Monday, 14 January 2013

Some Thoughts on The Surgeon's Photograph

Another cryptozoological blogger, Dale Drinnon, has put up a post recently on the Surgeon's Photograph which can be found here. As readers may know, this photograph was exposed as a hoax by Alastair Boyd and David Martin in their expose book some twenty years ago as a model neck attached to a toy submarine.




Though most accept this (including myself), others continue to raise questions about the book's theory. Loch Ness researchers such as Henry Bauer and Richard Carter have questioned the theory and Dale is the latest to offer his thoughts and claims that the model would be unstable if fashioned in such a way.

Now I admit that I have my own questions against the theory, but accept that the pros for the case significantly outweigh the cons. But let us look first at Dale's claim that the model would simply tilt over. The picture below (not from the Boyd and Martin book) is a suggestion as to how the model may have looked.




The first thing to note is that the neck is made from a substance called "plastic wood". It was initially suggested that such a substance did not exist in 1934 but this advert from page 103 of the March 1928  "Popular Science" shows it was around and popular as a DIY substance. Looking at the page, it reminds me of the modern "Polyfilla" as an aid for filling in cracks and holes but I am sure it had properties which also made it useful as a modelling substance. In fact, the advert below states that it was useful on model boats "for moulding figure-heads".




Dale describes the head-neck construct as "solid wood" but this is where things get confused. If it was a solid mass then I too would wonder whether the model could remain stable. My own take is that the model was more likely to be hollow in some fashion. In other words, a head-neck was moulded from a handful of this substance which we are told in the above advert "handles like putty" before it "hardens into wood".

But if the model is hollowed too much then (assuming it is a watertight attachment) buoyancy becomes an issue and the submarine would not be able to drag the head-neck underwater. It seems that some trial and error would be involved in finding the right density and the lead ballast strip mentioned in the picture would have been part of the solution.

Was this actually achievable? The problem is no one to my knowledge has tried to reproduce the original construct of plastic wood neck and toy submarine. In fact, modern reconstructions use modern technology in the form of very lightweight Styrofoam to float the object but clearly would not be able to mimic the submerging toy submarine.

However, I don't think such a modern model was intended to mimic such a scenario but rather used to reproduce the original "as you see it" photograph. Could a more 1930s reconstruction act as Christian Spurling said? Nobody knows for sure as I am not aware of any such experiment. I doubt plastic wood is available today but a substitute of similar properties should not be difficult to source. Finding a metallic submarine that submerges underwater may be more difficult. Until then, the door of doubt is left slightly open.

Others have raised questions such as why Wetherell did not expose the Daily Mail after publication and extract his revenge. 

The other open question is the mysterious second photograph. The head in that picture is clearly different to the famous first pose. I speculated whether the hoaxer may have remoulded the head into a "diving position" but since our advert says it hardens into wood on setting, that does not seem possible without snapping off the head. It is pointed out that the wave patterns on the surface are very different to the one in the first picture. This is conceded, but it is also conceivable that a sudden gust of wind can rewrite the surface of the water. The argument peters out to the conclusion that it was just another hoax picture.



Who knows, but to this day I have seen no satisfactory explanation of how this second picture came to be and the expose book offers no clues. The arguments are more to disassociate from the first photograph and then ignore it. It seems we have a mystery within a mystery.

Now I am not suggesting the first picture is a fake but somehow the second is genuine. That would be silly. But there is a "crack" in our knowledge here that need some "plastic wood" to fill it in. It is a given that Alastair Boyd would have asked Spurling about the second photograph. The absence of quotes from Spurling on this subject suggests he knew nothing about it (In Spurling's defence, this suggests he is being truthful about the first picture. After all, if you are going to lie about the first photo, you will keep on lying about the second one.).

So what is the story behind this second photograph? Comments are welcome!







62 comments:

  1. Plastic wood is still available. As a model-maker-sculptor that has used it plenty of times, I can tell you that it is quite dense and heavy. If the "model" portion was made just as the diagram illustrates and was indeed solid, I feel it would be top heavy and either sink or tip over. Just my opinion, Jeff

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    1. Another aspect of the 'hoax' story that has always puzzled me - obviously the photographer had no idea how convincing or lame the photos would be. Why take them to a chemist/developer and have him potentially see the end of the submarine poking up from behind, or patterns in the water that clearly show a wind-up mechanism driving the object, or any number of other things that could have gone wrong? There was no way for them to know what was 'in the can' until the film was developed.

      I've also always been struck by Spurling's statement that he took "a" photo of the monster, not "THE". Perhaps at 93 he was confusing a photo he did in fact fake, but which was never released because the product wasn't convincing, with that of Wilson's published at about the same time?

      I lean towards the Wilson photos being genuine. The form of the classic picture is so aesthetically "right" that I just don't see how Spurling or Weatherall could have sculpted it. Now Wilson, being a Dr., might have some dexterity and artistic skills, and given his medical specialty, would have an appreciation for the female form - it's just that sinuous, pleasing line that so impresses me in the famous photo.

      Anyway, I think those 2 photos are an open question, and not "Case Closed".

      Great Site, by the way. So much material and rational discussion. Well done!

