Email received with photograph, July 8th 2014:
" Last Friday evening, we were at the 4th of July fireworks on Fort Stewart, GA. We sat in a parking lot with just a few other people, only a few hundred feet away from Warrior's Walk, which is a place around the parade field that has hundreds of trees, each planted for a fallen soldier. I was snapping pics of my grand daughter playing and running with the 2 young boys of the man in the light blue shirt. The pics came out a little blurry because the kids were running and it was dusk, but when I went through to delete them, I came upon this shot! My daughter-in-law was right next to me watching me delete the shots and saw the figure the same time I did. I cropped it down and immediately shared it with the gentleman in light blue and the few other people with us in the parking lot. There was NO ONE walking past or standing there when I took the shot... How can I find out if this is truly a spirit I captured?"
Next email below, replying to questions: (1) were you outside when taking the photo? (not inside looking through glass - there may have been a reflection, and (2) do you have any other photos taken before and after the one you sent?
"To answer your question, yes, I was outside. I was sitting in a chair just like the man in the blue shirt, getting ready to watch the fireworks. All of us sat in a parking lot across the street from the gym. Unfortunately, I had already deleted the other pictures I took before this one - but I honestly believe "he" was not in those. I am confident that I would have noticed before deleting. I am sending you the one I took AFTER I took this shot however. I took that to see if something would show up again, but as you can see, nothing."
"Well, there is definitely a figure of some description in your photo. It's not a photographic anomaly of any kind, and it's not some other object (a tree, or whatever) that has the shape of a human. Most of the photos we receive are either some kind of photographic fault (dust orbs, camera movement, lens flare, etc) or a random pattern that looks like a face or figure (pareidolia, simulacrum). Your photo fits neither category.
"The lack of detail in the figure is probably caused by to the low light level (under-exposure, due to back-lighting) combined with the long-ish shutter speed (not given in the photo file's Exif data, but I would estimate to be in the range of 1/4 to 1/15 of a second) and jpeg file compression applied by the phone-camera.
"The question is then: is this an image of an actual, living human being, or is it a ghost of some kind?
"The natural explanation is that there was a tall man passing through the scene, who appears in the photo but who you did not personally observe.
"Have you ever seen the video of the people passing a basketball and you're asked to count the number of passes? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo
"You've probably seen it before, but it illustrates perfectly the concept of selective attention. In this case, you might be concentrating to capture your daughter with the camera to a level where you don't notice some other things occurring in the scene at that time: a man wanders in and out but you don't see him because you're not looking for him. This is one of the ways that our brain's processing of visual and other sensory information is unreliable. Lawyers often use this type of argument in court when challenging eyewitness accounts of crimes.
"So, selective attention is a likely natural explanation. A less likely explanation - but not an inconceivable or impossible one - is that you managed to capture a ghost with your camera.
"Skeptics are fond of the argument known as Occam's Razor, which says that when offered multiple explanationss for a thing, we should choose the simplest. (This WIkipedia article explains it better.) It's a strong argument, but it seems to break down when applied to things that are exceptionally complex, things for which no simple explanation exists, for example in quantum mechanics. Explanations for things that are observed in the quantum scale of things are so mind-bogglingly unintuitive and complex that even specialised scientists struggle with them. In other words, Occam's Razor doesn't necessarily apply outside of certain situations or contexts. The same counter-argument might apply to some paranormal phenomena.
"I like the quote from Fred W H Myers; "Whatever else, indeed, a 'ghost' may be, it is probably one of the most complex phenomena in nature."
"Ultimately, this photograph as potential proof of the existence of ghosts would fail because it is dependent on testimony that there was no actual human being present to account for the strange figure. What would be needed to strengthen the case is other documentary evidence, for example a video taken by someone else that covers the same place and time as your photo.
"In a nutshell; there is a probable natural explanation for the figure in the photograph; but we can't be certain of it, so there remains the possibility that the was no living human there and the photo shows someone who has already passed, perhaps indeed a fallen soldier."
