Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Some Thoughts on the Peter MacNab Picture




This photo needs no introduction to any seasoned Nessie fan. Peter MacNab's picture of the Loch Ness Monster was published by the Weekly Scotsman just seven days after they ran the story on the H. L. Cockrell picture on the 23rd October 1958. I ran my main article on that photo here and you can refer to that for background information on the main objections to the photo. Today, I will address another objection, end with a question, but I first start with a story.

I am going to pretend to be a sceptic and then debunk myself. I know, I know, how can a simpleton believer reach the intellectual heights of even the average sceptic? Well, I will try to leap that mighty chasm. The book below is a rather non-descript affair entitled "The Mystery of the Loch Ness Monster" by Jeanne Bendick published in 1976.




I bought a copy of the book, mainly because I collect such things, but the title doesn't make my list of Nessie books because it is a book written for children and it is one of those pop-books written on the coat tails of the surge in Loch Ness interest into the last half of the 1970s. However, while I was flicking through it, my attention was arrested by the picture below.




It is a picture of Loch Ness, I am not sure where it was taken and that is largely irrelevant. The thing that grabbed my attention was the text below it saying "Copyright, P. A. MacNab". The same copyright message is seen under the famous MacNab photo in the same book. Okay, well that proves to some extent that Peter MacNab was at Loch Ness. But when was the picture taken? The car in the picture provides a clue.




Not having any expertise in the matter of classic cars, I emailed the picture to someone who runs a Classic Cars website for his expert opinion. His reply was "Looking at the general shape, I’d plump for an Austin A40 Farina.". Okay, a quick look on the Internet tells me that is a good fit and so I'll go along with that.





However, these cars did not appear until 1958, the same year that Peter MacNab's photo hit the headlines. So the photo was taken no earlier than 1958, but I (pretending to be a sceptic) will point out that MacNab claimed he took his famous picture in 1955. Has Peter MacNab been caught out? Was his famous picture and the one above in fact taken a short time apart in 1958?

Cue images of sceptics jumping up and down like kids in a sweet shop singing "We've got MacNaaaaaaaab!". Of course, any interval of time could have passed between the Nessie picture and this one, but now it is time to debunk myself. The car was indeed introduced to the world in 1958 and so, going by this photo alone,  Peter MacNab must have been at Loch Ness no earlier than that year.

But looking at the car's wikipedia entry, I note that it was introduced to the world at the London Motor Show in October 1958. You can see the cover of the Daily Mail's review of the show below which states the show ran from the 22nd October to 1st November. Since Peter MacNab's Nessie picture appeared in the 30th October issue of the Weekly Scotsman and he was prompted by an article dated the 23rd October, it is highly unlikely that an Austin A40 Farina was motoring along the shore of Loch Ness when (it is alleged) Peter MacNab snapped his Urquhart Bay background photo for his alleged fake setup.




The sweet shop is now closed.

What we can deduce from this picture was that Peter MacNab revisited the loch, perhaps as early as 1959. Why would he do that? Well, wouldn't you if you had previously snapped a picture of a large and mysterious beast (or two as he thought)?

Peter MacNab; bank manager, local councillor and President of the Clan MacNab Society was still sticking to his story when he appeared on Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World over 20 years later. The psychological profile of the one shot hoaxer rather demands that they just quietly and voluntarily drop out of the picture. After all, sceptics always tell us that these photos are a "joke that went too far".


IGNORANCE OR COMPLICITY?

As an addendum to this little tale, you will have noticed I volunteered information that could be detrimental to a cryptid interpretation of the photograph. Do sceptics act the same way? To whit, Roy Mackal declared in 1976 that the MacNab photo was unacceptable as evidence based on the two apparently divergent pictures below.





In my main article on the MacNab photo, that argument was summarily dismissed once an overlay was done on the two versions. The top one was a slight enlargement and crop, leading to the foreground bushes being cropped out. End of argument (though that does not stop sceptics still pushing it, such as this website).

Now, I am no expert on photographic forensics, but one Loch Ness sceptic claims to be one. He shall remain nameless, but we shall call him Dick Raynor. On his own sceptical website, he includes the MacNab photo and a short analysis.

I was then struck by a minor revelation. If this self proclaimed photographic expert had spotted this non-argument as well, why didn't he put us all to rights on the issue? Why perpetuate a false argument against one of the best Nessie pictures? One can only make two conclusions. Either he was not expert enough to spot the non-problem or he did spot it but decided to keep silent about it. The end justifies the means? Draw your own conclusions on that one.