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  2. I agree with Jeff that Plastic Wood would be quite heavy if the Head and Neck were solid,I think it would have to be hollow and built around a wire frame to reduce the weight.Paper-Mache would be a better material to use I think to reduce the weight above the Submarine.
    In the second Picture the Head and Neck look like they are sinking in a forward motion.It seems to me that if the Submarine became unstable it would topple over onto it's side.
    Jack.

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    1. There could have been two separate hoax attempts going on, separated by days or even weeks. They may not have been too happy with their first attempt even without viewing the photograph, so they devised a second improved fabrication that appeared to be more convincing prior to the processing of the film. The weather conditions of the two pictures do appear to be considerably different and the hoaxers would not have known the end results of their work until the time of the film development as both pictures were apparently developed at the same time. This is all conjecture of course, but if something isn't quite right the first time most people would usually try again.

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  3. I just had a read through some of the Martin/Boyd book and there are a few pages on the second photograph, but nothing conclusive. It’s one of these things that drives me mad as I know there must be some explanation! I would speculate and agree with Pete that it could be a first attempt at the hoax and then they decided they could do better, but maybe they thought also handing this to the chemist would make it more plausible if it looked like a second shot.

    I don't see that picture in my copy of the book Roland, and from quick research I think there was only one edition. Are you sure it appears in your copy?

    It’s worth mentioning that since it’s accepted as a hoax, and this must be beyond any doubt at all if Roland accepts it! It’s no longer anything to do with "Nessie" although it’s always interesting to add more to our knowledge of this particular image considering its one of the most recognisable pictures in the world.

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  4. I guess a wireframe is doable, I wonder if it is more likely the plastic wood was moulded over a stick of some shape with some lubricant in between to ease the cast off when it hardened?

    Les, I assumed the graphics came from the book without looking. Oh well, another picture mystery.

    It is possible the second photo was actually the first attempt or part of a first attempt sequence. It just seems strange to me that Wetherell would initially think a head just poking above the surface would be the picture to wow the Daily Mail.

    However, the extensive research into this subject by Boyd and Martin indicates nothing to suggest a previous attempt to hoax a picture. They don't know how this second picture came to be either!



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    1. Somebody has also suggested to me that the neck could be a flat balsa construction fixed onto the sub with plastic wood. I understand Alastair Boyd's styrofoam reconstruction was a flat head-neck.

      The lack of a V-wake in the photo suggests Wetherell never employed the submarine's propulsion features. bad water conditions or interrupted by an approaching stranger (which I believe was mentioned in the book).

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  5. I've often wondered about the differences in the shape of the objects of the two photographs. It's difficult to imagine they are from the same model even if taken from a different angle, etc. The hidden particulars behind these iconic photos seem more complex and interesting than the scant information that's come to light. Here's hoping for more light.

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  6. GB during the early Seventies as a schoolkid I was mesmerized by a set of adverts on British TV which showed this amazing device which purported to allow you to trace a stylus round say a map which in turn would cause a pencil held at the gadget's other end to trace out a perfect replica - many times larger if that's what you wanted.

    Nearly every kid I knew who'd used one though said the same thing "What a load of shite!" but there was always one who swore blind he knew someone who could use it to make perfect drawings just like on the telly.

    My point being adverts for handicraft materials've always bigged them up since the dawn of time and they rarely deliver. So as someone who used to use such materials as a highly artistic kid I can only smile reading that plastic wood advert and think of all the years experimentation I put in trying to attain antique renovation type levels and recall that Italian lady who recently became notorious for attempting to retouch a much loved church painting only to produce something like an advert for plastic surgery for hideously burned WWII fighter pilots.

    I'd also like to point out something about your diagram showing the plastic wooded Nessie atop the hypothetical submarine.

    Look at your diagram and look at the actual photo. Whatever's under the water's far larger than the sub in the diagram nor is 'Nessie' at the centre of it.

    But let me be clear here though.

    I'm perfectly happy something unusual inhabits Loch Ness from time to time [if not indeed as a result of a window appearing onto other times] and I don't have any particular problem with the Surgeon's Photo being authentic but if I had to put money on what it depicts it wouldn't be Nessie but maybe something like a swimmer lying on their side with their arm out the water or even some sort of tipped over watering can (one of the objects including a battered steel teapot I tried to adapt as bathyspheres or submersible devices for my Action Man [and no that's not a euphemism for my penis!]).

    ps

    The water in the 2nd Surgeon's Photo looks much deeper and more turbulent than in the famous photo and resembles something like an aquatic fowl ploughing along with an extended neck as if frantically calling its mate or its mother back. Maybe this 'baby Nessie' was the real 'monster' the Surgeon saw and the famous photo was an attempt to recreate a more compelling version of what he saw.

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    1. "The water in the 2nd Surgeon's Photo looks much deeper and more turbulent than in the famous photo"

      I'll grant you the "more turbulent" bit; so why is the reflection more complete than in the 1st photo? There shouldn't be a reflection there at all :-)

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    2. Alan, wasn't that toy from the 70's a "stetch a graph" - http://www.etsy.com/listing/85544852/1970s-sketch-a-graph-in-original

      It wasn't so bad.. :-)

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  7. Another guess would be that the first hoax atempt was ruined by a gust of wind just as the picture was taken.

    As a kid I remember my dad using plastic wood. It come in a very small tin, like 50ml so I had the impression it was expensive and only used for small repairs. It stunk of strong glue. I wouldn't imagine someone would make a full head and neck out of it - it wasn't that kind of product. So i agree it might just have been used as an outer coating to do the final shape. Out of interest, my dad eventually make his own plastic wood by gathering up the fine sawdust and mixing it with evo stick glue.