Further email received, providing some corroboration that there was no unaccounted-for living human present when the photo was taken:
"Again, thank you very much for giving so much attention to my photo. After hearing over and over again that there had to be a human standing or walking there, I started wondering if I indeed missed someone standing there or walking past, so I called the wife of the "man in the blue shirt" to ask her about it as well. I still had her phone number because she had asked me to text her my photo. When I asked her if she thinks that someone was there and we just missed him, she said, and I quote, "I am a mama bear. If there was a man walking by or standing near my children, I would have noticed it. I am positive that no one was there." So you see, she confirmed my account that there was no one there outside of the children and her husband. She restored my faith because I truly was beginning to doubt myself, but I once again believe that the figure in the photo was not of this earth and I was lucky to get a shot of him. I also believe it's a soldier and found it interesting that I caught a shot of him just as the announcer was listing all the foreign wars the U.S. fought in."
"Thank you for that corroborating information. That helps make a good case for your photo being a genuine mystery. Also, thanks for permission [to use the photo on our website]."
In summary, we think that the semi-silhouetted figure in the centre of the photo is definitely a human figure, not something caused by pareidolia or any combination of photographic anomalies. If we accept the corroborated declaration that there was no actual unaccounted-for human present when the photo was taken, then we have a picture of some kind of spirit or ghost - a historical trace of a soldier, perhaps.
We don't think that anyone is lying or has deliberated faked or Photoshopped the image. (If they have they've done an extraordinary, expert job of it! - and that's speaking as a professional photographer with two decades of Photoshop experience). The tone of the email converstaion has been genuine throughout (we've edited out names and some polite chit-chat). So it comes down to the reliability of two eyewitness testimonies. If they are not mistaken, then apparently we have a ghost!
Photo Exif data (main photo, using ExifReader )
ImageWidth : 1611
ImageHeight : 1316
Make : LG Electronics
Model : VS980 4G
DateTime : 2014:07:04 20:56:24
FNumber : 24/10
MeteringMode : Unknown (65535)
LightSource : Unidentified
Flash : Not fired
FocalLength : 3.97(mm)
WhiteBalance : Auto
What are your thoughts on this?
Please feel free to post relevant comments below.
A semi-relevant link:
ADDENDUM - 7th August
Andrew (see comments, pretty far down) has picked me up on my logic, which is fair enough. I need to express my thinking here more clearly and methodically.
So, avoiding an 'either/or' type of logic, there are a number of possible explanations for this photo (and most other photographs that may show a ghost or other paranormal phenomenon). They are:
1. is the reason for most of the purported paranormal photos, but it is in the main part eliminated. However, the lack of clarity of the image is caused by the camera's inadequate ability to automatically compensate for the low light level and backlighting, and the amount of JPEG compression it has applied to the recorded image file, so 1. is a contributing factor. If the image were of better quality, we might not be having this discussion over it because the physical situation would be obvious.
2. is eliminated. The questionable figure in the photo is not a tree or any other object that happens to look a bit like a human figure. (Visual pareidolia is the cause of most of the other purported paranormal photos we see.)
3. is eliminated. The photo shows no evidence of tampering, the photographer says she did not tamper with the photo and I believe her; she did not have the means or motive to do so. Also, if you were going to fake a ghost photo, you would most likely make it a bit more of an obvious-looking ghost than this one. Deliberately faked photos are quite rare these days (at least in the requests we get for photo analysis), because they are just too easy to make. Why bother? People often make the accusation, 'It's Photoshopped' (see comments) but they usually have no basis for their opinion.
4. This is the one we can't discount with certainty. As I've stated repeatedly in the body of the blog, I believe that the photographer and the other witness are being totally honest. But no matter how much people are convinced that events happened in a certain way, countless episodes exist where one witness's testimony does not match up to anothers, or to recorded versions of events. Human perception, memory processes, and recall can all be flawed, or contaminated.
5. While we do not yet know of any mechanism by which an image of a ghost can be recorded, there remains the outside possibility that somehow this has occurred. If we can eliminate 1, 2, 3 and 4 with certainty and can't discover any other normal reason for the anomaly, we have to give 5 some very serious consideration.
I don't think we can eliminate all of these natural explanations with certainty, but this photo is tantalising nonetheless. The nearly 30,000 page views so far are testimony to that, and I thank the photographer for sending us the photo, and for her work in replying to the comments below.
We all now know about orbs, usually caused by the camera flash reflecting of close-proximity airborn dust particles or moisture droplets, the highlights reflecting back and rendering out-of-focus as mysterious looking pseudo-objects still thought by some to be a spirit manifestations.