ANOTHER OBJECTION

Moving on, since I published my previous words on the photo, another objection cropped up on Internet discussion forums. The argument basically ran that the image of the hump was too uniformly dark and it should have shown some degree of variation in reflection or tones due to the water lying or running off the skin surface. This was clearly an argument setting us up for the "painted on monster" hypothesis.

Well, this is one of those plausible as opposed to probable arguments that all too frequently crop up. As a comparison, I show you two pictures of another large, dark object that used to move past Urquhart Castle. I am referring to the dark hull of the Gondolier steamer ship.





Quite frankly, I see no variation in its tones either, despite the water crashing off it or differences in its surface texture or shades. The issue here is simply that both objects are too far away for any finer details to be resolved on what are less than superior images. If we had the original MacNab negatives, we may get somewhere, but it is clear that is not likely to happen.


A STRANGE IMAGE

And finally, as they say on the News, in our main analysis of the famous Peter MacNab photograph, I raised a question about a mystery within a mystery. Had Peter MacNab taken a second photograph of the creature at that time? To refresh memories, some accounts of the story state that MacNab took a picture with a telephoto lens camera and another with a simpler Kodak. The problem is this second picture has never been proven to exist. The continued absence of this picture has led some critics to comment that it further proves MacNab's deceit in the whole affair.

That remains an unresolved subplot, but I almost thought I had found it a while back! As I was researching a separate subject, I noticed a Peter MacNab photograph on a website that looked different to what I expected. On a closer inspection, I realised the differences between it and the "standard" pictures seen in books and magazines were not reconcilable. Unlike the alleged differences in known prints which were explained in the aforementioned article, this one was definitely different. That image is shown below, with the "Whyte" version added for comparison.




There are clear difference in the foreground and in the castle itself. An overlay test gave the result below. Now the fact that creature's position relative to the castle has not appreciably changed suggests this cannot be the second mythical photograph. So what is going on here?



A clue may lie in the dark area to the right of the castle. This was not, as I first presumed, the right side of the castle lying in shadow. Indeed, the time of the photograph would preclude this. In fact, this dark region covers an extended area that includes the castle wall and the surface of the loch. In other words, it is an artefact.

Allied with this was the observation that one of the foreground "bushes" tracks the reflection of the castle on the waters so well.  Furthermore, the contrast of all these extra images are so dark in comparison to the rest of the photograph (which is darker itself than the "Whyte" version).

These observations lead me to conclude that this was an image of the "Mackal" version of the Peter MacNab photograph that somehow got corrupted during an image processing procedure. Most likely, this may have occurred when it was being scanned from a book or magazine. Given that the websites carrying this distorted image go back over 15 years ago, a paper scan looks more likely than an image copy from another website.

However, I would still like to know where the original image came from to complete the circle. A quick perusal of this errant image using Google Images reveals nothing of note. If any reader with a bent for research can add to this little story, send me an email or post a comment.


CONCLUSIONS

These were a few things I dug up over the months and years as I continue to research Nessie cases old and new.  Back in 2008, Adrian Shine gave his opinion on this picture to the BBC on the monster's 75th anniversary. He admitted that "there is no definitive proof that the image is a fake" and that is the way it stands today.

There is no documented instances of a "Christian Spurling" coming forward and given the passage of time, I doubt there ever will. Perhaps new evidence will turn up, in the meantime, I continue to hold this up as one of the best pictures of the Loch Ness Monsters.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


38 comments:

  1. This was a fun read, but I wonder if it was just a different Peter MacNab who took the photo used in Bendick's book? As for your "internet" version of MacNab's photo - very interesting. Yes, it is a bit darker, and it does appear to be closer to the "Mackal" version in many aspects. But at the same time the sunlight coming through that upper window is brighter, and the image is overall fairly sharp compared to other versions. And the foreground foliage resembles the trees in the second Gondolier shot, just a bit more grown out. It seems there are now three known versions of the MacNab photo...

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    1. I should point out that the MacNab Nessie photo was printed in Bendick's book and had the same copyright message underneath.

      As for our new image, the "foliage" and castle "shadow" just look too dark compared to the other shadows and foliage.

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    2. You might want to slip that MacNab info into your article if you can; it certainly helps. Also; did you mean off and not of in that first paragraph under "Another Objection"?

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    3. In the "new" image, the foliage in the front looks to me like it could have been put there after the photo was taken. Also strange is the large dark area by the castle. It almost looks like someone tried to make it look bigger than it is.