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  8. One thing that bothers me about the Surgeon's Photo hoopla is the way in which it is almost constantly reported as having been 'proven' a hoax. It most certainly was not! Now I'm not saying it is not a hoax, or that it definitely depicts one of the Loch Ness creatures, but I AM saying that Wetherell's story is fishy (excuse the pun) and by no means proven. It never fails to amuse me that sceptics who demand solid proof of 'Nessie's' existence before countenancing it will suddenly turn credulous when a hoax is claimed (without requiring a shred of evidence to support it). The fact is, Wetherell (like most people) didn't even know about the first picture (which he most certainly would have done if he'd been in on a hoax) and could produce nothing solid in the way of evidence; he didn't even show or direct Boyd and Martin how it was done using similar materials. In short, the photo may well be a hoax, but I see no reason to believe Wetherell had anything to do with it - why would he wait so long before revealing all? A last stab at gaining posthumous fame, perhaps?

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    1. Jenny, you mean Spurling and not Wetherell? Well, I do agree that hoax confessors are readily entertained more than Nessie witnesses!

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    2. Yes - Spurling - my apologies! I just realised I'd written Wetherell (who was only implicated) rather than Spurling, and come back to correct it. :)

      I have to add also, it's pretty convenient that Spurling only confessed when Wetherell (and of course Wilson) and anyone else who could have corroborated his tale was long gone. All told, Spurling's confession on its own would never stand up as evidence in a courtroom - and yet for many it's case closed: toy submarine with a plastic wood head, and to Hell with the physics, second photo, and every other hole in the story.

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    3. Its worth considering who the skeptics are in this case? There seems to be a tradition of calling Nessie non beleivers "Skeptics" But keep in mind you need something to be skeptical off. If you are skeptical of the hoax hypothosis, then its the believers who are the skeptics here.

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    4. Broadly speaking, skeptics are dubious of or opposed to the idea of a large unknown creature in Loch Ness - "believers" are not.

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    5. Thats not actually true GB If you lookup the dictionary definition of "Skeptic" or "Skeptical" it doesn't mention Nessie. You are correct that calling non belivers Skeptics is traditional in the Nessie case, but its not actually true in fact. If I understand your position on the LS picture (for example), you seem to be skeptical of the bales of hay hypothisis. Therefore you are a skeptic from that point of view.

      To accept your statement above as being correct, you need to look on the Nessie hypothisis as being the accepted norm, which it isn't

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    6. I agree one can be a sceptic of individual cases. I am a sceptic in that regard. As to a large unknown creature in Loch Ness - I am a believer.

      Sceptics in the general sense are sceptical of ALL cases. The only grey area is the theory advanced that a known large animal could be a visitor to Loch Ness such as a sturgeon.

      So to quote Rumsfeld, you have known unknowns and unknown unknowns!

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    7. But surely you need to be skeptical even if you are a believer? If you were not, you would simply accept every presented picture of Nessie, as being Nessie. I'm sure you don't, so you apply skepital enquirie to make a decision on the picture one way or the other.

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    8. Clearly I do not accept every I am told. When I say I am a "believer" I mean I accept the proposition that there is one or more large and unidentified creatures in Loch Ness.



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  9. According to Nicholas Witchell, who obtained his information through Wilson's widow and the rare privilege of viewing Wilson's own letters about the incident, he reported it took him two minutes to take the photos (he had to change plates multiple times), during which the object "moved a little and submerged" (The Loch Ness Story, revised edition, Penguin Books, 1975, pages 44-45).

    Wilson took 4 exposures in total. The first 2 came out blank, the 3rd one is the famous one, and the last exposure was the "second photo". Therefore there should only be about 30 seconds elapsed time between the photos (ready and shoot four times in two minutes, or 4 times 30 seconds each). Interestingly we get the second picture through the chemist who developed the set, Mr. George Morrison, who reported that Wilson wasn't interested in the second photo. That strikes me as strange. Morrison kept the negative, or apparently we'd never have seen the second picture.


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  10. Steve - much water has passed under the bridge since 1975 and there are three independent sources for the hoax explanation:- the 1970 letter to Nick Witchell from Maj.Norman Eggington which describes Col.Wilson's bragging about the hoax to himself and others in an Officer's Mess in 1940, the 1975 Philip Purser (Mandrake) interview in which Ian Wetherell describes taking the photographs of a model monster in Loch Ness, and Christian Spurling's 1991 description to Martin & Boyd of how he made a model monster for his stepfather in the 1930's.

    I would recommend Martin & Boyd's book "Nessie - The Surgeon's Photograph Exposed" to anyone who has not read it, as without it they are not playing with a full deck. The book is at http://lochnessinvestigation.com/ - other bookshops may exist :-)

    GB wrote "I do agree that hoax confessors are (more?) readily entertained more than Nessie witnesses!

    Could this be because hoaxes outnumber Nessies?

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    1. It's because they are more believed than Nessie witnesses, which is no surprise!

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    2. Yes, it seems that someone admitting responsibility of a hoax is believed a lot more than witnesses to unusual events or phenomena. I suppose that this is because the believing of a hoax is an easier solution to the problem.

