Saturday, 5 May 2012

Update to Rip Hepple Nessletter Archive

I am glad to tell you that the earliest issues of Rip's Nessletter have now been added to the archive. Copies of the issues were supplied by Rip himself when I realised the copies could not be obtained from the National Library of Scotland. The added issues are listed below with their Google Docs links. I notice there is no issue 13 so need to check if that is an omission or Rip being superstitious!

I am now in the process of copying the other issues up to number 120 (in 1995) and these will appear once I have the time to complete the upload process.

No.1 January 1974 - link

No.2 March 1974 - link

No.3 May 1974 - link

No.4 July 1974- link

No.5 October 1974 - link

No.6 December 1974 - link

No.7 February 1975 - link

No.12 December 1975 - link

No.14 February 1976 - link

No.16 June 1976 - link

No.17 August 1976 - link

No.20 February 1977 - link

No.21 April 1977 - link

No.24 November 1977 - link

No.66 October 1984 - link

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Hugh Gray: The Man and His Monster

Last year I published an article bolstering the case for the first ever photograph of the Loch Ness Monster. I attempted to show that the picture taken by Hugh Gray did not show the blurred image of a Labrador dog and indeed showed the perplexing image of a fish like head (look right and down on this webpage). That the head is there is undoubted in my opinion as it casts a shadow on the water below it. What it means to the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster is a continuing matter of conjecture. You can view all the relevant articles here. However, I wanted to address some loose ends and add some new information in this article. 

The first is the man himself, Hugh Gray. I managed to find a couple of photographs of him which help humanise the story a bit more and bring the history of the case up to date. The first was found on the South Loch Ness Heritage website where old photographs of the people and places of that part of Loch Ness are displayed. As I was browsing the content of this interesting website, I noticed a picture of a tug-of-war team taken in 1933. One of the team members was named "H. Gray" at which point the penny dropped!

The picture below was taken by Duncan MacDonald and is reproduced with the permission of the site's maintainer, Frank Ellam. Hugh Gray is sitting at the front in the tweed jacket, second from our right (Interestingly, the man sitting at Hugh Gray's left hand side is Jock Forbes who claimed to have seen the Loch Ness Monster cross the road in front of his father's horse and cart in 1919). The picture was probably taken a few months before his famous photograph. The picture can be seen with further information at this website link. Indeed, if you scroll further down at that website, you will see a 1912 photograph of another tug-of-war team featuring a younger Hugh Gray. 

As it happened, I later found another picture of Hugh Gray in the London Daily Sketch for the 8th December 1933 which I don't think flatters him much (below). As you can see, the main banner  headline conveys the sensation the Loch Ness Monster created at the time.

Now, the debunking of the photograph has proceeded with varying degrees of credibility but one attempt can definitely be put at the bottom of the credible list and that is a piece that appears in Ronald Binns' "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved". In it, Ronald Binns quotes the 30th May 1933 Inverness Courier which describes a failed attempt by an "A. Gray" to capture the Loch Ness Monster using wire, hooks, a barrel and bait. Portraying this episode as a leg-pulling event, Binns speculates openly whether this is the same Mr. Gray and therefore should this joker be trusted. However, apart from being a Mr. A. Gray instead of a Mr. H. Gray, the matter can be laid to rest. For some reason, Ronald Binns failed to mention a key fact from the article that Mr. A. Gray was a bus driver whereas our Mr. H. Gray was a fitter at the Foyers Aluminium Works.

A more intelligent critique comes from Dick Raynor, who is an expert in photographic analysis. He suggests that the shadow of the object is not consistent with the time the photograph was allegedly taken. The position of the shadow indicates the object is somewhere between the sun and the photographer and he further suggests such a configuration is not possible given the stated facts of the case (the implication being that there is deception involved). So, for example, if Hugh Gray had been looking at the object across to the other side of the loch, then he would be facing nearer west which would place the sun in a sunset position. It is this objection to the photograph's authenticity that I wish to address for the remainder of the article.

But first, why would I wish to address something as mundane as the position of a shadow? Because this is symptomatic of the way critics treat such evidence. I call it the "Poison Speck" technique and it comes straight out of the lawyers' handbook. For you see, such pictures are not normally exposed by a big one-off event such as a hoaxer's confession or a model nessie found at the scene of "the crime". Rather, the normal procedure is to plant a "reasonable doubt" in the mind of the reader via small arguments (our poison specks). In the same manner that a lawyer will chip away at the evidence of the prosecution/defence, so the sceptic chips away until he thinks the audience has reached the point of "reasonable doubt". It may only take one or two chips but in this generally sceptical age, this carries extra leverage. When you preach to the converted, proof is not so vehemently demanded. 