      Regarding the photo in Bendick's book (which I own), it's quite possible MacNab returned to the loch in late 1958 or after and that his photo really was taken in '55, like he said. Lots of other people who have seen the monsters have returned to the loch afterward to search for the monster more. It is interesting though. I've had that book for years and never really noticed that until I read this article.

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    4. Changed text, thanks, hopkarma.

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  2. Again another wonderful investigative piece, GB. The MacNab photo always been haunting image for me. It may be the trick of reproduction, but the internet version of the castle almost looks touched up - "dodged and burned"? Cheers and thanks for your focus and tenacity.

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    1. Thanks, a photo of this age would have invariably been scanned from a book, newspaper or magazine. Which one, though?

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  3. Great article Roland. I have seen many images of this photograph over the years. But I have never agreed with people's estimations that the humps are the same size as the castle. Take out the wake and for me the humps are clearly not the same length so not as big as people make out.

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  4. Great article Roland.

    I love this image. For me it always trumped the Surgeons Photo as the definitive Nessie pic. So atmospheric.

    I've never been convinced by PMs story of the circumstances of the shot, but it will always be a classic image.

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    1. What sounds suspicious about his story?

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    2. The part where he has time to deploy 2 lenses (or cameras) while his pal (brother or son maybe?) hasn't time to get his head out from under the car bonnet in time to see anything.

      I have never found that convincing.

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  5. I also find this photo more iconic than the surgeon's. The surgeon's is now known as a hoax but this one is still a maybe.Its good that we are still debating old photo's that have stood the test of time, and great to see sightings are still happening today including one in the last few days from Drumnadrochit. Whatever the sceptics think, this just wont go away.

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    1. I'm not sure what is actually depicted in the Surgeon's Photo, but the the biggest hoax is the story pushed by Boyd regarding this photo...

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  6. There seem to be a huge variety of ways that an image can appear in front of us. I process photos on one screen, but it looks different (with regards tone and contrast) on my phone, my tablet, my partners computer etc. I imagine that older image reproduction was more fraught with challenges, as shown by the many versions of older classics. As far as I know, a reproduction of a reproduction will diminish in resolution progressively (and probably in tonal range, which would lead to a high contrast, and therefore lower detailed, reproduction), as this was not digital to digital copying. A lot would have also depended on quality and storage of film, quality of camera and lens and the professionalism of the photo processer. So when it's all taken into account, and photos are reproduced from newspaper images (themselves a reproduction of a photo and not a negative in this case, I believe), you end up with something many steps down the food chain, in terms of image quality.

    To me, it looks like at least one large animal moving. Probably not at a huge speed as there appears to be no motion blur, and cameras of this era were relatively slow in this regard. A fast moving animal would leave a blur, although the large distance involved would mitigate this, so it's hard to know without doing an experiment to replicate the conditions. But I'd be interested to know if any know seismic or wind activity could replicate this image. I think if that were the case, Adrian Shine would have told us about it.

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    1. I think we have timed out on confessions, but you never know. MacNab died in 2002.

      I have seen enough pictures of the surface of Loch Ness to know this is no water formation. That is why the sceptics go with the "painted Nessie" theory. A theory stated but never demonstrated.


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    2. McNab says his camera was an Exakta taking 127 film. That's quite an advanced camera and the top shutter speed would be 1/600 sec or 1/1000 sec depending on the model, so there would not necessarily be much blur. I have pictures of the pleasure boats on Loch Ness going at high speed, taken at 1/200 sec with no blur.

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  7. I agree!!great photo with castle too. But I suspect it's a boat wake...though why can't it be recreated if it is??? Surely someone has tried especially a local with knowledge of boat times. I wonder if dick raynor has tried its right in his door step. Be interesting to see any photos. ...cheers. Roy

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    1. The local sceptics don't think it is a wave or wake. They rather take the view that MacNab painted a hump onto an existing wake from a boat. Unfortunately, this theory relies on the boat disappearing from view beyond the castle and conveniently leaving no trace of a wake between the "hump" and the castle.

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    2. Dick claims to have a clean enough copy that he can see a boat wake. Dick sees lots of things that aren't there (check out his sighting of guide wires in the Wilson photo for a laugh, as well as his swan theory for the Gray photo), and as far as I have seen he has not shared this version of MacNab's photo...

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    3. You're right that Dick see things that aren't there! I have commented on boat wakes elsewhere in this comment section.

      He has put the picture Peter MacNab sent him on his website, it looks no better than any other version.