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    3. Thats probably true Pete, but I don't agree its because its "an easier solution to the problem" I think it because its much more likely to be true on balance of probability. Keep in mind its never the case that someone simply holding up their hand and saying "I hoxed it" is accepted, there needs to be some evidence that they did, then people make up their own mind what to believe.

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    4. Les.
      I agree with you if you are talking about people who have more than a passing interest in the LNM, but I was referring more to the general public as a whole who wouldn't go to the trouble of researching any hoaxing claims that were made. They hear that somebody has admitted to the hoax and that is enough evidence for them, whereas people such as ourselves would require more information to follow up any claims made and make our own judgments from thereon. Unfortunately there is no actual evidence that the surgeons photo is a hoax, all we have is basically hearsay, but maybe just enough to convince most true LNM believers that this is so, whereas the general public will just think "Its a hoax because someone has admitted doing it"

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    5. Pete wrote "Unfortunately there is no actual evidence that the surgeons photo is a hoax,"

      As I have described elsewhere there are the three separates testimonies from three separate central players, spread over 51 years supporting the case that it was a hoax. Only the Daily Mail's sensational story suggests anything otherwise. You choose :-)

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    6. Dick Raynor.

      I am fully in agreement with you, just in case it sounded otherwise. What I should have said was actual physical evidence, ie, the finding of the prop used in the hoax at the bottom of the loch or photos of it during manufacture etc. I personally think it was a hoax (well i'm 99% sure) with that tiny bit of a niggling doubt concerning the second photo and the lack of information regarding it (although it must be said that this picture isn't known as THE surgeons photograph). I am a little curious to know if you have any similar thoughts, no matter how trivial they may be. I hope i'm not putting you on the spot with this:-)

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    7. Pete, I agree with you about the problem of the public simply remembering the word "hoax" associated with a picture without them being critical of the hoax evidence. However its also a problem the other way round when people just remenber a picture as "Nessie" without any supporting evidance that it is. It works both ways.

      If you havn't read the Martin/Boyd book I think it would offer you a useful insight.

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    8. As the old saying goes, "there's nowt as queer as folk". As regards the book I will take your advice and it is on my 'to do' list

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    9. Pete - I'm happy to discuss all these things but this is Roland's blog and I don't want to hijack it - I have a discussion group of my own where you can ask anything you wish. Regards, Dick

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  11. GB & Dick,

    As you both might guess, Wilson's photo (if genuine) could well be taken to contradict my own thesis, so I'd find it convenient for it to be proven (or further proven) a hoax. But while I'm not looking to defend the picture, I'll entertain any data pointing towards truth, and see where that leads. That Eggington letter sounds very interesting, and I'm sure the Martin & Boyd book will be quite a fun read. I was already aware Spurling confessed to making the model.

    Wilson's widow might be as close to a primary source as we could ask for, but we must also consider the chance he never told her it was a hoax. Or maybe he did and she was keeping up the story. Or was Dinsdale right about the subtle details in the photo no hoaxer would have known to bother with?

    The questions about the photo alone could outnumber Nessies, be they legion :)



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    1. I am following up a line of enquiry on the Wilson photo but I don't think I will find anything other than a confirmation that it is a hoax.

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  12. Steve - do read the M&B book.

    I am also noticing the loaded use of the words "confession" and "admission" in these threads, with their connotations of sin and guilt respectively. Spurling simply "stated" what he could recall having done 60 years earlier, in answer to questions.

    Making a model monster is no crime.

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  13. I have just read this blog spot posting with great interest.

    I have a problem with the "model submarine" theory. The more famous of the two "Surgeon's photographs" compared with the subsequent diagram of how it would be hoaxed do not match.

    Look carefully (in the photograph) at how there is no continuous line from the back of the neck to that section that is indeed protruding from the water at the back of the thing. There are two sections breaking the water's surface--the foreward section, and an additional aft section. Water inbetween. (This would not happen in the case of an alleged model submarine shown in the supplied diagram.)

    Just because some people claim they were in on a hoax, or heard that the Surgeon boasted about it in 1940 is not proof (it is a verbal claim only, based on what would be rightly termed hearsay). What would be proof is if someone would track down either a 1920s or 1930s submarine model (I would encourage people to make the effort to track down all models of toy submarines that would have been extant at the time, and carefully check out their contour lines) that would be available for purchase in the UK during this time frame, and attempt to match it up. That currently extant diagram of a submarine doesn't provide sufficient appropriate data to link it with the photograph.

    The diagram doesn't match the photograph. In key points.

    The key to all of this is to attempt to track down model submarines that would have been available for purchase at that time frame, and see if one can match up what one sees in the photograph with any of the real models located. (One place: looking for magazine or newspaper advertisements, just like for the "plastic wood" would be the way to start, I would think.)

    If one can reasonably locate such a model submarine currently extant, then one would have to subsequently test the submarine to see how it would behave in floating, as well as how it would look as it would engage in submergence activity, and then do the actual experiment of applying the alleged faux "head and neck" (using plastic wood) and put it in the shallow waters of a lake, and film the thing both on the surface, as well as during its submerging.

    This is the only way to prove, or disprove, the hoaxing theory. Current data in hand is not sufficient to close the books on this.

    I am using a Skeptic's viewpoint on the claim of hoaxing in this case.

