Category Archives: The Supernatural

Aiden Sinclair Photoshoot

 

 

 

Aiden-For-Web-4I met Aiden Sinclair in April of 2014 at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado during a Strange Escapes event. Aiden was not only the kind of guy that I instantly wanted to make friends with, but he was the kind of guy I immediately wanted to photograph as well.

Even while he took over the lobby of the hotel for a twenty minute demonstration of his paranormal illusions act, it was his manner and style that struck me as much as the quality of his act. He was dressed in a black vest with red tie, crucifix chain hanging from a button, with round glasses, and his act was a compelling mixture of illusion and allusion — drawing on the history of the hotel, spiritualism, and spirits themselves — in a way I’d never seen before. As someone intensely interested in the play between ghosts, entertainment, performance, and the suspension of an audience’s disbelief, I was quickly curious to get to know this stranger and see what he was all about.

He made many fans that day, as well as significant connections. He returned the following year to the Strange Escapes event as an official entertainer for those groups on their off-nights, and he’s established a recurring show at the Stanley each month called “Illusions of the Passed.” Turns out that, during his second stint at the Stanley, he was also in-between rounds on America’s Got Talent, where he wowed judges and the audience with his not only his act, but also his story.

After a few good conversations over beers that second year at the Stanley,  I began to pester him regularly for a photoshoot, knowing his style and mine would be a match I’d wanted to shoot for my whole career to that point. We finally managed to make time this October for him to visit my home studio in Loveland to make a few portraits.

This is the behind the scenes video:

The images were shot on a Canon 6D with both the 24mm 1.4L and the 50mm 1.8 (still working up to that Sigma Art!) with an Einstein E640, a 47″ Paul C. Buff Octobox, and a Canon 430EX II speedlite with a MagMod kit in front of a black fabric backdrop.

We were going for a variety of shots, from headshot portraits to images with a few of his more iconic props, and a handful of composites. The composite backgrounds are plates of various locations around Germany that I had the opportunity to shoot back in January while traveling with my brother.

October was a crazy month for me, running from photoshoot to photoshoot around both the state of Colorado and the country itself. Early November was crunch time to get these shoots edited, and Aiden’s name was high on the list! A few of my favorite images can be seen below.

 

Aiden-For-Web-21It was truly a blast to work with Aiden, and I’m happy to call him a friend. He’s a class act and has very big things in his future. I’m excited to watch them come together for him as smoothly as these images came together for me!

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Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, the short story collection Into a Sky Below, Forever, and the forthcoming Amarricages. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, went on to work with the GHI team, and now lectures across America and leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. He’s also a portrait photographer and conceputal artist based in Northern Colorado. Follow him on Twitter: @KarlPfeiffer

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Sick World

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Back in May of this last year, I got an email from an Art Director named Florian Mihr at a pretty big record company, Fearless Records, out of LA. He’d found one of my old 365-Photos that I’d done over a year before, with a creepy arm coming out of my mouth, and wanted to do something along those lines for the album art for a band they’d recently signed called My Enemies & I. They thought my background and style fit with the band’s, and I had to agree! I loved the band’s sound immediately and jumped on the opportunity.

ME&I had a music video out for one of their songs that featured a creepy, oily black hand, and I knew I wanted to match that stylistically. What would I use for the goop? My first thought was chocolate syrup. Though messy and a bit gross, my old days working at a summer camp that features messy activities (which includes kids covering themselves in the likes of chocolate syrup) prepared me to take a dip into the stuff.

I also knew we’d be relatively close-up on the face for this shoot, and so I wanted to make the model anonymous and with a feeling of something eerie, and so I went with a gauze wrap over the upper half of the face. The gauze also called to mind echoes of illness, which would match the album title, Sick World.

A bit of test work and photoshopping later, and I got two mockup images.

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The images quickly reassured me that my photo abilities had definitely improved in a year and half to where they needed to be, and I jumped on finalizing the idea, getting two of my friends together to do an only slightly awkward shoot, with syrup everywhere, handprints, and of course, my buddy CJ’s corgi running around trying to figure out just what the hell we were up to.
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The lighting was simple. I wanted to go with high contrast and drama because we were going for that horror movie feel, so I lit it with one canon speedlite on camera left with a soft white umbrella modifier against a plain white wall.
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I did some quick edits in photoshop to put it all together and color grade the way I wanted before sending them off to Florian. He and the band loved them (here, we took a break to work on the new BlessTheFall art, which came up suddenly and needed all of our attention). From there, we made small tweaks to hand placements and which base image they preferred. I sent the file along so that Flo could work on the title design, and we had our finished product. 12032854_1231629103529278_3119624340908748732_oThe EP dropped yesterday on iTunes, which you can check out here.

It’s a badass blend of different hard rock and metal genres, and I dig the shit out of it. If Metal is your jam, give it a listen! I think these guys could seriously be big.

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Future Seasons of American Horror Story

I wrote a post very similar to this one after the end of Season Two and, while I kept that post updated, it’s beginning to fall a bit out of date, and so I wanted to revisit the post with some new ideas and sexier photoshop work.

So, a bit of a recap, shall we? American Horror Story is a show defined by iconic marketing imagery, a frantic-yet-elegant cinematic style, an ensemble cast that’s always excellent, pitch perfect thematic studies, and interwoven anthology plots.

