My husband Stephen Wagner is the guide for About.com's very popular Paranormal Phenomena site. He calls for and receives loads of firsthand accounts of unexplained experiences, and original, previously unpublished anomalous photographs.
I'm pretty skeptical in general—I've every confidence that many of the anomalies in photos are just weird coincidental lighting effects, shadows, or the dynamic of pareidolia. However, every now and then, some photos emerge that warrant some extra attention. Steve has recently added two such photos.
I thought I'd share them here—although his site and this one both have large audiences, I suspect there isn't a huge crossover. A while ago, I wrote in a Medusa's Ladder article about an exceptionally bizarre and puzzling photo, which ended up getting a lot of attention.
These new photos may not have that same immediate punch line as that False Head photo, but they are certainly a bit above the run of the mill "ghost" photo. This first, "Wickland House" photo below looks like a classic ghost photograph—an apparition, I think, every bit as good as what have been classified as the best ghost photographs ever, including The Brown Lady, and the Tulip Staircase Ghost.
This one, however, has something I find especially intriguing: somewhat of a holographic quality. First, the main figure seems to be somewhat doubled, and perhaps even tripled. This isn't that big of a deal innately, it's something often seen in regular mundane photos, and just indicates movement. (According to the photographer's accompanying account, there was no figure present.)
So, this dynamic of movement, along with the fairly clear face and general human-looking shape of the figure, it on one hand is a fairly realistic and convincing capture of what a figure might look like moving forward and turning toward the photographer. If "ghosts" are straightforward representations of people, then maybe this is such an example, and it's that simple. Either that, or it's something else, even simpler, pure pareidolia. (I'm using the assumption these photos are not hoaxes, of course.)
I think the phenomena of ghosts can be, and probably ultimately is just as Trickster-like, culturally and self-referential, and full of complex layers as UFOs, and any other Mystery. So, ironically perhaps, when I find something as straightforward as this particular photo appears to be, I might dismiss it if there's not something…more.
Looking more closely at this photo, there seem to be--aside from the doubling that would normally indicate movement-- some other holographic ideas going on: there are several rather clearly defined faces within the figure. This is probably a case of pareidolia, but it's interesting that no faces can be discerned in this same photo outside the apparition figure.
When I first viewed this Top Hat Ghost photo, I didn't even see the figure in the top hat the sender noted—I was busy looking at the enormous simulacra of the seated woman. This photo, although lacking the weird visual pun and illusion of the False Head, it has some of the other features I noticed in that photo—a holographic-like mirroring of the figures and imagery.
Although I see it, I don't think there's anything to the scary top hat figure—it doesn't look like a photographic quality image to me at all—the face looks very distorted and cartoonish, so I don't think it's a double exposure like has been suggested. I think it's just pareidolia. The most striking thing about this photo to me is the gigantic "head" against the building. It's not a photographic quality image either, so it's unlikely it's any kind of double exposure or reflection.
Note how the hat is almost the exact same shape as the seated woman's hat, and particularly how the shadows it creates over her eyes are exactly duplicated under the brim in the shading of the larger image. As in the previous Wickland House photo, within this larger image, there is other imagery, including that top hat figure. To the right of that, there's a more photographic-quality, realistic looking face, and also to the left, a weird cartoonish looking skull face. Strangely, the sender notes there's a family story about finding a skeleton under the house…
I find the idea of duplicate imagery and reflexivity within form quite compelling, especially when it seems to be meaningful, or decipherable. I don't think in cases such as these it's necessarily proof of ghosts, though. Of what then? Perhaps it's a manifestation or reflection of consciousness—collective or individual--or maybe a mimic through some innate geometry of space that equals form and carries meaning.