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  14. Anonymous wrote on 17 Jan 2013 0840:
    "I have a problem with the "model submarine" theory. The more famous of the two "Surgeon's photographs" compared with the subsequent diagram of how it would be hoaxed do not match."

    That's more likely a failure in the diagram than a failure in the theory. Who created the diagram?
    And also:
    "The key to all of this is to attempt to track down model submarines that would have been available for purchase at that time frame"

    That's easy. Google "Unda Wunda". The red and grey short-keeled version was available 1934 - 1940. You buy it, I'll test it. I already have the Plastic Wood.

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  15. GB - Another thought on the second picture. I've been having another look at it today in the light of what Dick Raynor says about the refelection (there shouldn't be one), its possible to regard the neck and its reflection as one object. In that case, I can see it as a pair of wings above the surface of the water. I can see it as simply a bird flying across the frame. Now I'm not saying thats what it is, just that its possible and plausable, and could be argued more so than the Nessie hypothisis. Its possible that during this attemp at a hoax the submarine sank and all that was photographed was a bird.

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  16. Before one can declare that the "Unda Wunda" is the model submarine in question, I think that a proper search should be undertaken of all model submarines that were available at the time. Just saying it's a "Unda Wunda" is a bit too glib and dogmatic under the less-than-detailed circumstances. And I don't recall seeing any super detailed description about what type of submarine was allegedly used in the hoax in anything that I have recalled reading. (If there has been, I would like to see the exact quotation of the type of submarine used. Just referencing a diagram that is without proper provenance doesn't cut it. And it shouldn't be accepted, just because it has appeared in a newspaper article.)

    Indeed, at this URL link there is a mention that one of the people, Christian Spurling, maybe was not a party to the hoax like he claims:

    http://thelochnessgiantsalamander.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-new-morphology-vs-classic-sightings.html

    Here's the full quote from the above URL link:

    "....That Wilson's photos might still be vindicated is a real possibility, as the key witness for the expose that debunks Wilson's first photo (Christian Spurling, stepson of Marmaduke Wetherell) actually seems to have been unaware of the existence of Wilson's second picture (2nd Wilson photo, above), a glaring omission by someone claiming to have been in on the alleged hoax from beginning to end...."


    My two cents.

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    1. Anonymous 21 January 2013 14:21 - You place great burdens of proof on others yet it seems from your comments that you may not have actually read Martin & Boyd's book on which this discussion is based. I am sure your local library could get it for you.

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    2. I am by no means a supporter of The Surgeon's Photo, and readily admit that some sort of hoax is indeed the likeliest scenario; however, I am baffled that anyone would consider Boyd and Martin's book to be the definitive last word on the subject, as it's a collection of contradictory testimony and third-hand hearsay.

      Consider the incompatibility of the proofs Mr. Raynor cites above (the Eggington letter, the Mandrake article, and Spurling's "testimony") -- how well do they fit? Even Wilson himself raises more questions than are answered in his (strangely suppressed) letter to Whyte. Was this a long-thought-out prank and act of revenge perpetrated by Wetherell that he for then some unexplained reason walked away from once he'd pulled it off? A model built by Spurling with a V-wake, as claimed by Ian via Mandrake? Or a superimposition, as claimed by Wilson to Eggington? Was the Surgeon given a camera with the photos already on loaded film? And if so, what's this about a mistress who may have been responsible for a prank? Or Morison's hinted involvement? How does Chambers actually fit into this, as no connection is established to Marmaduke Wetherell beyond Ian's Mandrake claim? And what about that second photograph, for which no good explanation (or even hypothesis) has been given by the authors, and is smugly dismissed during the course of a single page? And while the "deathbed confession" bit is an obnoxious publicity thing, just why did Boyd and Martin sit on their story long enough to hit a sixty-year-anniversay gimmick, when it resulted in the inability for the star witness to be properly cross-examined on many of these points...

      Sorry, but that book (which I've read about five times and scratched my head over upon each study) serves as a fascinating look at the folklore behind the photo, but it is in no way conclusive proof (or even strong evidence) that the Spurling/Wetherell story is any more than a case made up of wishful thinking and the faded memories of a clearly disinterested and borderline hostile old man.

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    3. Burton Caruthers29 January 2013 at 07:33

      One thing I have always found strange is that so many people looking to discredit the the fact that this photograph has been uncovered as a hoax question why Duke Wetherell remained silent to his grave about it, and seem to suggest that this somehow casts doubt upon the entire hoax idea.
      Wetherell pulled off one of the greatest hoaxes in history with the "Surgeon's Photograph", one that was a watershed moment in the modern history of the Loch Ness Monster, producing a photograph that became THE iconic image of the monster for 60 years running. This image was lauded as indisputable evidence that the beast was indeed what so many claimed it was, an extinct relic of the past. It sparked decades of belief, debate, conjecture, and countless expeditions in search of the creature, many very expensive and grand expeditions led by prestigious institutions and comprised of extremely intelligent people who were leaders in their respective fields. Wetherell's hoax was a catalyst for believers and debunkers alike for 60 years, it drew professionals and amateurs alike to the shores and murky waters of Loch Ness in search of anything from irrefutable proof to merely just a glimpse of something fantastic or mysterious. The newspapers and news services clambered over each other for the stories, photos, and first or exclusive rights to report any findings on the creature, even sponsoring expeditions, and Wetherell was the mastermind behind an enormous piece of the evidence which sat at the heart of inspiration for such things.
      I'll ask this - what better revenge against those who humiliated Wetherell for his "hippo print" fiasco than 60 years of searching for something that's not there? Regardless of what Wetherell may or may not have believed, he certainly knew that what was in that photograph did not exist. What better way to exact revenge and satisfaction than to send them on a wild goose chase for years, only to be embarrassed at the end by finding nothing? What pleasure would be gained from fessing up immediately after the photo was printed in the papers? It would merely make the papers look foolish for being taken in by the picture, but would expose Duke Wetherell as an even bigger fraud than before, leaving him to walk away again with a tarnished reputation and no credibility whatsoever. How would Wetherell exposing himself as a liar, fraud, and con artist benefit him in any way? If not for Spurling spilling the beans to Boyd and Martin, the photo might be still going strong today, and despite the cat being out of the bag, the Surgeon's Photo still appears in every single documentary I see on Loch Ness specifically and any lake monster/sea serpent/water cryptid show in general. Is that not the best revenge?