But these days, with current camera design, lens flare is taking over from orbs as the number one cause of false positives in photographs purporting to show paranormal activity. The evidence for this claim is the proportion of photos sent to us for examination for which lens flare is the most obvious explanation for the phenomena photographed.
Lens flare is caused by (1) any light entering the camera lens that does not form part of the image being photographed (non-image-forming light), and/or (2) bright light sources - natural or man-made - within the area photographed. The stray light bounces around inside the lens, internally reflecting from its optical surfaces and often acquiring colour from the microscopic anti-flare lens coatings. Sometimes the shap of the aperture blades within the lens have an effect.
Lens flare is much more various in appearance than orbs and so is harder to exactly identify. It can also cause orbs by either striking dust or other marks on or within the lens, or by creating optical artefacts. There are two such artefacts in the photo below, which was recently sent in to us for analysis.
What is most likely happening here is the sun coming in through the trees is causing lens flare. Images of the sun bounce around inside the lens and end up registering on the sensor, after being affected by the anti-flare lens coating (which changes the colour, here mostly to green), the shape of the lens aperture (a daimond shape in this case), the surface shape and quality of the lens, and digital processing and file compression.
Lens flare can be caused by sunlight, moonlight and man-made light sources, always coming from somewhere in front of the camera, even if not necessarily in the picture area. It can create some bizarre effects that can give a sense of a spiritual presence, a UFO, or other things. The same sort of thing happens in film cameras but digital cameras seem more prone to it, perhaps due to the more compact design (no shading of the lens, usually) and the processing and compression of the image after capture.
The photo below, taken in Milford Sound in New Zealand's South Island and kindly sent in by Mike Brown, shows lens flare that has taken on the appearence of a demonic face. This is an example of lens flare combining with the psychological phenomenon called visual pareidolia (see links below for more info). The patterns caused by the flare are meaningless but we humans have a hard-wired tendency in our visual perception to see faces and figures in such random, insignificant data.
Lens flare: more examples on Strange Occurrences site
Visual pareidolia - more info:
Other pareidolia photos on Strange Occurrences site
More about orbs: photo examples on Strange occurrences site
Orbs Explained - orbs as false positives, article by James Gilberd
Photography tips: how to avoid lens flare
Lens flare, if not actually producing artefacts in your photo, will generally deteriorate the photo's quality by slightly fogging the image, reducing contrast, colour saturation and definition, so you want to minimise flare for the best quality photos in any case (paranormal or not).
As a professional photographer engaged in trying to produce the clearest possible photos (usually, anyway), lens flare is something to always be aware of. With a DSLR or SLR film camera, the lenses usually come with a lens hood, and this should be used for every photo taken (not stored reversed over the lens!). In situations where the lens hood is unavailable or inadequate, use your hand or (preferably) some dark, flat object to shade the lens from the sun or other direct light source. Hint: if you can see the light hitting the front surface of your camera lens, you're going to get lens flare in your photo.
With compact cameras (most have no lens hood provision) or phone cameras, using your hand to block out the source of the flare is a good technique. Move your hand closer in until you can just see it in the picture onscreen, then withdraw it slightly. (Try taking two photos, one with and one without using this technique. You will see a marked difference in quality.) If the light souce is actually directly in your photo, this will not help: you are going to get lens flare.
After the weekend's private house investigation, one part of which involved a bedside clock-radio that emitted EMF on the scale of a small power station, led me into a little research on the effects of EMF on the brain.
If you look in Wikipedia under 'God Helmet' (you ought to if you don't already know what this is) there's a link to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, which I'd never heard of.
As a medical treatment (and if I'm reading the article correctly - it's fairly heady (pardon the pun) ) it's still in the 'fringe' area, but it does suggest that magnetic fields applied to the brain definitely have effects. The field strength they're talking about is in the range of 1-10 mT (milliTesla) = 10-100 Gauss. (Anyone who knows their physics - please correct me if this conversion is wrong.)
We were reading 100 milliGauss at about 20cm from the clock-radio, so they're talking about fields from 100 to 1000 times stronger than thins for TMS therapy, and concentrated on certain parts of the brain. However, Michael Persinger's research with the Koren (God) Helmet involved much lower EMF strengths close to the skull (but they were "weak but complex", according to Persinger).
Anyway, this is an interesting field (pardon pun) of research: does EMF of the magnitude and nature found in home/workplace situations have any chance of affecting human perception and/or behaviour?