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In season one, we visited the Murder House. The setting was a haunted house in California, and it allowed the writers and directors to study such American Horrors that the supernatural horrors are only caught up within: the real horrors — the way people react to and perpetuate social issues. Adultery. Abortion. Gay rights. The 21st Century family. School shootings. Depression. Teenage romance. Bullying. The themes that circle the home.

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With second season, we had a big switch, moving into the Asylum. Though first season was dark, it was so in a sexy, elegant, nature. The scares crawled around inside your head a bit. But with season two, Murphy and Co. turned it up to eleven. The sexiness was out the window. The show was a period piece for the 60’s, a time that’s beginning to seem almost pre-historic to us. The setting and time period allowed the writers to explore the big issues of the time (many that are unfortunately still very prevalent), and what made the season brilliant by the final episodes was the way the writers spring-boarded from social issues to philosophical issues. Women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, the role of the Church in the world and within institutions, the treatment of the mentally ill, the ways science can twist and corrupt, and the ways science can redeem. We got some supernatural scares, but not so much of the ghostly, super-powered variety. We saw aliens as a brilliant stand-in for God, we saw possession unrecognized in a place of god, and of course we saw our seasonal historical murderer.

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And then season three happened. Drawing mixed reviews from critics, season three moved us down south, with Coven. Coven aimed to iron out some of the kinks with Asylum: to give the audience a breath of fresh air from the deep darkness of the Asylum, to shave off some of the abundant themes and plotlines that slowed the second season in the middle of its run. They went after feminism and racism in the south, tracking the split of two witch clans and the battle between them as it was reignited. The first episode was a powerhouse, but the show stumbled along after that, missing the opportunities to sneak in genuine frights, and, sadly, instead of deconstructing many of these themes, wound up reinforcing them by season’s end.

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And now, in the late summer of 2014, we move into the fourth season, where we’ll step right up to the Freak Show. I’m utterly pumped for this season (and utterly disappointed in myself that I never thought of the carnival/freakshow idea in my earlier blog post: thanks commenters!) Where Murphy first confessed he was going for a lighter tone and a funny feel the way of Coven, he realized as he got into the plot that this season was, in fact, darker than Asylum. And, I hope, more on track with its thematic study of the nitty gritty. The promos are already exceptional. The clown is going to be scary as shit. And for the first time in more than half a century, we’re really going to get a piece of film/television that digs around in a very much overlooked piece of American history: the sideshow carnival. Looks for more civil rights type issues, post-WWII racial scares, and another season where the monsters are never the monsters.

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(And of course, the alternate title card used with the actual-footage teasers)

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So where do we go from here?

Ryan Murphy has on multiple occasions mentioned that the season following Freak Show was going to be followed by something very much out of left field. While I’ve got a few good ideas, I don’t think any of them are quite as out-of-left-field worthy for the fifth season as Empty Space. Space has a myriad of setting-style titles, so it could be tough for fans to guess this subtitle. But space is a rich American horror soil, and very much do-able for Murphy and Co. I have regular debates with my good buddy CJ about the possibilities of such a season. He argues that aliens shouldn’t make an appearance to throw viewers, whereas I think they can. Granted, AHS has already done aliens in Season Two, but they were brief and very much an image-centric stand-in. They could easily do some creatures heretofore unseen. But with the potential for deep space survival, fear of unknown planets, rebellious robots, rebellious other ships, and with a wealth of horror-movies to nod to and reference, I think we can count on seeing Empty Space in the near future for AHS, hopefully as near as Season Five.

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Almost equally as obvious and overdue as space in the AHS franchise as my vote for Season Six? I’ve subtitled it the Woodlands. (Part of me fought with debate over calling it “Sticks” — a play on the folk phrase for the backwoods mixed with the River Styx from Greek mythology, a thematic allusion very much up Murphy’s alley). The Woodlands locale is rich for AHS. It’s the setting of many in the classic staple of American Horror: the Slasher film. We set this at a cabin or lakeside retreat, and let havoc play out. We’d get the classic slasher killer (likely somebody historical), but there’s room here to play with more modern manifestations from the woods, like Slenderman or cryptid beasties. Murphy has spoken in recent interviews about the nature of death on television, and how it’s different than in movies. Because of the way a 13-episode television run connects you with characters for six times longer than the average movie, you become far more attached, and so those deaths are more meaningful. While in many ways this can be a deterrent for a slasher season, I think it’s territory to play with those losses as the horror that they are.

Thematically we’ve got play by looking no further than Lars von Trier’s disturbing film, Antichrist. Von Trier, in interviews, pointed out that one of his main thematic goals with the film was to explore the dichotomy between the woods currently illustrated in Romantic tones, as a place of peace and finding one’s self, as a Walden, but whereas historically, the woods are a terrible, terrible place of darkness. That’s where you go to fight for your life, where the food chain spins endlessly, and human wit is tested against animal ability.

So I say, let’s do that. Let’s pit the humans against the wild. (And don’t even get me started on what a gorgeous season that would be to watch, cinematically).

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* * *

THE season I’ve been waiting to see from Murphy. This show had better not run dry by the time we make our detour into Lovecraft Country (perhaps a better subtitle, but it’s clunky). Innsmouth of course is the setting of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, about a small community of inbred and hybrid creatures living on the coastal shores of Massachusetts. Lovecraft has been one of the most defining characters in modern horror, introducing us to Cosmic Horror and a strange philosophical place of Nihilism and mysticism. This topic is hot right now after being constantly hinted at in HBO’s first season of True Detective, so I think it’s time for something more overt to hit the airwaves. Certainly themes are easy enough to play out. Let’s look at science and religion, cults and isolation, the power of nature, sprinkle in some Storm of the Century and tales of epic sea monsters for flashbacks, and we’ve got one of the tightest, darkest, rainiest, and creepiest American Horror Stories yet. Perhaps the topic will dry up by Season Seven, but I doubt it. Lovecraft never leaves us.

