Paranormal Review, 96 (2020)
The Paranormal Review has been more than a magazine for me, it has been a journey through all that is going on in the world of psychical research. And so, the magazine itself has been something like a documentary project. It can never be a pure documentation because I am the confounding variable, stimulating research (even doing it myself) and acting as gatekeeper as much as simply allowing it to be reported. The value of this guided documentary approach can be seen in this issue especially, where we commemorate the lives and contributions of two esteemed members of the SPR: Mary Rose Barrington and Prof. Donald West. It took a lot of behind-the-scenes organizing to get these pieces together, but it pains me to wait until the end of life to honour and document that life. In my own work researching the history of the Society, I have been at the mercy of fragmentary obituaries to try and reconstruct whole people and there were so very few photographs. I only got to know Mary Rose and Donald when they were already advanced in years and I regret not having had more time with them, especially to interview and photograph them. I accidentally had the opportunity of photographing Donald in the SPR Library one afternoon and created a portrait that I absolutely love. Caught reflected in a mirror, twice, the photograph represents the different aspects of his personality, and, when all other interests had passed, there he was in the SPR Library. I was less lucky with Mary Rose and only have some shots of her at Conference, yet even here I have something better than a posed portrait, which is so often artificial and misleading, with images of that person engaged in what it is that they do – and the SPR’s conferences were such a mainstay of Mary Rose’s life. We have become so text focused, not just in academia, that we find it easy to overlook the greater power of the image. This is where the magazine shines, but it takes much polishing to get there. Contributors, unfortunately, frequently have little to illustrate their articles and a great deal of picture research is required to bring it all together. But when I am there with my camera, then I get exactly the results I want. This brings me back to a point I have made before: every research project should have a photographer. And, as I have come to realize, the SPR needs a photographer: to document its history, certainly, but also to communicate the nature of its existence to its members and a wider audience. Every photograph is documentary and marketing, art and advertising. ‘Vision trumps all other senses,’ according to John Medina in Brain Rules and there is extensive research to back that up. For an anecdotal example, I cannot remember offhand what Dr Dean Radin talked about at the Parapsychological Association Convention in Paris in 2019, but I will never forget the moment when he took part in his own Powerpoint slide, trying to push the weight of evidence up the hill of sceptical resistance in his ‘extreme Sisyphus’ graphic. It was an unplanned moment at the end, but in recalling it the whole gist of his talk comes flooding back. And, oddly, I can recall my photograph of the moment better than the actual event.
Dr Leo Ruickbie
The Paranormal Review is the magazine of the Society for Psychical Research. With cutting-edge articles and features, readers’ letters, personal experiences, notices, reports and announcements, the magazine provides a forum for debate on psychical research, parapsychology and related areas, and stimulates new research through special themed issues. It is printed in full colour and fully illustrated, often publishing photographs seldom or never before seen. It frequently carries offers only available to readers. Priced £5 per issue or £20 per year (including P&P in the UK). Members receive the Paranormal Review free of charge as a benefit of membership.
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