psychical Research in London and a paranormal researcher and lecturer. Indeed I booked Melvyn to speak to my society Strange Phenomena Investigations a few years back where he lectured in London for us regarding ‘music and ghosts’ and a fascinating lecture it was too.
Before I received this book for review, I actually spotted it in the tourist shop of the beautiful Royal Pavilion (former seaside resort for George IV) in Brighton a few weeks ago. Thumbing through it I saw straight away that here was a book that set its stall out good and proper and I wasted no time getting in touch with Melvyn for a review copy. So, what did I think of this book?
As anyone who knows me will know, I always say it as it is. This book is a classic for all the ‘right’ reasons. Firstly the book sets it stall out straight away with no misconceptions by the author that we have to take each given photo with a pinch of salt, for the author knows all too well that we are living in an age of computer generated images where it is so easy to fake and manipulate an image to look like a ghosts however he quite rightly poses the question that prior to intricate digital software being developed etc, there were many pre-digital photos of ghosts of which questions should be asked. Can the camera lie? It sure as hell can.
As well as the camera lying, we have fraud and dodgy people out to make a fast buck by trying to pass off photographs of what claim to show ghosts, it would be a fool to think that every photograph of a ghost is the real deal, that’s clearly not the case, but I’ll tell you this, some of the photographs in this book have a bloody strong case for them being real, ‘whatever real may be’!
Of course ghostly photographs can work both ways (as well as other UFO & Paranormal photographs) what I mean by that is, the photographer who is taking his shot (of whatever) may not see anything untoward through the viewfinder that he is looking through and when the photo is developed, lo and behold we have what appears to be a ghost or some other strange anomalous effect. Or, he can take a photo of an anomalous object/thing that he clearly see’s with his own eyes and yet ‘nothing’ comes out on the camera, so as we can see, we are clearly dealing with something which does not have a clear component of structure and this is what makes it all so interesting. And let us not forget that what comes up on the developed film may not be a ghost at all, but the result of a camera fault or of extra light getting into the lens of the camera making a halo effect or lens flare etc. There are a hundred and one things that can give rise to ‘false images’ being misconstrued as a ghost, so let us not lose sight of that fact.
This book is jammed pack of photographic anomalies each of which the author provides information of, ie, where the photograph was taken and what year and any other information that he has uncovered about it. The author then goes into his own interpretation of what that photograph could or could not be. So, what’s in here then, what makes this book so appealing to me and I’m sure, the many others who will read it after me. Let’s take a look shall we.
Firstly do we really know what ghosts are? Are they really dead people coming back into our viewing spectrum and if so, how do they do it, we’ll leave that discussion for another day. That ghosts appear on film there is no denying.
The author goes into those early images of ghosts which look oh so fake and manufactured and yet could well be real. We learn about those early photographic pioneers who knew photography more than the man in the street and saw an opportunity to make a quick buck by deception. During the first world war where many British and European servicemen and women lost their lives, back home some unscrupulous photographers were cashing in and making a cut and paste job of lost loved ones claiming to be the spirits of the deceased fallen. (but that’s another story) I’ll leave that one for another day!
Probably one of the most famous if not infamous ghostly photographs, concerns the appearance (make that Materialisation) of Silver Belle a native American spirit guide of psychic medium Ethel Post Parrish) This book shows just one photographic plate of her materialisation (there are a few others not shown in this book) It was taken sometime between 1932 and 1961 (yes I know !) and looks a bit fishy and in the other photographs (not shown) a bit one dimensional but the sitters of this séance claim that this materialisation did take place. We have photographs of a chap levitating, of the Katie King séance and controversy, and any book of ghosts photographs would not be complete without those lovely Cottingly fairies which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pinned his hat on being real, they were not. We have photographs of a materialisation of an eagle (or hawk) and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.