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    4. Burton,

      Wetherell & co probably took fright when the photo became a sensation, exposing it as a hoax could well prove detrimental to all involved.

      It does remain the iconic image and will probably stay that way. It did spark a generation of monster hunters but the effect was short lived as world war 2 broke out.

      It required the Dinsdale film 26 years later to catalyse a new generation of seekers.

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    5. Erik Myers wrote: "... I am baffled that anyone would consider Boyd and Martin's book to be the definitive last word on the subject..."

      The authors themselves don't claim that and neither do I, it is simply the most plausible account published to date. At least you have read the book, which is more than most of its critics appear to have done. Perhaps you will publish a better one, but until then theirs is the best available.

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    6. Erik Myers also wrote: "And while the "deathbed confession" bit is an obnoxious publicity thing, just why did Boyd and Martin sit on their story long enough to hit a sixty-year-anniversay gimmick, when it resulted in the inability for the star witness to be properly cross-examined on many of these points..."

      The answer to this question is also in the book, as you will see on your sixth reading :-)
      Mr Spurling passed away in November 1993, but it was not until February 1994 that the Boyds came across the letters from Major Eggington while investigating Constance Whyte's archive material. Only then was R K Wilson's own admission of the hoax discovered, so putting the last major piece of the jig-saw puzzle into place for Martin & Boyd.

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    7. Burton:

      The whole thesis for Wetherell's alleged prank (and involvement in the search as a self-styled big game hunter) was his obsessive craving for publicity and attention, coupled with a desire for revenge against the Daily Mail for his dismissal. I think right there you have a pretty good argument for why his failure to follow through on his hoax rings false.

      And as for the argument that the photo became too big a sensation and its residual effects scared him off, I call B.S. The man reputedly placed footprints of a mounted hippo foot, basked in the limelight of his "discovery," and then allowed plaster casts to be sent off for analysis! He had to have known the bubble would burst on that one; so why at that point would he keep quiet about a photograph that (by and large) was a legitimate success insofar as hoaxes go? What reputation did he have to preserve...? And what revenge is there to be found in a cover story that earns your rival top dollar in sales...?

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    8. Dick:

      I realize that Whyte's archives became available to Boyd and Martin only after Spurling's death (which, if I recall, was about a year after his "deathbed confession," which still leaves an inexplicable gap between admission and revelation -- time which could have been spent ironing out the details, so to speak); but as I stated before, the Eggington letters are, apart from being hearsay, completely incompatible with Spurling's account, or with Wilson's own letters to Whyte. I hardly consider that a jigsaw piece that fits the larger whole.

      I also have to ask, given your knowledge and association with the authors: has the Surgeon's Photo ever been legitimately replicated using the cited tools and aspects of creation? I've seen Boyd and Shine in several documentaries using models built of decidedly more modern materials: styrofoam being the most suspect. I've also seen video of Boyd floating a replica using lines for stability and control, which doesn't correspond with Spurling's account. Boyd and Martin present a pretty compelling Surgeon's Photo replica in their book, but I have to ask if a 1930s-era clockwork sub and plastic wood were utilized.

      Please understand that I am a Nessie atheist, and a great admirer of you, your decades of work, and your website. It's just that I'm not sold on the story as it stands.

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    9. Burton Caruthers31 January 2013 at 07:30

      ekm writes: "The whole thesis for Wetherell's alleged prank (and involvement in the search as a self-styled big game hunter) was his obsessive craving for publicity and attention, coupled with a desire for revenge against the Daily Mail for his dismissal. I think right there you have a pretty good argument for why his failure to follow through on his hoax rings false."