Any thoughts or experimental results?
Link: God Helmet video
Jo Davy and James Gilberd of Strange Occurrences were delighted to be invited to speak at the paranormal conference Paracon Australia, which will be held at Maitland Gaol (out of Sydney) on the weekend of May 10th-11th, 2014.
We will be talking about some of the topics covered in our book 'Spooked - Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand', and including a section on photography and the paranormal.
We are looking forward to meeting others in the paranormal community and hearing international speakers such as Dr Cairan O'Keeffe. The venue should be interesting, too!
During the week I was asked to contribute to an article about Haunted Auckland for the Sunday Star Times, written by Shabnam Dastgheib, on the question of there being more calls from the public for paranormal investigations on private residences. I was quoted in the article; but for background information, here is my full email reply to Shabnam:
"We haven't noticed any rise in callouts this year. We don't receive that many, but when we do they seem to come in clusters. I would say that has more to do with random clumping than any widespread paranormal influence. Also, the release of a new Paranormal Activity or similar movie can get people thinking about ghosts a bit more than usual, and influence them to attribute paranormal causes to (generally unconnected), unexplained events, or coincidences.
"When there were fewer paranormal groups in the country, we used to get more media coverage, and more callouts. We've been keeping a lower media profile lately, but are still going strong as a team of ten. Our two newest team members are a medical doctor and a psychology graduate.
"The work our team does is split between call outs (usually to private houses or flats, sometimes to businesses) and investigations of public buildings, theatres, etc, that we generate through contacts and discussions.
"We would like to receive more calls from people, but we know that Kiwis can be a bit reticent to talk to strangers about things that spook them. Also, the positioning and perception of our team is hopefully fairly balanced between a scientific approach and being open minded about the paranormal, so we don't tend to get calls from people who just want confirmation of their belief that their place in haunted. We are inclined to find natural reasons for ghostly experiences, which can leave some people feeling disappointed and others relieved! But this doesn't mean we don't believe in the possibility of there being ghosts. We are sure that people experience ghosts, but what ghosts really are remains almost a total mystery."
Original Sunday Star Times article, featuring Mark Wallbank of haunted Auckland:
Stuff article as posted for The Dominion Post: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/capital-life/9834105/Calling-in-the-ghostbusters
Haunted Auckland website: hauntedauckland.com/
Core Paranormal website: www.coreparanormalnz.com/
I wrote this for our Facebook group on Wednesday but thought it worth preserving here as a blog post.
Maybe our Methods web page, and our disclaimer, labour the point; but we make it very clear on our Strange Occurrences website that we are not offering professional services. NZ has very good, strong consumer law. I'm not sure that it extends to unpaid services, but we are careful to not make claims that we can't deliver on.
I think it's unwise - and possibly damaging and dangerous - for paranormal enthusiasts to offer 'professional services' or use terms like 'trained professionals' when there really is no training or qualifications involved, and the people concerned are not actual professionals. Claiming a 'professional attitude' might not stand up that well in court if things go pear shaped and someone really gets hurt.
We've probably had fewer calls for our services since we've explicitly stated our position on the website. We're not about just confirming people's belief that their property is haunted or that they're possessed. We actually try to figure out what's really going on, and sometimes people feel disappointed because they may not have a ghost after all. That doesn't necessarily mean we rule out the possibility, though. We've all had enough uncanny experiences to know that science doesn't yet have all the answers. Strange stuff goes on and it can't all be explained away.
Strange Occurrences Facebook Group (ask to join)
Spooked: Strange Occurrences - Paranormal Investigators Facebook Page (public)
This is a copy of my 'Friday Photo' blog from the Photospace Gallery website.
OK, it's another Andrew Ross. I'll give someone else a go next week, but this photo is from his current exhibition at Photospace - Studios and other interiors - showing until 26th October.
The main reason I chose it this week is because of the blur going off to the right of the letterbox. It's not the only Andrew Ross photo with some kind of movement blur in it. Because he uses long exposures in available light (exposures often run into minutes, sometimes hours), objects occasionally move while the shutter is open. This would usually be to do with old building things, like the floor moving as someone walks around, causing a broom to topple - something like that. The photographer has always noticed when these things have occurred, but on this occasion he has no idea what caused the blur.
