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".


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.


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.


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.


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.

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