      While these ideas certainly were behind Wetherell's initial involvement in the Loch Ness hunt, it seems clear from what I've read that his sole reason for the Surgeon's Photo hoax was revenge, pure and simple. His son claims his words were, "We'll give them their monster", and that he was still smarting from the embarrassment over the hippo print incident.
      If Wetherell's motivation was publicity and attention, why use R.K. Wilson as the front man? If he was seeking such things, he would not have allowed another man to take credit for the photo. Having lost all credibility from the previous hoax, the scrutiny would have been even more intense had Duke come forward with this photo. In his arrogance, I believe he thought he could easily slip the hippo prints past everyone, as evidenced by the levels he allowed it to go to. He wasn't about to make the same mistake twice this time around. Wilson was the perfect front man, having an air of perceived respectability about him. Nobody questions Wilson at the time, but Wetherell would have been a far different story.
      I also disagree with Roland's assertion that the hoax became too big and Wetherell & co. ran and hid from it. While that idea may ring true in the case of Lachlan Stuart's hoax, it doesn't apply here, in my estimation. Wetherell set out with the purpose of "giving them their monster", and he certainly did so, and in spades!
      In conclusion, I feel conjecture on Wetherell's motivations behind and reaction to the success of the Surgeon's Photo is just here to muddy the waters and create diversion from what has been stated by those close to him. The evidence shows his motivation was revenge, and he accomplished that, creating the singular iconic image of the Loch Ness Monster. This image, despite cracks in the hoax foundation along the way, held up to scrutiny for 60 years and, despite Spurling letting us all in on the joke, many still believe in the image. It endured as the most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster or any lake or sea monster for the remainder of Marmaduke Wetherell's life and he never had to answer for it. I'll ask again - what better revenge for Wetherell than pulling the wool over everyone's eyes and never taking a hit for it the rest of his life?

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    10. Burton wrote: "If Wetherell's motivation was publicity and attention, why use R.K. Wilson as the front man? If he was seeking such things, he would not have allowed another man to take credit for the photo."

      Of course he needed a front man. He'd been discredited! All the better to use a willing man of good reputation to endorse a controversial image, and then come forward and say, "Ha ha, gotcha!" What's the point of revenge if no one ever knows about it, or suffers from it? If anything, the Daily Mail sold a ton of newspapers!

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    11. Yes, ekm, it's a bit of a surprise that Wetherell did not come clean and follow thru on his revenge against the Daily Mail. They got a winning photo and that from Wetherell's point of view seemed to make things worse.

      My assumption is that his co-conspirators did not want the adverse publicity and put pressure on him to stay silent.

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    12. ekm - If you're sure the surgeons picture is a hoax, but unconvined by Martin and Boyd's argument, do you have an alternative theory? I'm curious to know if you dismiss it totally or just think there are a few errors in it?

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    13. Les:

      I sincerely believe that Wilson was involved -- whether directly or as a participant -- in hoaxing the photo. His initial willingness to put his name on it and give an account of the alleged sighting, followed by his sudden desire for anonymity (and the subsequent letters to Whyte in which he attempted to pass the blame onto his mistress and, peripherally, the developer at Ogden's) suggests a prank that spiraled out of control and contributed to professional scrutiny. He all but admits to Whyte that the photograph is fake, which, when combined with the data available from simple analysis of the image itself, paints a pretty clear picture. His duplicity of character casts a very dubious light on his ethics as a human being, rendering him an unreliable witness.

      Other questions arise. Why did Whyte suppress the damning information in Wilson's letters (going so far as to destroy the original unedited copies)? Why did Witchell do likewise upon receiving the briefcase of data? Did Boyd, Martin or Shine ever question Witchell on this? Who actually took The Surgeon's Photo? If it were indeed Wetherell, why wouldn't Wilson allude to a responsible third party who may or may not have played a trick, rather than telling a very involved story about a woman engaged to be married to a man of royalty (which is far more potentially embarrassing gossip to entrust to a complete stranger than the Wetherell story)? Of the four plates exposed, two of which were blank; so which was taken first: the popular Surgeon's Photo or its inexplicable lesser twin? And most importantly, why do the Wetherell Hoax supporters undermine its absolute relevancy in a story that doesn't support it?

      One last point: in the early 90s, a fellow named Lambert Wilson admitted to being responsible for the hoax, a claim which made its way into the literature. Why are we not discussing the validity of that claim, as well?

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  17. Ever since I first saw the 'sureons photo' amny years ago I have always thought that for the 'beast' to be sizeable the waves (ripples) would need to be at least four or five foot high whereas they appear to be inches high making the monster smaller than an otter or other aquatic beast

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  18. Erik Myers asked "has the Surgeon's Photo ever been legitimately replicated using the cited tools and aspects of creation?"

    I don't know. I also don't "know" the materials used, the exact toy it was based on nor the extent of any retouching before the prints were rephotographed with a plate camera, so to replicate all these unknowns is plainly impossible.

    What is clear to me is that all the information they unearthed fits into the broad story of a hoax as described in their book, which you will note was not published until 1999. The writers end by inviting the readers to come up with a better explanation if they can. I cannot.

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  19. Dick:

    I feel that I would have been more inclined to take the account at face value had the book omitted the Eggington and Wilson letters; as it stands, the combined hearsay -- which, let's face it, is what it amounts to -- demonstrates the unreliability of the photograph as evidence beyond what is clearly evident from the image itself (the size of the object, the waves, and the distance from the shore). However, I'm still not sold on the Wetherell/Spurling story in the least. Is it possible? Sure. But had some key questions been pursued, there might be a few less troubling doubts.

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  20. Whilst I do not believe there is, or has been, a plesiosaur type animal in Loch Ness I paradoxically find it hard to totally accept this phototgraph as a hoax. For one thing it looks to good. All the other head and neck photos I've seen clearly look false but the symetry and bearing of this object look 'natural'.Surley if it was some sort of construct it would be more obvious?
    Also I seem to remember reading somewhere (possibly Witchell) that the photo had been analysed by NASA who had identified whiskers hanging near the mouth - this would surley blow the model story out of the water.
    Thirdly, the classic image we see is actually a blow up. I have seen the original image and the 'monster' is small in a vast expanse of water and the far bank is visible at the top of the picture. Would it not be possible to work out the objects dimensions from this original image? I am not saying this photo is not a fake but I'm certain there is a lot more to it than is currently known.