So, by way of analogy, if I present a tasty and appealing pizza to you but point out that a tiny speck of something vile has been added, would you eat it? It doesn't matter if the offending particle takes up less than one thousandth of the meal, most will politely decline. Such is the tale of the tactic used and there is nothing illegal or immoral about that (I use it myself but for the opposite reasons).

Going back to the picture, we need to know three things. The position of the sun, the object and the photographer. The position of Hugh Gray can be determined with reasonable accuracy as being on the point indicated on Google Maps below. Tim Dinsdale in his book "Loch Ness Monster" visited Hugh Gray in 1960 and was taken to the spot by him. Dinsdale describes a half mile walk "along the shore" which I take to be starting from the Foyers estuary and hence use to estimate the location more accurately.

The position of the sun can be calculated from the date and time of the sighting. The date was November 12th 1933 but what was the time? My original article stated noon but there is some confusion here as other authors suggest the morning. Faced with this, I attempted to guesstimate the time. The account states he visited the local church first and then walked to the point on the shore afterwards. So he allegedly enters the church intent on keeping the fourth commandment, but leaves intent on breaking the ninth. How long was that interval? A church service would start at 1100 and took typically 1 hour 20 minutes (according to a current local minister).

He then would have conversed with fellow worshippers, walked from the church to the estuary of the Foyers river and then a further half a mile along the wooded shoreline to the sighting point. The overall distance can be seen from the postcard photograph again kindly provided by Frank Ellam's website (original link here). In the foreground is the church and he would have likely walked to the estuary along the riverside and then turned left along the shoreline trees (top left photo). Note that hypothetical Labrador dogs would not have been allowed in church - unless Mr. Gray was a registered blind person. :)

That would take us to about one o' clock which by a strange coincidence is the time he gave to the Daily Sketch reporter in our aforementioned newspaper article. Applying an azimuth calculator we get the sun's position as 194 degrees East of True North and at an altitude of about 14.2 degrees. Note that the stated time of 1300 is outside of BST (British Summer Time) which was introduced to Britain in 1912 and hence does not need compensating for.

On a Google Maps view of Foyers we can now begin to draw some lines between Hugh Gray, the sun and object (Google uses Grid North which is essentially the same as True North). But what about the position of the object? It is stated as being about 200 yards from the observer but what is not stated is the orientation between the two. Was the object due West of Mr. Gray, South West, North West or something else? No one knows and the various accounts given do not give a hint.

In that light, the remaining question is whether the object can be oriented to produce a suitable shadow given the known positions of sun and observer. The answer is that it can by placing it along a line of observation towards the sun to produce the desired shadow effect and see how that pans out with respect to the observer. The resulting map is shown below but how would we know how such an object in such an orientation could appear to Hugh Gray at his vantage point?

At this point, it's time to introduce you to "Shuggy" our stand-in Loch Ness Monster ("Shuggy" is the name for "Hugh" in the Glasgow vernacular). Since it will be a bit impractical to float a forty foot reproduction of the monster at 1pm on the 12th November 2012 about 200 yards from a ledge near Foyers, we went for the next best thing.

Since there is only a need to roughly reproduce a similar shadow, this plasticine model will suffice. It's not an exact representation of what is in the photograph, but it's good enough! I would also point out that this is not a complete representation either, since we do not know what was beneath the water's surface, so it's a part-Nessie.

So in my back garden, I placed the model roughly perpendicular to a south-north axis at 2pm (add one hour for BST). I then placed myself as the observer at a 35 degree angle from the sun line and photographed the model. The resulting photograph shows a similar shadow to the Gray photograph. The model is oriented to face side on to the viewer.

There are one or two issues such as the altitude of the sun would be slightly different compared to November and my own crouching down to simulate the height of the observer was an estimate as well. However, I hope I have proved that the shadow argument is no longer relevant as there is a sun-creature-witness orientation that is within the parameters of the case. 

One final objection may be that such an orientation would include some shoreline. The problem with this argument is two-fold. Firstly, we do not have the complete negative and what has passed down to us is an enlargement. So any talk of shoreline on the original is open to debate.  

Secondly, I visited the site of the Hugh Gray photograph in July last year and took some photos and video which I hope to put in a follow up post. Suffice to say, it was simple to photograph a spot 200 metres from me looking in that general direction which did not include any shoreline (though I appreciate my digital camera and Gray's box camera had different parameters).

As I said, a follow up post will be written in due course.