This photograph keys into another interest of mine - the paranormal. Some years ago, for fun, some friends and I started a paranormal investigation team. Strange Occurrences was originally intended as a kind of elaborate, living, functional art installation; but it naturally became an operational unit! One of the only things we knew how to do early on was answer questions about photos that people sent in. Apparent paranormal phenomena captured on film or digital cameras, we found, could usually be explained rationally with a fairly high degree of certainty. Outside of photography, though, we knew very little.
In the photo above, something material has moved relative to the camera, causing a broad streak of light on the film. Another possibility is some kind of light leak in the camera or the sheet film holder, or mistake in film handling; but these seem far less likely possibilities. The exact cause of this blur remains a mystery. It is enticing, then, to believe that either Rita Angus or Tony Fomison, or even both of them, have made an appearance in the photo!
Welcome to Ectoplasmic Residue
I have just started a blog on Tumblr, in order to get a little wider publicity for Strange Occurrences. www.tumblr.com/blog/theevilmoriarty
Hi. This is my first post on Tumblr. I have been Tweeting as TheEvilMoriarty for some years, on a variety of subjects. This blog, though, will be reserved for paranormal and ghostly matters.
I run a paranormal research and investigation group in Wellington, New Zealand, called Strange Occurrences. We formed with four members in 2005, began site investigations in 2006-2007, and remain active in the field in NZ. There are now around ten active groups in the country, whereas there was only one when we formed (Spooks, who soon became inactive).
In 2011, team member Dr Jo Davy and I wrote the book, ‘Spooked - exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand’, which was commissioned and published by Random House NZ.
Our team attempts to take a scientific approach to paranormal investigation, and several of the team members have scientific and medical backgrounds. However, the field of paranormal investigation is riddled with pseudoscientific practices, and it is challenging to avoid this. Studies based around anecdotal evidence, the accumlation and checking and verifying of it, combined with field work such as examining reportedly haunted (and also non-haunted) sites, interviewing people who have reported paranormal experiences and investigating those occurrences, seems to be a way forward. This is conducting studies rather than scientific experiments, of course.
We take an agnostic view of the paranormal in general, ghosts in particular, accepting that there is not yet suffiicient evidence to make a call either way. We steer away from making declarations. We remain hopeful that science may one day explain why people experience ghosts. We are questioning of the idea that the human soul (if there is such a thing) survives death of the body and is able to communicate with living humans; but it may be that some people are sometimes able to see/hear/feel/smell the presence of personalities that have lived in the past. We think this may be due to some anomalous behaviour of time which we don’t yet understand.
In the meantime, we are able to offer advice and help to people experiencing phenomena that scares or mystifies them and/or that they can find no natural explanation for. Sometimes we are able to suggest natural, physical reasons why the strange events occur, or we can perhaps offer explanations based on psychology. Other times we are completely mystified. It pays to keep an open mind and not rule out anything that we can’t find a reasonable explanation for.
Photographs of the paranormal are one area we do have a lot of knowledge about. Four members of the Strange Occurrences team are experienced photographers, one a full-time professional. We have found that most apparently paranormal photographs are explainable by either photographic anomaly (long shutter speeds, lens flare and flash-illuminated motes are most common) or by psychological interpretation, such as visual pareidolia. However, we can never be entirely sure that our explanations are the only ones. The possibility of a paranormal cause can never be entirely eliminated.
We invite you to submit your unexplained photographs if you are looking for an understanding of what you’ve captured. If you are seeking advice on paranormal matters, we can often give useful advice, but we don’t claim any real expertise in the field of the unknown. Everything is open to interpretation and nothing is absolute in the realm of the paranormal. If you are offered definite answers, be aware and think critically about what is being said.
Please visit our website: www.strange-occurrences.com for more info.
We are also on Facebook (search for Strange Occurrences) with an open Page and a member-only Group, which you are most welcome to join. (Just ask, but if you post spam you’d better watch out, as once I’m dead I will find you and aggressively haunt you to the brink of insanity!)
Credit: Stuff.co.nz (altered)
This article published in stuff.co.nz on 6th April 2013 - "Ghostbusting group gets fright" prompted this blog post.
There has also been a lot of discussion on the Facebook pages of Haunted Auckland, CPINZ and the Strange Occurrences Facebook group
Now that you're up to speed, let's look at some of the implications of this.
