The camera is one of the biggest tools in the paranormal investigators arsenal. Photographs give us the opportunity to distance our minds a bit from the atmosphere in which the photo was taken, and look at just the photo itself. They provide us with "hard copy" evidence that we can study closely and objectively, after an investigation is over. Or do they?
Google "ghost photos" or something similar, and you'll find page upon page of photos posted by everyone from the most famous investigators you could name, right down to some average bloke taking pictures of the basement of his new house. And every one of them claims to be a photo of the real deal.
As a paranormal investigator, it's tough enough weeding out things like lense flare, intentional fakery, and in older pictures, double exposure, in order to narrow down what might be an actual photo of spirit. But we also have to contend with the inner workings of our own minds.
The human mind has the ability to fool us into thinking we hear and even see things in photos, that simply aren't there.The phenomenon is called pareidolia, and it's definitely something investigators and enthusiasts should be aware of. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:
"Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern where none actually exists.
Pareidolia is the visual or auditory form of apophenia, which is the perception of patterns within random data. Combined with apophenia and heirophany (manifestation of the sacred), pareidolia may have helped ancient societies organize chaos and make the world intelligible."
You can read the entire Wiki article here.
Yep, our own minds can and will trick us into seeing ghosts in photos when there's nothing there but fog or shadow. It's the same type of phenomenon that's present when we see images of the Virgin Mary in photos cheese sandwiches.
(Personally, pareidolia has me seeing Marilyn Monroe. Just sayin'.)
Now, let's have a look at a couple of famous ghost photos that may, or may not, be pareidolia inspired.
The image below can be found dozens of times over by searching "famous ghost photos". It was taken at the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. It is believed to be of the ghost of a woman named Chloe. Legend has it that Chloe was a slave on the plantation and died there under violent circumstances. Look at the image.
Can you see her standing right at the corner, kind of peeking out from behind the column? Yeah, so can I.
(Don't even get me started on the "orb". That's a whole other article!)
Let's take a closer look.
This one is extremely grainy because it's an enlargement. But you can still kinda see Chloe standing there, can't you? Or can you? Is it possible that what you and I see as Chloe is actually an example of pareidolia at work. Could it be that what we are really seeing is the bushes between the two buildings extending out past the column, but because we "know" The Myrtles is haunted, and we know Chloe's legend, we are being victimized by pareidolia?
Now here's the thing. I believe that ghosts are real. I believe that paranormal phenomenon exist and can be documented through photography. And I believe that the Myrtles is an active paranormal site. But as an investigator who knows that pareidolia is an acknowledged and scientifically provable phenomenon, I would be hard pressed to accept these particular photos as evidence of ghostly activity.
NOTE: You can read the excellent article that inspired this post here.