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    1. Don't forget, it can be a monster, but not necessarily a plesiosaur!

      Good point about the whiskers. I have never seen these alleged enhancements. Will ask around.

      Somebody did try and work out the dimensions. His name was Paul LeBlonde, an Ogopogo investigator.

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  21. Burton Caruthers4 October 2013 at 09:28

    My question is how does the second photograph have any impact on it's more famous counterpart? With none of us being there at the time, how can the former credit, or for that matter, discredit the Surgeon's Photo?
    My point is that photo could have been taken at any point, could have been an initial attempt where the model was flopping over and not floating to their wishes, or could have many other explanations. It seems there is this idea that it must have been taken in sequence, immediately after the famous shot, and that the differing position somehow proves it is an animate object and, hence, the real McCoy.
    If I was setting up such a hoax, I surely would snap more than one picture. There might have been ten pictures and these two were the only workable ones, with one certainly being close enough to perfect to go down in history as the most famous picture of Nessie. The more fakes you create doesn't make each one more legitimate, in my estimation.

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  22. You're right Burton, the connection has always seemed a bit vague. Since they were handed in for development at the same time, it seems logical to assume they were taken at least in the same time frame.

    Following on from analysis by Dick Raynor which shows that what was long thought to be a shadow, cannot be a shadow on the "second" photograph, I personally think it looks like a bird flying from right to left across the frame. What looks like a shadow is its lower wing, in shadow, and its higher wing catching the light. No claim has been made that its actually Nessie.

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  23. Why does the second photo exist? Why did it remain unpublished for nearly 25 years, and why does it look different from the creature depicted in the first photo?

    Those were the very few unanswered questions I was left with, after reading the really excellently written and researched book Nessie: The Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed by David Martin and Alastair Boyd. I have since formed a theory ...

    My idea comes from a close reading of the two private letters Wilson wrote himself, one to Dr. Maurice Burton, and the other to Constance Whyte, as reproduced in the above book. It has been suggested that in these letters Wilson tries to shift blame for the actual hoax from himself onto an unnamed female friend, and possibly also the chemist who developed the photos. Reading his words, I started to wonder: what if Wilson was telling the truth in these private letters?

    If Ian Wetherell took the photo of the submarine model, which became the classic Nessie image, then it follows that photo was not taken by R. K. Wilson. Perhaps it was already at the chemist’s when Wilson arrived there with his undeveloped film. Wilson later stated there was a commotion in the water when he snapped his pictures. By his private account, it was the woman who was with him who pointed this out and screamed “…it’s the monster!” It was the woman who was with him who insisted they bring the photos to a particular chemist for developing.

    Who first suggested Wilson sell the photo to the Daily Mail? According to Wilson it was the chemist he took the undeveloped photos to. Who later destroyed the negative of the second monster picture? The chemist. Why?

    Maybe, when Wilson described his dramatic sighting for Daily Mail readers, he was only describing what he saw in the image he was handed by the chemist. He later said he was too busy with his camera to see much at the time. I think he smelled a rat (but played along in the spirit it being a lark) the moment he saw “his” photo developed, and it showed something weird; something that he had not in fact seen with his own eyes when he shot pictures of a real disturbance out on the loch that day.

    And what of the second photo? Why is it so different? Why did the chemist destroy the negative? Why did Wilson never refer to it existing?

    The second monster photo to my eyes could easily be a waterfowl of small size. It is just possible the second photo is the only one actually taken by Wilson that day. It might show a small diving bird causing a disturbance on the loch. More likely, it could be an earlier attempt at a monster hoax photo which the chemist had at his shop – again, likely a small bird – taken before the hoaxers decided to build a more convincing model.

    I doubt Wilson ever saw this ‘second’ picture at the time. Why would the chemist tell him only one of his four photos came out? Because it wouldn’t due to have a small photo of a bird-like shadow on display, right next to an image of the sea-serpent silhouette Christian Spurling had crafted, both snaps supposedly showing Nessie and taken at the same time. The negative was destroyed because enlargement would have shown the second image to in fact be a bird, and thereby compromise the whole cover story behind the better image, which was of the elaborate submarine model.

    I don’t think known jokester R.K. Wilson took this escapade at all seriously at the time, and I do think he actively played along with what he correctly guessed to be a hoax. I suspect his own role in it may have been deliberately contrived so that afterwards he could honestly state: I photographed something in the water.

    I really doubt Wilson knew anything about Wetherell or a modified toy submarine. Perhaps Wilson was intentionally kept in the dark so that his story could not be compromised. He really did shoot photos of a disturbance on the loch. He really did hand his negatives to a chemist, who really handed him back a dramatic picture of a monster. And the story held up for 60 years!

    Rick Markham (USA)

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    1. Well, Rick, there are some unanswered questions in the whole saga, though the whole Boyd-Martin story generally holds together. Whether Wilson saw some kind of disturbance in the loch can never be proven. The woman in the story has been suggested as Wilson's girlfriend, but not much more is known.

      With the 80th anniversary of the picture coming up, it would be well worth revisiting some of these themes.

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