With my essay plan and my three contextual positions now agreed the task of researching these perspectives was before me.
My three images from the exhibition were as follows:
Image 1 Alopex stultus
Image 2 Hydropithecus of Cerro de San Vincente
Image 3 The Miracle of Dolphin Surfing
The history of fakery began with Stone age art, primarily because it was the birth of art. When man (or woman) created pictures of animals on the walls of their caves they truly started something. I was looking for the origins of the fine line between realism and artistic licence, evidence that the drawings were a little exaggerated heralding the birth of fakery, in other words the point that realism was abandoned.
Its easy to imagine the tall tales being told around the campfire to pass the long winter nights and on each retelling the tale getting a little taller and a little more exciting as the size of the beast that was hunted got larger and more fierce. Logic dictates from this we get the birth of legend and myth and the emergence of tales of the supernatural. This inevitably must have lead to the creation of religion for those that believed the supernatural tales and conflict with those who didn’t.
As a life long member of the Scout Association I have frequently reminisced around the campfire with friends and in all our tales of times past, the tale always became larger than the actual event to impress the next generation listening intently to our every word. The human race loves both to impress and to tell stories. Where the truth subverts into fiction can be cleverly hidden like a magicians card trick.
A book on the cave paintings was a good source, entitled
Images of the Ice Age – Paul G. Bahn and Jean Vertut / Bellew Publishing 1988 – ISBN 0-7112-0492-6 and a website: Cave Paintings http://www.lascaux.culture.fr/?lng=en / both of which gave me a good insight into the 40,000 year old paintings.
The next piece of research was into the subject of Fairies and why we feel the need to believe.
The Cottingley Fairy photographs created a storm when they were first seen in 1920. Two cousins had cleverly crafted realistic looking paper cut outs of fairies at the bottom of their garden then photographed themselves interacting with the fairies as part of their game. The photographs were seen as genuine by the adults who came across them, the girls too scared to disagree. The photographs were finally marked as fake, incredibly, 50 years later. A website dedicated to the story was very useful, but also a movie based on the story made a few years ago gave another perspective. Books on the subject were hard to find in the time allowed, but again a website provided me with many of the details of the case.
Cottingley Fairies http://hoaxes.org/photo_database/image/the_cottingley_fairies/
Another tale this time of deliberate deception was the fake Loch Ness monster image in 1934 created by a very respected surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson. It fuelled the search for Nessie and led to a big game hunter staking out the Loch who hurriedly retreated from the scene in disgrace when the foot prints of the monster that he found on the lake side were actually identified as a Hippopotamus, roughly the same size as his African Hippopotamus umbrella stand….
So in looking at hoaxes and fakery in history so far the motivation to believe appears to be more in the minds of the viewer than the skills of the perpetrator of the hoax and if carried out badly, the hoax is easily revealed.
In looking at the Sirens series of the exhibition, the skeleton of the mermaid, my research revealed a scam called the Piltdown Man. This involved the ‘discovery’ of the bones of the missing link species between man and ape but later identified to be a complete fraud. Archaeology was embarrassingly reminded that how and where an artefact was found and the context of the earth around it was just as important as the artefact itself. Amazingly though the archaeology community was so desperate to believe this hoax that leading academics were fooled by this scam.
A website Piltdown man http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/science-of-natural-history/the-scientific-process/piltdown-man-hoax/ was a good source to read about this. Again the desire to believe what was presented was true over riding any argument that what was being told might be a lie.
So I set myself the task to witness first hand a group of believers accepting what was being told even though common sense and logic says its a lie. Observing the dynamic of the acceptance of what was being told without causing offence to anyone’s beliefs or intruding into a religion was my first thought. I wanted a group that would accept me into the their group by my mere presence. This was going to be difficult.
Part of my research for the Self Portrait Performance assignment led me down the path of spiritualists, mediums and ghost hunters. Two books appeared to be key to understanding this fascination with ghosts, the first is Prof. Richard Wisemans book – Paranormality, Why we believe the impossible / Pan books 2011 / ISBN 978-1-4472-0816-7, and also Andy Matthews Greatest Haunts (Diary of a ghost hunter) / Foulsham Press 2010 / ISBN 978-0-572-03543-3 which details the same spectrum but from the Ghost Hunter / Mediums perspective. Academic versus non academic ghost investigator, both believers from their own point of view.
Both books were insightful in different ways. Wiseman took the debunk angle, all paranormal evidence is either faked or wrong. Matthews’s angle was more of, this is what happened you decide if its paranormal or not.
Widening my research into miracles and myths I looked at Arthur Cotterell’s book – The Encyclopedia of Mythology / Lorenze books 1996 / ISBN1-85967-164-0, and Stephen T. Asma’s book – On Monsters, An Unnnatural History or our Worst Fears / Oxford 2011 / ISBN978-019-979809-4 which again offered another insight into the ghost / believer angle.
The last area I wanted to research was religion. For this I want to find a scientist with deeply held religious beliefs to identify any conflict between the two polarised opinions.This was tall order in the run up to Christmas so I sought an alternative.