Ok, first let me come clean. I have occasionally entered abandoned buildings in the past, but only to take photographs. I've been a photographer since the mid 1980s and old buildings seemed like fair game. I have never broken in or damaged anything. However, I do not condone this activity: it is dangerous; it is trespassing; it is illegal. Since becoming involved in paranormal investigation, and being the leader of a prominent team and one of several somewhat-public figures representing the field of paranormal investigation in New Zealand, it would be unwise of me to continue this activity. So I do not.
The reason being (aside from breaking the law) that if I were caught trespassing, I would immediately be identified as a paranormal investigator - or a "Ghostbuster", as the media cannot resist of referring to us as - and that identification would be damaging to the combined cause of other paranormal investigation groups, as well as pretty much destroying the reputation of my own team - something we have all worked for some years to build.
This damage would occur for several reasons:
It is worth noting also that getting caught trespassing is not the only hazard in abandoned buildings. What happens if they're not all that abandoned? If people are squatting there they might not take kindly to invaders. Also, the buildings can be full of hazards such as exposed electrical wiring (you can't easily tell if the site has been isolated from the mains. It should have been, but there's no guarantee). There can be rotting floors, unstable stair wells, broken glass, holes in the floor, rusty nails sticking up and other protrusions you can easily run into in the dark. Also, if you do get spooked at night (easily done) and flee in panic, the dangers presented by physical hazards are increased manyfold. (Paranormal groups always carefully check for and identify site hazards in daylight before investigating at night.)
So, why did the people concerned trespass upon the old hospital site? Mostly, it comes down to the proliferation of TV and internet programmes depicting "ghost hunting". The reality of paranormal investigation can be, frankly, pretty boring at times, at least after the novelty of it wears off. On TV it's all thrills, scares, unexplained events, and the possibility of uncovering the truth about ghosts and the paranormal. The full picture is never presented. It's glamorous, exciting and fascinating, and who would not want a bit of that in their lives? This is the main reason why people form paranormal investigation groups.
In the Facebook discussion around the Stuff article, it was mentioned (by me and others) that the group of people concerned was not a "legitimate" group of paranormal investigators. Well, I may have been mistaken there. What defines a legitimate group?
Fact is, anyone can start a paranormal investigation group. There is no national body or organisation that determines who is legitimate and who is not. (I am a professional photographer, but not a member of either professional body in NZ; that does not prevent me from practicing. It would be different if I were, say, a surgeon.)
All you need to do to become a legitimate paranormal investigation group is put up a website, something that can be done for free in about an hour on Weebly or elsewhere. Hell, some groups don't even maintain websites, only Facebook pages.
On their websites and pages, most investigation groups provide only an email address or a contact form as means of initial communication, both of which are fairly anonymous. Most don't provide phone numbers or physical addresses for initial contact, and this is really to avoid the complete nut jobs, who can often be identified by their use of all-caps in their emails :-). The more conscientous groups include full names and photographs of team members, and they also work to build up a public profile via newspapers, television and the internet (including Facebook and Youtube). It also helps to get a few investigations under the belt, and publicise some details and photos so that it looks like the group is actually doing something other than just wandering round in cemeteries with EMF meters and cameras - not that there's anything wrong with that, but don't get arrested. Because of nasty things like neo-nazis vandalising Jewish graves, the public and the police tend to keep an eye out for suspicious people in cemeteries under cover of darkness.
It would seem as if anyone could declare themselves a paranormal investigator, and pass themselves off as legitimate by doing the things above (not the getting arrested bits, obviously). Well, yes, and no. There is a paranormal community in New Zealand, and it is fairly small, with fewer than ten paranormal groups covering the entire country (see our Links page). Most of the leaders of the groups, and a good proportion of the established members, are known to each other (if not in person, at least online) and there is an increasing trend for members of different groups to collaborate on investigations. This is a good thing. It works a little bit like TradeMe, where buyers are protected from rogue sellers (and vice versa) by feedback. While things aren't stuctured and centrally monitored like Trademe (which operates extremely well) there is a informal type of decentralised monitoring, whereby those who don't play the game by the (largely unwritten) rules end up not being involved in it. Of course a few things have to go wrong before this happens, like in any other scenario.