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Okay, fine, Maize isn’t a setting, but it was the best I had, and I loved the play on Maize meaning corn, as well as the wordplay of Maze. Look no farther than the Shining for the maze/minotaur trope in classic horror. Mash it up with Children of the Corn and we’ve got something special. Now, though Murphy says he has as many as 13 different settings in mind, I’m worried themes come less varied than settings, especially if he continues to pack them in the way he did in season 2. Eight seasons is already a bit long, but I think these are the quintessential settings that absolutely have to be covered, and the Maize season would be the quintessential finale, wrapping us up for season Nine. The Native American connection brings the end back to America’s beginning. Dig around in America’s roots, explore the monsters in the soil,  Native American legends, the horror stories from before the genocide, then toss in some Dark Romanticism and Sleepy Hollow, maybe pepper in some Celtic Halloween roots to stir the melting pot, and we’ve got an incredible finale to an incredible show.

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Pseudoscience and Paranormal Research

I don’t want to get too deep into this issue at the moment, as I think there will be other article and blog opportunities in the future to explore this more deeply, but I did want to write a quick response to an article I read recently on the Huffington Post that demanded a bit of thought longer than 140 characters.

For the past couple months, I’ve been following the Society for Psychical Research Twitter account, which retweets and shares a number of fascinating articles and stories about all aspects of current ESP research, whether these articles be positive or negative. Today as I was browsing the tweeter, I came across a really interesting article about Pseudoscience and how it corresponds to paranormal research, written by Stafford Betty. Normally, “pseudoscience” is a term thrown around by skeptics to demean research into “paranormal” or anomalous phenomena. And it bothers me to no end. A quick perusal of the wikipedia article about Pseudoscience raises my blood pressure almost immediately.

And so, reading an article that responds to this issue in support of the scientists doing serious research into this issue should make me happy, but unfortunately I have to be the guy who, while agreeing with the premise, disagrees with the justification (which usually means I get to upset everybody!).

The thing about Betty’s article is that he tries to defend paranormal research (again, the scientific work being done in laboratories rather than the ghost hunting work being done in the boob tube) as not being pseudoscience by justifying the validity of the potential for the phenomena to exist, rather than defending the science that’s being done.

Which, on the whole, the article is fine. He begins by pointing out the negative feedback in regards to a cover story about reincarnation research published in Virginia Magazine. (Most of this feedback is deeply biased and despite being promoted in the name of science, is in itself a stain on the true work of science). One such commenter called the work being done “pseudoscience”. Betty then used the rest of his article to briefly defend the topic of research (loosely, consciousness and whether its existence is a causal effect of brain biology or whether it’s something separate entirely), which I think he did well for a non-scholarly editorial defense.

The problem is that he never actually describes how the work being done isn’t a pseudoscience. He just justifies the potential for the phenomena to exist. Which is important. But, not what the article claimed to address in the headline. And, more to the problem at hand, another article pointedly defending paranormal research but missing the mark is more than fodder for the critics and these same science trolls who seek to discredit the research. It doesn’t advance much because most folks who are firmly on one side or the other on the issue don’t see past the neglected argument.

I’m not writing this blog to fill in the blanks, but simply to clarify them. I’m not a scientist, and there have been thousands of experiments executed by well-credentialed scientists over the past century into these more anomalous categories. Each set of experiments can be gauged on its own merit toward whether or not it’s pseudoscience.

To point out these blanks then, I want to first clarify the definition of Pseudoscience, (which I’ve snagged from Wikipedia, despite my frustrations with the rest of the article).

Pseudoscience is a claim, belief or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.[1] Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.

Now, there are some components of this definition that Betty addresses, primarily the issues of plausibility, which, ultimately, does work toward validating the the work against pseudoscience claims, especially when the commenters are disputing the plausibility of the issue. However, the real argument should be placed in defending the scientific structure of the work being done to validate or invalidate the claims of such anomalous phenomena. Because it is being done. It’s been worked on for a century now by people who know the scientific method, who trained and were educated as highly and deeply as any other scientist in any other field.

If an article is going to be written defending paranormal research against pseudoscientific claims, the real heart of such an article shouldn’t be the continued volleying of argument toward the plausibility of such phenomena (though obviously an interesting discussion, I’ve learned a long time ago that it’s useless against the close-minded). It’s the science that’s going to persuade people. It’s going to be illustrating the process, the breakdowns, the results, the recreations, the predictions, the implications.

The main buzzword in the pseudoscience argument isn’t plausibility (that’s just a buzzword in general), it’s the “scientific method”, a phrase that’s been rather unfortunately muddled for paranormal research in its application on many Ghost Hunting shows, who claim to be following the scientific method, when in reality, they aren’t. That’s undeniably pseudoscience. There are no delicately controlled, recreatable experiments. No predictions. Just lots of theory and multi-variabled experiments. It’s loosely scientific. There’s a basic structure that’s followed and is even respectable toward exploring the plausibility of such phenomena. But it’s not real science, and so falls into that pseudoscientific category.