Following the subject of ghosts and the people that believe in them I recalled an interview I filmed in 2007 with TV medium / ghost investigator Marion Goodfellow. Retrieving the tape and watching it again some seven years later I was glad to see it fitted in with my research. Her views on her deeply held belief in the after life again seemed to counter balance Wiseman’s scepticism. This was interesting especially as mediums have over time been labelled as fake by many people but the fact that I know Marion personally and I can say she’s always struck me as honest as they come. Her interview was open in that she talked of her early childhood, her rise as a medium and the value that carrying out this work meant to her. I contacted her to ask her if I could use the recording and transcript of the interview as part of my research, without hesitation she said yes.
Medium Marion Goodfellow
Despite this I still wanted to witness a group accepting blindly what they were being told. Following this thread I signed up for a real ghost investigation on 31st October, Halloween, with a company called Fright Nights.
The investigation was at Priory House, Dunstable, and allowed me to observe the ghost hunters during their investigation without restriction. The benefit of this ‘stakeout’ to my research into belief helped me enormously and allowed me to formulate a basic idea of what allows a person to believe in the impossible. Three factors seemed to be present, Biology, Psychology and Environment. A cliché perhaps but a quote from Abraham Lincoln summed it up for me. “You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. I believe some people are just born gullible. Their very Biology and Psychology makes them believe the scams and hoaxes. When you add the last element, Environment all doubt seems to disappear. The Ghost Hunters in my test sample were from a range of trades and professions, from builders, secretaries, teachers (academics) junior managers and the unemployed. All were ready to believe in ghosts and appeared to believe every word the medium stated throughout the evening. Very few voiced any doubts and there were no challenges to what was being delivered for their consumption.
One key trigger I did identify though in all this. All the ghost investigators irrespective of whether they considered themselves sceptics or believers admitted ghost hunting was fun. I immediately thought of casino games and slot machines, if you gamble and have the belief you can win and occasionally you do you are rewarded with cash and flashing lights which must impact on the pleasure centres of the brain. Was this a simple pleasure reward dynamic?
Trying to draw this area of research to a close I widened my book search again. I looked at ‘real’ ghost story compendiums such as Ghosts caught on film – Dr Melvyn Willin / David and Charles 2007 – ISBN 13: 978-0-7153-2728-9 / ISBN 10: 0-7153-2728-3 and Ghosts of Hertfordshire by Ruth Stratton / Book Castle 2006 ISBN 1-903747-71-6 but found little new in them.
Turning to the religion area of the essay under Fontcubertas Miracles series I looked to compare ancient miracles with modern ones. The Renaissance came within my research as among the numerous religious paintings of the era were several scenes from the Bible and several paintings depicting Biblical miracles, the painting version of Fontcuberta’s photographs. Comparing the two mediums would I hope also give me an insight to Fontcubertas mind set.
The Bible’s most famous miracle makers were Moses and Jesus. I recalled watching documentary on television some time ago (Discovery Channel) which tried to explain that the parting of the red sea was the drawing in of the sea prior to a Tsunami, the wave hitting just as the Pharaohs men crossed the same empty space. The wave was caused by an earth quake and volcanic eruption thousands of miles away, which was a real event. The idea seemed very plausible and if true explains one example of a miracle as just an act of nature not God.
Jesus walking on water was more difficult to explain. The only recent example I found in my research was from the 1980 movie Superman 2. General Zod arrives on planet earth and promptly walks across the surface of a river.
Modern movies are now so full of special effects we witness miracles by the dozen when watching them, but one of Jesus’s miracles, raising of the dead could be explained as good medicine. Research into the Renaissance I came across Domenico Veneziano and his paintings of St. Zenobius, who also was ‘blessed’ with the ability to raise the dead. I’m sure he wouldn’t have looked out of place in any casualty ward in any Hospital in the country, as this was the one place Doctors and Nurses perform this same miracle daily.
Drawing this thread together I started to examine the evidence for the belief in miracles and their place in religious text. My immediate comparison was The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen – James Wallis / Opus Press 2008 – ISBN 978-1906402150, a fictional book full of ‘miracles’. However I reasoned, take away the miracles from the Bible and what’s left? The Bible becomes a fairly historically inaccurate, moralistic collection of tales and it loses its value.
To elevate the Bible above Baron Munchhausen, Christians have the belief that the Bible is true. The numerous miracles described within its pages are a demonstration of the power of God, as only God could carryout a true miracle and is therefore more powerful than man. The bigger the miracle the more powerful the deity. This conjecture fitted in with myths of Norse Gods, Greek Gods and Roman Gods and imbued a sense comfort that we are protected by a more powerful entity than ourselves irrespective of which religion you follow.
Bringing my research back to the photography and Fontcubertas exhibition I realised I needed to understand more of his intentions. Susan Sontags book On photography – Susan Sontag: / Penguin 1979 – ISBN 978-0-141-03578-9 gave me a quote from Jerry Uelsmann who has himself created fantastical images of surreal landscapes including one of a girl levitating. “The camera is a fluid way of encountering that other reality”.
Seven Days in the Art World – Sarah Thornton: / Granta Books 2008/2009 – ISBN 978-1-84708-084-4, offered a perspective on the curator of Fontcubertas exhibition intentions. “Curators bring things to your attention that would not have otherwise come to your attention. Moreover they bring works to you in a way that makes some kind of vivid sense.” (P228).
The exhibition was assembled in a logical, almost scientific way but at the same time its underlying feeling was one of fun. You could almost imagine Fontcuberta watching you as you weaved your way though his cacophony of delights, smiling at you at you smiled at the pieces in the exhibition as you wrestled with that thought, “Is this real”?