I do not wish to advocate any form of centralised monitoring (the idea has been floated in the past and rejected by the paranormal community) but I think the extant form of community monitoring could be improved to the point of being an effective safety mechanism for members of the public wishing to contact a paranormal group for assistance. Online communication and general openness is good for this, but group leaders and members meeting in person, cooperating on investigations and research, and generally sharing ideas and methods is definitely the way forward to a stronger paranormal community in New Zealand, one which would inspire more public confidence and not be so often ridiculed or sent up by the media.
The problem all paranormal groups constantly face is getting a good enough supply of investigations, either self-generated (which involves getting proper authorisation to investigate sites) or public-generated (people contacting the group for help in solving paranormal-related issues). The groups that are not able to generate enough investigations will inevitably disappear due to their members getting bored and wandering off. Getting investigations is the strongest barrier to establishing a new paranormal group, now that the field is well established in this country. (In the UK and US there are tens of thousands of groups, and most historic sites charge a significant fee to would-be investigators. Think how that would be.)
There is also, inevitably, a certain amount of competition between all of the groups, for prominence, media attention and investigations. It is like any other field; for example, real estate (where if you can't get enough houses to sell, you give up and try something else). This is harsh, and can generate ill feeling between groups and individuals. It is something we all have to work to minimise the effect of. (Not necessarily to eliminate, just to take the nastiness out of it, because a certain amount of competition is necessary to keep things healthy, like in any system.)
The main centres are already covered by existing teams, but there are openings. For example, there is no established paranormal group in the Nelson area (the named individuals having pretty much shot themselves in the collective foot, making it a (not insurmountable) challenge for them to become the credible team there), nor in Northland, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, Bay of Plenty, Southland, or on the historic West Coast of South Island.
I seem to be running off topic here. Let's reel it back in.
So, what could the five people named in the Stuff article have done better?
If you're going to start a paranormal investigation group, get very good people around you; people you trust implicitly (avoid practical jokers of any description) and who have the ability to grow into their role; people who are potential leaders, or who are very good doers; people who have a range of skills, ages, life experience, backgrounds and beliefs - not necessarily carbon copies of yourself.
Finally, to quote the character Nucky Thompson in the TV series Boardwalk Empire (when confronted with anyone frustratingly short of nous), "Oh, go read a f%#@ing book!" In other words, don't watch too many paranormal investigation programmes on the net or TV (a few doesn't hurt, just keep your brain engaged), but rather do some proper research. Read books. A lot of books. For a start, see this NZ paranormal books page.) But not just on the paranormal; try psychology, popular science, scepticism and critical thinking, and local history. Always be critical about what you read. Do not take anything as gospel just because it's in a book or on TV (especially on TV, but I've come across much utter twaddle in books, especially self-published ones). Question everything!
This is a bit of a wandering article, sorry, but I hope it produces some discussion and feedback about how the field of paranormal investigation in New Zealand can become a better place to visit and to be a part of.
Addenda, 21st April 2013: this article appeared on the Stuff website on 15th April, via the Timaru Herald: http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/8551742/Castle-owner-fed-up-with-ghost-hunters.
Although it covers similar territory to the article discussed above, the circumstances are somewhat different, in that (from a comment by CPINZ on the Haunted Auckland Facebook page) the previous owner went to some effort to attract attention to the house because of its supposed paranormal history, and the current owner is currently suffering from that action.
It is interesting that the news media has jumped on another story of this nature, although the actions described are somewhat trivial and not very newsworthy (or perhaps they are in Timaru). The portrayal of people 'ghost hunting' as hoons is, again, damaging to the causes of more serious groups of paranormal enthusiasts. Let's hope this trend does not continue.
Mark Marriott and I had a bit of fun shooting this video in the Strange Occurrences office in Courtenay Place yesterday.
Story is: I bid on this 'ectoplasmic residue' on TradeMe, just for a laugh. There were other bids and the auction still had four days to run, so I was in no danger of actually winning it. Or so I thought. I was surprised to receive the email saying the ectoplasm was mine.
The guy selling it seemed a good sort, a Dr Who fanatic with his sense of humour well in place. I was happy to pay up and eagerly awaited the packet's arrival. It came with Ghostbusters-style authentication and a bit of back story. Cool!
The obvious thing to do, then, was to subject the ectoplasmic residue to some serious and rigorous scientific testing in the Strange Occurrences Laboratory.
Here is the result of the testing: Ectoplasmic Residue Testing Video
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.