But real genuine scientists are doing good work. And that work needs to be defended more thoroughly. The articles that need to be written are the ones that explore and break down whether these experiments that are being/have been done are good science. I’ve read dozens of overviews that suggest that yes, these scientists are doing thorough and recreatable work. They are restraining from theorizing and throwing around out-dated terms that carry folk definitions hundreds of years old. And they have results.

The articles that we need to see published on such sites as Huffington Post are the ones that go deeper than just butting heads over plausibility, but the ones that refute each of these other claims, defending the work (not just the theories or phenomena) as very much adhering to the scientific method, as producing strong evidence, as thoroughly tested, and with provable (and proven) claims.

Some experiments might not hold up. Some may very much hold up. But it’s time to move beyond the head-butting and help this well-deserving, genuinely scientific field see a positive light of day.

Karl Pfeiffer is not a scientist, but he’s deeply passionate about paranormal research. He’s the author of the books Hallowtide and Into a Sky Below, Forever. He writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and the Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, and he lectures across America about approaches to the paranormal. He graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Creative Writing and an emphasis on Religious Studies. He leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel and won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, appearing briefly on Ghost Hunters International. He’s also a photographer. 

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Something Unsettling

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Another set of my more eerie and supernaturally inclined conceptual photography. It’s still January (though if this accounts for 1/12 of this project already, it’s going to be a wicked fast year). Hoping to continue to improve. Some of these I’m not in love with. Some I am.

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Creepier Things

Thought I’d toss up some of my portrait-a-day shots for my 365-day photo challenge. A big part of my plan this month was to dive into creative/conceptual photography and do some really cool, subtly supernatural, eerie type of photography, and slowly build a photoshopping skillset. My first forays blew my mind a bit.

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How to Photograph a Ghost!

Photography Follow-Up:

Hey guys, I’m back with more vlogs! Sorry it was so long, my camera got stolen, and I got a new one, but then I was busy with summer work and getting the next book out. No excuses!

What I want to do is finish up on the photography topic that I was discussing before the break, and break down the different ways to photograph a potential spirit, and why some may be better than others.

So.

The setup: you’re in a very dark basement that’s said to be haunted, and there’s not much in the way of ambient light for any average camera to pick up at all. How do you best set up the situation to photograph a ghost?

The go-to camera of most experiential investigators?

Cell Phones.

Why they’re good? They’re portable, at-hand, and the images are easy to share and, these days, decent quality. Another less-known reason it’s good? Oftentimes, because the lenses are smaller and cheaper than your average point and shoot or SLR cameras, some cell phone cameras actually see a bit further into the UV light spectrum because they’re not as thoroughly filtered. Hence why lens flare is a little more wacky on a cell phone. If spirits do exist in this smaller, often unseen band, cell phones might be more likely to see them.

The problems with cell phones though, for one, is that they’re usually hand-held. Especially when so many ghost photos are examples of pareidolia, it’s important to take multiple photographs from the exact same position, to rule out anything environmental that you can later compare against. It’s also easier to recreate the shot later for further comparison.

They also need a flash in low-light conditions.

Flashes

And here’s the thing about flashes. The primary problem is that the intense burst of illumination, so close to the camera’s lens, illuminates tons of particulate matter right in your photograph (at odds to off-camera flashes or light sources). So if you have a finger, camera-strap, piece of dust, or bug hanging out in front of the lens, the flash is going to make it look like ectoplasm. Shooting without the flash removes something like 98% of variables otherwise thought to be spirit.

Photoluminescence

But the other problem is that the flash could be harmful to spirits. Photoluminescence is the process of a gas or substance absorbing photons of light and then re-emitting them. This process is a very specific scientific process, so I don’t want to go babbling about a process that could well be irrelevant (like those investigators who try to equate everything spirits do to quantum physics), but if this process happens, and a flash photograph illuminated a spirit, that substance could theoretically re-emit that light back toward the camera, giving you a strange photograph. That said, photoluminescence often fundamentally affects the structure of the substance, and carries the possibility that the spirit (or conscious substance) could be harmed by the emission, losing their substantial form after the photograph and photoluminescence.

UV Radiation

The same goes for exposure to ultra-violet radiation. One theory towards why spirits may be more active at night (as discussed in this vlog), is due to the UV radiation being harmful to a physical, manifested form. The same way that we get sunburned by UV light (our substantial structure is physically damaged by this radiation), perhaps ghosts too are broken down by such exposure. This may well apply to IR as well. We see shadowy figures more rarely walking directly through an IR beam, and more often they’re crouching behind objects, only peeking out.

IR Illumination

In order to penetrate deeply into the room with our night vision cameras, many investigators rig extremely bright IR illuminators beside their cameras. They seem dark to us because we can’t see them, but these lights are veritable spotlights blasting out these rooms. While IR is on the less-harmful end of the spectrum (the wavelengths are longer, and the same way red-light doesn’t hurt our night vision, IR is more gentle as well), in such incredibly bright doses, it still could be hurtful to spirits, or at the least, very intrusive to a spirit’s environment. If someone shone a couple car headlights into your room in the middle of the night, it’s altogether likely you’d duck out of the intensity too, regardless of it giving you a sunburn or not.

Visible Light

Given that the intensity of IR illuminators may be, after the fact, even brighter for the spirits than just keep the lights on, well, why not just keep the lights on? Certainly many investigators have their reasons for investigating in the dark, (which I still explore in this vlog), but it is a valid alternative for ghostly photography, and also minimizes low-light solutions which introduce too many false positives.

But there’s still arguments against such light. It’s very intrusive, often harsh, conflicts with investigators’ EMF equipment, their more subtle sensitivities, and potentially the spirits physical structure (as UV, photon emission, and IR may seem to do as well).

