Photography and Haunted Locations
A quick review of our website will show, unlike many (albeit most) web pages devoted to ghost research, a lack of “paranormal” photos depicting light anomalies at haunted locations. This is a purposeful omission. Let me explain…
Ghost research for us is an engagement with a haunted location that centers on this question: This happened here. Usually, there are multiple layers of uncertainty of what once occurred in particular spaces. These past acts may be (usually are) independent of the contemporary reality and physical environmental layout. The investigation of these uncertainties requires a forensic attitude toward space, context, and field performance. This requires us to document evidence of a manifestation “in situ”. Photography is a suitable medium for this forensic documentation, giving that certain controlled measures and attitudes are in place. However, far too often the photograph becomes a paradigmatic mediation for a manifestation (e.g., an orb or light anomaly = ghostly or “other” manifesting presence.) In this instance, the photo becomes a paradigm, a method used as a standard merely because the location is of documentation “potential” enough to actually prompt the ‘ghost hunter’ to take a photo, even though nothing may have happened at the scene to prompt the photo. That photo, in this case, is not forensic evidence, even if an ‘anomaly’ does appear. This merely becomes a non-forensic attitude and belief (forming a paradigmatic stand) that centers on potentiality, not documentation taken in context. In this particular instance, the fieldworker imagines, and steps forward with a photo: What he/she thinks happened, not what is happening. Yet, far from being empty but potential space, haunted locations are spaces of acts with a past and a future. But they require context in order to achieve forensic status. They require a mise-en-scene, not something missing from the scene of fieldwork! This missing piece is the investigative context. Context is not achieved through random sampling during an initial tech sweep of a location. Nor is it achieved during a periodic photo shoot in a vigil or ‘watch and wait’. Nor is it based on merely a “feeling” or a “psychic impression” by a “sensitive”.
A mise-en-scene context:
- Defines an objective;
- Defines a choice of haunted space to investigate;
- Coordinates an arrangement of secondary documentation (triangulation of video, audio, photography, and observers);
- “Populates” the scene to be documented through the enactment of contextual scenarios that complement past acts in that particular space. This “investigative occupation” communicates a specific message that fits the historical record of what happened there; and,
- The photographic documentation that follows conveys the intention of the investigator and the manifesting visual (if any) response to contextual acts in the scenarios that are enacted in that space.
The photographic, forensically-based, mise-en-scene frames the disposition, arrangement, and interactions between investigator and manifesting acts of past presence within a specific haunted space at a particular historical layer of uncertainty (a cultural haunting).
We photograph the development and organization of this mise-en-scene because this context is far more important for credibility issues that mere photos of light anomalies obtained using “typical” ghost hunting practices (such as superficial scans of space and random sampling of space), not based on any historical precedent.