The author also looks at photographs of Kirlin photography and the strange shapes and halos that can be produced in this process. Is this a real phenomenon or something else? On page 34 we have a couple photographs of what appears to be the soul leaving the body of a person who has just died, can this really be the soul/spirit (call it what you will) leaving a body, or is the explanation more mundane, well the author certainly ensures that all points are covered and gives his thoughts on this as he does with all the others.
The very controversial photographs of one Ted Serios are shown (well one of them anyway) and Melvyn goes into this photo with clever thoughts. Ted you see could just hold a camera with loaded film, hold it to his head, think of a place or image and lo and behold when someone got the film processed there on the film would be a cloudy image of what he said would be there. Controversial or what!
Surprisingly photographs of orbs only get two pages (I would have thought they might have got more) but then again, this book covers so much photographic anomalies that there has to be a cut off point. So what are Orbs then? Read the author’s views and see what you think.
What makes this book also special is that the author makes sure that you the reader always know that there ARE other alternatives to what either the camera or human eye see’s. Take for instance Simulacrum. Simulacrum for those who don’t know what it is, it’s a combination of normal natural things which construe to confuse or make the human mind see what essentially is not there. Take for instance the shapes in the clouds, they can look like a figure, a face, or whatever, or shapes in a fire, you get the picture don’t you. The brain will always try to analyse as best it can on things it’s seeing and provide to the viewer what is there. In some cases these images can also be photographed as on page 50 with the photograph of the Virgin Mary in some trees outside a church, it sure looks the real deal but taken with the knowledge of light streaming through the branches and the way that the actual branches are situated, it looks convincingly like a marvellous bright glowing image of the Virgin Mary when clearly it’s not. The problem we have with this of course is the fact that some people really will think that they have seen the Virgin Mary, they’ll tell their story and the story will go into paranormal folklore. Thankfully, by being captured on camera, we can see the photograph for what it really is, just a trick of the light. Don’t let us ever forget Simulacrum for it makes up to me, many ghost and UFO photos, of that I’m sure.
I liked the Manila ghost photo on page 76 (buy the book to see what I mean) God this looks so spooky, I ain’t gonna tell you anymore because I want you to buy the book, it’s a cracker. So what other ghostly photographs are in here?
Well there is a Gordon Brown look alike ghost photo on page 78 followed by a photograph of two girls in Victorian dresses on page 84 and a photograph of a ghostly teacher on page 87. Then there is a photograph of a ghost hanging from a tree and ghosts appearing in old dusty churches. I remember speaking years ago to researcher Maurice Gross at the Ghost Club in London where he was giving a lecture about the Covent Garden ghost photo, (amoungst other ghostly photographs) that photo truly is baffling. Maurice was clearly convinced that this photo was the real deal and showed a ghostly young girl pushing her way in front of a lady with a child in a push chair.
Don’t let us also forget that not only are we dealing with photographs of ghosts, we are dealing with the testimony of those people who have taken these photographs. Are they telling the truth, are they for real, are they after money? For instance the photo taken in the underground on the Bakerloo line which clearly shows a man in the electric chair, (through the window of the tube train) is either a downright forgery or a photographic anomaly of the highest importance which challenges the mind and pushes the mind to bursting point. What the hell is going on with this one!
All in all then this book is a bloody cracker, it’s one of those books that will always spark a conversation if you have friends round. Some will believe some will not. Of course this book only scratches the surface of ghostly photographs, there are countless hundreds more from all over the world, you just need to type in ghost photographs in Google to see that. But like I said at the start, we are living in the age of digital software and it only takes two ticks to draught up a clever photo, but I’ve also said many, many times before, that just because something looks fake doesn’t mean that it is so, so do remember that folks.
Yes a good read then I’m sure each new reader of this book will have their own thoughts about what they are looking at. I’ll leave you with this thought, if you the reader of this review, have nothing to do later today, why don’t you look back through your old photograph albums from yester-year, who knows, maybe you’ll come across some photographs of orbs, or perhaps something even more spookier. You never know. Buy this book, it’s a classic.