So. We’ve got issue with flash photography, IR illumination, visible lights, how are we supposed to photograph a spirit?

Long Exposure Photography

The immediate alternative is to shoot with a long exposure. Long exposure is automatically applied on the “night-shot” setting of most cameras, and a manual adjustment on most DSLRs. The exposure is adjusted by keeping the shutter open for different amounts of times. If photography is simply burning light onto a sensitive plate, quick bursts of exposure (a fast shutter speed) will capture quick movement as still, but the longer you hold the lens open (slow shutter speeds) the more the image will blur before the photo is over. At night, this can be as long as seconds that the lens will be open, and if the camera is hand-held or if there’s movement in front of the camera, you get motion-blur (which can look like creepy trails of ectoplasm, where in reality the light source seems fixed).

This is how you make cool light-paintings. By running around with a flashlight while your lens is open, you can create cool streaks of light.

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The problem here is that, while you make cool streaks of light, it doesn’t also make streaks of shadow. Because the light is, in effect, burning into the sensitive plates, it masks any dark movement because that light is already burned in.

Think of giving yourself a sun-tan tattoo. If you were to drag a heart-shaped cutout across your skin at the beach, you don’t get any kind of design. But if you leave it in one place, you get your tattoo.

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Same goes for photography, as we’re also talking about light burning into a source. If you leave your shutter open for thirty seconds at a time and a shadow (or a non-illuminated person) were to walk across the frame, they won’t show up in your photo, the same way that the heart doesn’t show up on your skin if you’re moving it around.

Which is what makes THIS picture recorded by the Ghost Hunters International team at Port Arthur Penitentiary in Tasmania so strange. Shooting thirty-second exposures outside at night, they captured the image of a man walking across the hill. Why that’s weird? Because a silhouette of a person walking, for thirty seconds across a hill, shouldn’t show up at all — even if it were a living person. But the fact that this figure shows up as a perfect, non-transparent shadow, suggests that, though it appears to be striding, did not move for the entire thirty seconds.

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Though this was indeed captured by a team, it should be a pretty rare occurrence, because everything we know about spirits is that they appear to move at normal speeds, and for the most part, it’s very rare to see a spirit in one place for as long as thirty seconds. They often seem to be fleeting. And so, unless they’re bright or producing light, they’re not going to show up very well on a long exposure, even if it gives you a nice bright photo in the dark.

So if exposures and flash photos are out, how are we supposed to take photos? And if IR illumination is out, how do we shoot video?

Great questions.

Low-Lux Cameras

One alternative is to invest in Low-Lux camera equipment, or light-amplifying night vision. Most cheap night vision cameras are so today because they’re essentially using invisible flashlights to light up a room. It’s the expensive stuff that doesn’t illuminate a room, it amplifies what’s already there. Night vision goggles? There are no little IR illuminators on the sides, they’re amplifying the light that’s already there. Consider the difference between these two IR images.

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Light amplification is great, but it’s also expensive as shit.

Back-Lighting

Your other alternative is back-lighting. Rather than setting up your light right beside your camera, blasting out the room (and, potentially, the spirit), you instead set up your illumination along a back wall in your shot, so that you can see the back of the room, and you have a bright surface to differentiate a shadow or figure moving through your shot, without blasting that figure out with intense, possibly-harmful light.

And the best light to use? Investigators like Barry Fitzgerald suggest that red is the most welcoming for spirits. The same way photographers use red light in dark rooms, because it’s the least intense of the visible light wavelengths. Where UV is very harmful, red is as far as we can get, and doesn’t effect the photographic chemicals. Same goes for our night vision. Red doesn’t  burn into our eyes as badly.

The best way to capture a ghost? Red light, splashed up over a back wall, or light-amplifying equipment. No flash, shutter speeds that aren’t too long, and tripods.

Then, go ahead and see what you might get.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He now leads the weekend public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, he travels the nation lecturing, and he writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and the Paranormal Pop Culture Blog. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide and the book Into a Sky Below, Forever. He’s also a portrait and landscape photographer based of Fort Collins. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Conjuring Review

Sorry I’m slow on this one. The review should have been up last Thursday, but I was finishing up another job, and just today got to the theater.

So!

Initial Review:

Like all the movies I review, there are two levels of analysis happening here: there is the analysis for the experiential moviegoer, and the thoughtful moviegoer. The Conjuring, for the experiential moviegoer, doesn’t go wrong. It doesn’t go terribly right, but it’s a good horror flick. Jump scares. Good ghost story manifesting in a good frightening possession. I can see why most people are liking it here in its first week.

For the thoughtful moviegoer… well… if you don’t know me by now, that’s where my discussion comes in.

The-Conjuring-BannerAs always, it helps at this point to have seen the movie, because apt discussion comes best when we can discuss the meat and potatoes of a movie, regardless of spoiler-worry, and in a way that puts us all on the same page.

This review is going to hit on a lot of the topics I continually hit on when writing reviews on supernatural-movies, because this movie generally failed in the way most of these supernatural-type movies fail.

Premise:

What makes the horror genre brilliant is that horror is dealing with extremes. These extremes take us out of our comfort zone, both emotionally, ethically, morally, and philosophically. Most horror movies get stuck in the first category: the emotional one. If they can scare you, they believe that they’ve done their job.