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  8. Well I think that's rubbish myself but only my opinion. Still think it's a boat wake cus I can see the lines across the loch at top of photo!!! There again ya never know....and I agree with Sumone above it's not as big as the castle as folk make out so if castle is 45 ft or so high(wall to wall)then the object is nearer 25-30ft!

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    1. The lines above are residual boat wakes - an unsurprising feature at the busiest part of Loch Ness at the peak of the tourist season (taken in summer 1955). This is largely unremarkable and they are not convincing in and of themselves.

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  9. Good Lord,its Professor Tuckers elasmosaurus!

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  10. People should realise that sceptics' attempts to debunk this picture do not follow their claimed adherence to the "scientific method".

    That method proposes a theory on intial data, makes new measurements based on the theory and feeds back into the theory to confirm, refine or discard the theory.

    In this case, they have ony got as far as proposing a theory (painted monster) based on the initial data (an initial examination of the photo and any other data such as MacNab's story).

    No testing to feed back in, that is a half baked version of the scientific method. I would call it McScience to quote one of their own.

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    1. I see what you're saying here. If an experiment can't be reproduced, then it can't be proven or disproven. Having said that, as far as I'm concerned (and I have a science degree), it's bad science to continually dismiss eyewitness reports (and everything else) based on the premise that there is no creature, and therefore there could be no sighting, photo, sonar reading etc. And yes, one can speculate on what might be in the photo, or how it might have been manipulated, but unless someone comes up with something better than that, the sceptics objections remain as speculation, nothing more or less.

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  11. A lot is made of the 2 humps bn out of line but this could be that the back one could actually be the tail moving side to side as its swimming through the water.

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    1. Well, for me that's another reason that it might just be genuine. Real life is not perfect, and to me, the 2 humps raises questions that are not easily answered. I imagine a fraudster would replicate what people expect to see, and this clearly isn't it. I suppose it could be a tail swing, or another animal. This is certainly not your classic 3 humps sighting, which helps my conviction that it is more than a simple forgery (regardless of the man's character, which I believe was reported as pretty good).

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    2. Yes, wasnt he a bank manager? And i agree with what you say, plus there is a wash behind it that looks rather genuine.

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    3. Well, I'm not suggesting bank managers are beyond reproach, as Harold Shipman was a highly qualified psychopath. In fact, a recent study showed that one was more likely to be ripped off by a 'professional' suited type than a professional manual worker. However, I think he was generally seen as a decent type, from what I remember reading. Although I never knew him, so maybe he was mad as a hatter.

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  12. We have various " versions " of a photo that should only have one version.

    Why did he make a copy negative ? As a keen amateur photograher he would know his way round a darkroom, how to make copy negatives, how to fake a monster into a print and make a negative of that, the stuff Searle was doing decades later.
    Like his photos, every account of the taking of the photo is different.

    Mackal was right, MacNab
    and his picture(s) are unreliable as evidence.

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    1. Given Mackal's cockup with the bush/no bush argument, the phrase "Mackal was right" does not sit well.

      There is only two versions of the photo - just like the Hugh Gray photo actually. Anyone claiming that is a fake because of that?

      I went through this argument in the original article. Not much point in going over it again.

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    2. And as a keen amateur photographer he should have been able to pull off a forgery better than you're suggesting he did.

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    3. Moreover, since the monster is on the earlier Whyte version, any modifications made to the negative between Whyte and Mackal are irrelevant to any hoax theory, the "hoax" image was put on pre-Whyte.

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  13. re the gray photo, there is very good, sharp copy, and the well known not so good copy, two versions ? maybe.
    However each version shows the exact same lumpen shape, the only difference between them is the amount of detail available.

    MacNab has two [ maybe three ] versions with strikingly different details and perspective.

    Gray has two versions of the same image.

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  14. I once again remind everyone that Nessletter #88 has an interview by Alistair Boyd with Mr. MacNab wherein he explains the discrepancies of the two prints. By the late 60's the original negative was showing significant wear & tear, and after consulting with a professional photographer it was decided that the best course of action was to photograph a good print, thereby creating a new negative in the process.
    Paddy

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    1. That's very interesting, and would explain changes in contrast, and tilt (as can be seen by the horizon). Which is another point. As a photographer uses a telephoto lens (zoomed in), they are much more likely to tilt the horizon by accident. And if one is in a hurry, it is a more distinct possibility. After correction of the tilt, the photo needs to be cropped to retain its original size. Therefore, articles in the corrected version will appear somewhat bigger than in the original version, and at a different angle. And all of this appears to have happened in this case

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