Interview: Paranormal expert Gordon Rutter talks ghost photography & Crimson Peak

The author of Ghosts Caught on Film 3 speaks about the photos that appear in Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic chiller.

Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful gothic chiller, Crimson Peak is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD now from Universal Pictures.

Starring Mia Wasikowska as aspiring author Edith Cushing who, in the aftermath of a family tragedy is torn between love for her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) and the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). When Edith choses the handsome stranger and marries him she moves into a creepy Cumbrian mansion with Thomas and his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). It isn’t long before Edith discovers that there’s more to her new husband and their home than meets the eye.

In Crimson Peak Dr. McMichael has a shared interest in ghost photography with Edith and so DIY spoke with renowned paranormal expert and author of the book, Ghosts Caught on Film 3, Gordon Rutter about ghost photography.

“I’ve been interested in the paranormal and ghosts pretty much all my life and for almost the same length of time I’ve been interested in photography. So it was quite natural for the two to coincide,” Rutter told us. He continues: “Three or four years ago I co-organised a conference as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival looking at the science of ghosts. As part of that we encouraged people to send in their own ghost photographs to us. A number of those were published in a book I wrote called Ghosts Caught On Film 3.”

With the advent of digital photography and tools such as photoshop, Rutter agrees that whilst it’s easier to now manipulate a photograph it’s also easier for an expert to debunk those faked using modern methods. “If you’ve got an iPhone or an iPad or something you can actually get an app that will add ghosts to your picture. When this app first came out and not a lot of people knew about it as a consequence a lot of photographs were appearing but of course you could see the ghosts that were added by people. Some of these were appearing in the national press.” Fortunately any expert worth his salt could familiarise themselves with the variety of ‘ghosts’ on offer through these kinds of apps and recognise the fakes with relative ease.

Older photographs are a trickier prospect: “One of the instant problems with a photograph from a long period of time ago is you can’t speak with the people involved,” Rutter explains. “You can’t ask them them questions. Some people put in photos that aren’t deliberately faked but perhaps have a natural explanation which they didn’t know at the time but had you spoken to them you can realise that that particular set of circumstances happened and brought about that photograph.”

One of the photographs that features in the film is that of Master Herrod, a medium. Taken by William H Mumler, a New York photographer in 1872 a ghostly figure is quite clearly visible in the background behind the Master Herrod. Rutter says: “Mumler’s job was to take portraits of people, he would charge $1 a time. Now $1 at that time was roughly a couple of month’s wages for the average working person. The majority of people, if they were lucky, would have one photo taken in their entire lives.” Ghost photographs would cost $10 so photographs were relatively scarce thanks to the expense. As a consequence the majority of people were more likely to believe in something when they didn’t know what it looked like. “These things were very much outside of the grasp of the normal person.”

Another famous picture is The Tulip Staircase Ghost, taken in June 1966 in The Queens House, part of the Palace of Greenwich. Rutter comments: “It’s a curious one taken by a vicar and his wife and at the time they claimed they couldn’t see anything. They took the photograph and eventually got it developed and this vicar could see a very faint figure on the stairs as well. So taken at face value they’re saying there was nothing there by the staircase when they were taking the photograph but when you look at the photograph you’ve got the staircase and you’ve got this extra one, possibly two, figures on there and where did they come from?” Legend has it that a maid fell from the top of the stairs 300 years ago and the last reported ghostly sighting was back in 2002.

Despite a number of seemingly unexplainable and convincing photographs Rutter hasn’t encountered one that has him completely convinced: “I’ve not seen any one, single photograph that I think: ‘Oh my God, that is it, that is definitive proof of a ghost.’ You do have to kind of think there’s no smoke without fire, people are claiming that these things are happening, you can’t just sit back and yawn and say: ‘No they’re not,’ you’ve got to investigate it.”

Crimson Peak is available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD now courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).

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