Many movies run in the same trend. Romantic Comedies have real potential to rip apart conventional social standards and dig around inside. Action movies can make larger commentary on the workings of government and politics and science-fiction. You name it. It’s usually the movies that push their boundaries, in whatever genre, that are reaching for real depth, and find themselves redefining the genre in the first place. Those are the brilliant movies.

Horror is not unique in that capacity, but it is closer to my heart.

This oftentimes is where I get frustrated with possession movies, because possession movies seem to always start with a beautiful layout of themes at the heart of their premise. These themes range from crises of faith, to the existence of a god, to the evil inside us, to the nature of insanity, to the nature of evil, to the pros and cons of religious systems–you name it. But in 99% of the execution, they fall into simply bloody messes and shark-jumping.

I suggest that the real tension–the real drama–of a horror movie comes from these themes and their emotional manifestations within the movie. The same way that my all-time favorite movie, The Dark Knight, manifests these themes in character, letting them play out on a symbolic level, I expect the demons and the ghosts and the things that go bump in the night to be manifestations of the same types of themes.

This hope alone goes back to philosophy, to Jung in particular, whom I love. He structured the way for Joseph Campbell, who wrote the Hero’s Journey. Jung took a mystical approach to storytelling, and charted the recurring tropes of stories on an international scale to be indicative of a kind of Platonic, mystical depth, where each trope was a manifestation of some spiritual consistency.

Regardless, this play between symbol, theme, and emotional, dramatic tension is, for me anyway, the heart of any brilliant movie. (These can be manipulated across the board, of course. Symbol and theme can be sacrificed for an emotional tension that reveals deep, deep inner truths. And by the same coin, emotional narrative can be sacrificed for pure exploration of theme and image, branching into very post-modern, abstract filmmaking. But it’s all along the same spectrum: dealing with deeply human issues.)

So here, in a genre that is–at the very least on a spiritual level–screaming for thematic discussion and tension, we have movies that just seem to ignore it.

And unfortunately, The Conjuring seems to have ignored it.

The Conjuring: 

The Conjuring takes its emotional tension from the situation: (whether you consider the main protagonists to be Ed and Lorraine Warren, or if you consider them to be the Perrons) there are angry ghosts, and the angry ghosts create a mess.

There’s nothing more than that. At best, there are themes hinted at: the importance of family and… well… the importance of family. Really, that’s it.

Even with that theme, a pretty decent one: there’s no stress put on it in any kind of executable way. Even with the risk of having their daughter put in jeopardy because of their need to help the other family, the Warrens’ argument is instead about Lorraine’s safety rather than their daughter’s. The question at the very heart of the movie, whether to continue to help one family at the expense of another, is never even discussed. The writer’s didn’t seem to recognize the very tension in what they had already wrote, let alone the potential for more.

Really, past all that, it’s just a succession of tropes. And there were so many: creepy imaginary friend; creepy doll; creepy cursed object; clocks stopping at 3:00; creepy basement; creepy blindfolded hide and seek game; family dog dying; birds crashing into the house; spirit with unfinished business; team investigating the house; exorcism; eye of the hurricane lull… the list goes on.

I think the reason so many people liked this movie on the surface was that it presented all these tired tropes in a way that didn’t suck. Which is only really celebrated because in most movies they do suck.

I was hoping that even with the steady progression of tropes, that the director of Saw and Insidious would have some style up his sleeve to give us a bit of spectacle with them. But really… just a creepy house. That was all the atmosphere we got. I can only recall one shot in the movie that really stood out to me in any kind of creative, atmospheric capacity.

Really, this film falls perfectly on the spectrum of mediocrity.

It wasn’t as laughably bad as 2012’s atrocious The Apparition, which couldn’t even execute a cliche trope to save a life. But, by the same token, when compared to the masterpiece Spanish Del Toro-produced Orphanagewhich heaps on many of the exact same tropes, but with a skillful execution thoroughly mindful of atmosphere, genuine frights, and depth of theme, The Conjuring just flounders around in average mediocrity.

It was just hitting its beats.

And yeah, maybe that was exactly what this movie was supposed to be. It didn’t pretend to be more than what it was. It was a summertime frightener. But really, can’t we get some effort out of a horror movie these days? Especially one that so heavily leans on the treasure trove that is Ed and Lorraine Warren.

C+

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

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Recommended Paranormal Reading

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A fantastic question, and one that I wish I get more often. I answered this one a couple months ago, but thought it might be easier to lay it out in a blog.

Caveats of course come in the sense that there’s still dozens upon dozens of wonderful and mind-bending books on the paranormal that I haven’t gotten to yet. But there are a few that I think would be wonderful if people started getting their hands on.

9781450253567_p0_v1_s260x4201. Paranormal Technology: Understanding the Science of Ghost Hunting by David Rountree. 

If there is one book any serious technical investigator of the paranormal should read, it’s this one. Where in today’s paranormal world many teams are largely ignorant to scientific theories, equipment, and genuine methodologies, this book is quintessential reading to help understand not only how the tools you’re using work, but what they’re measuring. Some is over my head. Some is borderline scientistic and narrow-sighted, but overall required reading. There’s a big part of me that wants to suggest to any investigator to not use any piece of technology again until after reading this book.

 

 

images2. Psychic Explorations: A Challenge for Science, Understanding the Nature and Power of Consciousness by Edgar D. Mitchell. 

