Ghostly Pics: The Newby Church Monk
By D.A. Lascelles
The photograph of the Newby Church Monk is often cited as one of the ‘best ghost photos ever’ and with good reason. It has particular resonance with me because it is one of the first photographs that ever really scared the hell out of me as a child.
I was reading through a book about ghosts. It was full of ‘real life stories’ and there were a number of photos. Looking at most of these I was skeptical, even as a rather naive young thing lacking the cynicism that has been beaten into me by years of life since. I’d played around with cameras before, I’d done things like accidentally double expose a film by not winding it on (these being the days before digital cameras or even automatic winding). I’d read about things like Pepper’s ghost and other stage illusions which could be used to fake a photograph of something fantastical. Even in those pre-CGI days I knew that the adage ‘the camera never lies’ was completely wrong.
So, the majority of the shots on display in this book were met with a shrug and a ‘could be a fake’ – a double exposure or an artifact of light and shadow which happens to coincide with a macabre tale of the place the photograph was taken.
Then I turned to the page on which the Newby Church Monk was displayed.
And, I am sorry to say, it scared the hell out of me.
Yeah, I know, it could still be a double exposure or a deliberate fake.* Like any ghost photo, there is always the element of doubt which you have to apply when assessing it as evidence of the supernatural. However, the shot is just so very creepy – the religious setting, the figure with its skull like mask, the whole package. It is easy to see why this shot is often trotted out. What is more, there are hints the figure is not even human. Not only is the face decidedly inhuman, more akin to an Ingmar Bergman vision of death or a Nazgul or a Dementor than a Monk, the figure has been calculated as being approximately nine feet tall. This, to my young imagination, hinted at something beyond a mere sad tale of ghostly unfinished business. It held suggestions of demons or other supernatural entities.
This is why I consider this shot to be my all time favorite ghost photo…
*Though it has been checked by experts who say no… but I tend to hold off judgement on that until I see who those experts were and what makes them think that.
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