Don't Smile for the Camera

Cyril Permutt. Photographing The Spirit World: Images From Beyond the Spectrum. The Aquarian Press, 1988.

Flicking through this book you cannot help being fascinated by t he images of what are alleged to be supernormal photographs. Part of this fascination is created by wondering how on earth anyone could be fooled into thinking that these images show anything other than simple double exposures, hoaxes or just ignorance of processing errors or human gullibility. A good example of one of the supernormal pictures that can be easily explained is shown on page 105. This shows an image of the American train robber, Bob Brown. The supernormal photograph shows a portrait of him with his eyes closed, yet the only published photograph of him shows him with his eyes open. This would make a very good case except that the spirit photograph has exactly the same pose, lighting and shadow features, the only difference is that it is blurred and the contrast between light and dark exaggerated.

Most photographs of deceased relatives look too much like old photographs of them, and they always tend to fit convenient spaces in the negative where they won’t overlap with the 'real' image. Thoughtographic images don't seem any more convincing. The exploits of Uri Geller or Ted Seri ous who used an intriguing ‘gizmo’ to produce Polaroid ‘thoughtographs' hardly inspire confidence.

Permutt does a good job of reviewing the development of photography and the almost parallel development of supernormal photography. Unfortunately, he does not take a very critical attitude towards the images he reproduces and he could have mentioned the saga of the Cottingley fairy photographs and similar episodes that highlight the complexities of evaluating such photographs. With the fascination with alien entities no doubt the images from beyond the spectrum will change entirely from shrouded figures, ectoplasmic emanations, and ghostly blurred images of dead relatives, into spacemen covered in tinfoil suits or saintly space-brothers smiling down from some extraterrestrial heaven.
  • Nigel Watson, from Magonia 33, July 1989.

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