The paranormal extends SO much farther than simply ghosts. If you want your mind BLOWN when it comes to the paranormal, you absolutely must read this book. A compilation of articles from psi researchers in 1973, this book synthesizes data collected by three generations of psychical researchers, whose conclusions come up again and again that the existence of psychic abilities have been effectively proven to exist, and that the next step is learning more about how they work. Readable. Mind-bending. Wonderful. It’s thoroughly referenced and footnoted, so opportunities for further reading abound. 

(From my reading in this, I’ve got sitting near my headboard my on-deck reading, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by FWH Myers and The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin, which has gotten a wealth of wonderful reader reviews on Amazon.)

 

5676823. The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

But the paranormal doesn’t stop at spirits and psychic phenomena. In fact, much of my reading list strays away from ghosts on their own entirely. Because of popular culture right now, we all get the general ideas behind the existence of ghosts. How many of us, after watching the first two seasons of Ghost Hunters can relay the three types of haunting and how EVP is different from disembodied voice? Keel’s Mothman Prophecies is a true achievement in paranormal research. Though I’m a big fan of the Pellington-directed movie, the book is fantastic reading. Diving so deeply into the strange events at point pleasant, Keel can’t help but become a part of the story. Despite breaking one of the first rules of journalism, the book then becomes instantly engaging on a level not purely intellectual, but reads as good as a fiction thriller. Mothman Prophecies brings together UFOlogy, some of the earliest reports of the Men in Black phenomena, poltergeist-type happenings, cryptids, and the titular prophecies. Where one phenomena stops and another begins? That’s the real question below this book.

(Note: Keel also wrote the wonderful Our Haunted Planet, which, while eye-opening as it dissects ancient mythology and the potential reality of gods, aliens, and faeries, is poorly referenced throughout, making many of his lofty claims immediately suspect to the careful reader. Though I’ve only read the opening chapters, it seems that Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia–which is available used for $400 dollars on amazon, or as a free PDF on a quick google search–is a much better presented exploration of similar study).

9780253221810_med4. Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience by Anthony Steinbock

Readers familiar with my areas of research know that in much of college, I focused a lot of study on philosophy of religions (both east and west) as well as an emphasis on mysticism. Mysticism is the practice of having an experience of something divine or transcendent of the world around us. Steinbock’s textbook examines what makes a spiritual experience inherently spiritual and where it crosses with the world around us. Indeed, as paranormal researchers, if we are coming into contact with beings or creatures from a plane truly beyond our own, the similarities in experiences immediately come together. If any researchers are interested in the broader implications of what it means to contact beings from “somewhere beyond”, Steinbock is a must read.

(Mystical experience is broadly classified and broadly researched in a way that much of the paranormal hasn’t. Some other books for reading on the subject include William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. James was one of the founding members of the Society for Psychical research, which is necessarily referenced in Mitchell’s Psychic Explorations book. Funny how they all start linking together again, isn’t it? Also, try Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts, Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Beliefand Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience.)

9780060653378 5. Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin

It should be noted that I have a problem with fundamental religious belief (which you’ll understand far more deeply if you pursue the mystical readings), but Martin’s book on possession is one of the best. It very thoroughly documents five case studies on various possessions that he researched. Where many television shows today like to throw around the “demon” word to keep their episodes exciting for the audience at home, the reality of demonic possession is shocking and very different. This book explores not only the exorcisms, but the circumstances surrounding the onset of the possession. This can be difficult to digest for the non-religious reader, as its very fundamentalist. But Martin is a professional and does a fine job of presenting the circumstances with very little bias. Even from the 1970s and with deeply religious background, such topics as transgender individuals are handled gracefully, though certain implications do leave a critical reader a bit wary. Regardless, as a study on the fact of possession, there’s much that cannot be denied, and the presentation here borders on masterpiece.

(If demonology is your thing, there is some fascinating reading on the subject. I also recommend The Dark Sacrament by David Kiely and Christina McKenna and The Rite by Matt Baglio).

41NPF555BTLHonorable Mention: The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion by James George Frazer.

The first time I tossed out these books on twitter, I added also that you should read anything that John Tenney recommends. If he told me there was insight in the phone book, I’d take to the phone book with a magnifying glass. At the time, his go-to book to add to the list was The Golden Bough. Because of his recommendation, this fat tome is sitting on my shelf patiently waiting my read. Written around the turn of the 20th century, this book is considered a foundation for modern-day Anthropology, studying how beliefs over time have changed from magic to religion, and from religion to science.

Those are my suggestions, caveats and thoughts and all. I do hope these help. If you have any suggestions of your own, feel free to sound off in the comments down below!

 

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

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Turns out ESP has SCIENTIFIC PROOF

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But Karl. You have no photos in this blog. Your only video is you talking to a camera. Where’s this proof you speak of? Dammit, I’m going back to Facebook.

Unfortunately, that up above is the way too many of us would-be “ghost hunters” do think. We operate under pop definitions of “proof.” Our “proof” is a distillation of a personal experience. We think that because we’ve experienced something (a certain kind of proof in its own right–but not one without its own flaws), that if we can recreate that experience for others, we have proof. Unfortunately, recreation seems to stop at video, audio, and photography.

In the scientific world, “proof” is different. Proof is an experiment, rigidly designed so that it can be recreated by anyone. Proof is a statistical, mathematical reference. It’s an argument based on a series of facts distilled from an experiment. Proof is then presented in scientific journals. When other scientists read them (skeptical or otherwise), they recreate the experiment, and report back in other scientific journals. If the results are consistent enough, this indicates that the scientists are on to something. If the results are consistent for seven decades, there comes a point where the phenomenon is, in a scientific sense, “proven.”

Is there room for error here? Is there room for misinterpretation? Absolutely. It’s in early stages. And problems arise when too much theorizing happens without enough facts. But after several decades of scientific study, scientists familiar with the researchers do confidently say:

ESP HAPPENS. What it is yet, they don’t know. How it works, they don’t know. Further experimentation is required.

So, before giving you an overview of what experiments were done, the reports published, the recreated experiments and the modifications, I wanted to give you an oversight from the scientists (no, really. Real life scientists with degrees and University funding and everything) who have interacted directly with the research from this past century. If you want to read the legitimate “proof”, start here first, and then begin to reference the bibliography.

“Telepathy, for example, had been extensively studied and documented for a century. The work of J.B. Rhine, Rene Warcollier, S.G. Soal, and many others, including the astounding experiment between Harold Sherman and Sir Hubert Wilkins in the Arctic, could leave no doubt about its existence.” -Edgar Mitchell

Psychic research officially began nearly a century ago, in 1882, when the Society for Psychical Research was founded in London. Three years later, the American Society for Psychical Research was organized in the United States.

“The subject of the societies’ concern can be broadly classified as Extrasensory Perception (ESP, psychokinesis (PK), and survival phenomena (theta). Collectively, they are referred to as psi, the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet and the first letter in the Greek word for “psyche”, meaning “mind” or “soul.”  -Mitchell

“ESP is a psychic event in which information is transmitted through channels outside the known sensory channels, either in waking consciousness, trance, or dreams.” Mitchell

“PK is a psychic event in which objects or organisms are physically moved or affected without direct contact or use of any known force that would allow a conventional explanation. PK includes teleportation, materialization and de-materialization, levitation, psychic surgery and psychic healing, thought photography, and out of the body projection.

Theta are events due to the agency of supposed discarnate personalities. Theta include the phenomena of mediumship, ghosts and hauntings, apparitions and poltergeists, spirit photography, spirit possession, and reincarnation.” -Mitchell

“There appears to be a continuum along which we may place occult, psychic, paranormal, and mystic phenomena–a continuum of consciousness. But it is not easy to draw lines of demarcation between them.” Mitchell.

I mean, where does one end and the other begin? Are spirits actual spirits, or are they projections of our minds into someone else’s mind? Do spirits manifest by appearing in our brains psychically, accounting for why sometimes only one or a handful of people “see” them? Look at PK versus clairvoyance. Do you know what is about to happen, or do we create it? On the flip side, do we create something happening, or just know what’s going to happen?

Now, on the scientific side,

Mitchell points out that science is made up of two components: objectivity and materialism. Objectivity being that the human being should have no necessary relationship with the world around it. Materialism in that everything fundamental to science is made up of matter.

So, according to Mitchell:

“Psychic research is leading to an extraordinarily challenging conclusion: science’s basic image of man and the universe must be revised… Science will have to divest itself not only of some deeply cherished “facts” but also of its philosophic foundations — the whole intellectual outlook upon which our present civilization is based.”

This isn’t an attack on science. It’s not a revolution, it’s a revelation. This IS science. Science is constantly updating to new facts, new realizations. This one has been pushed to the side for long enough because it doesn’t fit the framework. As soon as it becomes credible, we may see a shift more radical than any discovery in the past couple hundred years.

“The only possible bias for rejecting the evidence of psychic research is prejudice and diehard stubbornness born of insecurity.” -Mitchell

S.G. Soal of London University writes:

“It would be interesting to meet the psychiatrist or psychologist who has perused every page of the 49 volumes of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, and who remains a skeptic. It is no coincidence that those most skeptical of ESP research are almost invariable those who are the least acquainted with the facts.”

H.J. Eysenck, head of the Department of Psychology at Maudsley Hosptial in London, answers the charge of fraud like this:

“Unless there is a gigantic conspiracy involving 30 University departments all over the world, and several hundred highly respected scientists in various fields, many of them originally hostile to the claims of the psychic researchers, the only conclusion the unbiased observer can come to must be that there are people who obtain knowledge existing either in other people’s minds, or in the outer world, by means yet unknown to science.”

Dr. Montague Ullman of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY:

“If the only answer to the vast amount of solid experimental evidence is incompetence or fraud on a global scale by men with credentials equal to those of their scientific peers, working in academic surroundings, and whose work extends historically in time over at least three generations, then the adherents of this position would seem to have adopted a stance that is even more difficult to defend than the psi hypothesis. In fact, it would seem to represent a last ditch stand–in short, the bankruptcy of the critical effort.”

New Scientist Magazine did a questionaire on parapsychology in 1973. It’s first conclusion reported that

“parapsychology is clearly counted as being exceedingly interesting and relevant by a very large number of today’s working scientists.”

25% of the respondents held ESP to be an established fact, with another 42% declaring it a likely possibility.

“This positive attitude was based, in about 40% of the sample, on reading reports in scientific books and journals. Moreso came from a majority whose convictions arose from personal experience. There was a strong undercurrent among respondents that too much time was being spent proving the existence of ESP, when the real need was to “get on with finding out how it works.”

By that same note, Gerald Feinberg points out:

“I believe it would be appropriate for researchers to emphasize detailed studied of psychic phenomena rather than to concentrate on further efforts whose primary purpose is to convince others that the phenomena exists.”

This Advice is good for paranormal researchers too. Stop trying to “prove it”, start trying to figure out what is going on.

As you try to figure out what’s going on, you might just stumble across some real science on your way.

As always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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