Dutch medium Robbert van den Broeke rose to fame in the Netherlands in the early 2000’s with his discovery of crop circles and contacts with deceased people. He made his appearance in several programmes on national TV. In 2005 he was exposed as a fraud by Rob Nanninga, board member of the Dutch Skeptical foundation Skepsis, when he used a non-existing word to describe the job of a deceased person from around 1800. This word, ‘genverbrander’, was found on a genealogical website as a typo for ‘geneverbrander’ (= someone who makes brandy), something Van den Broeke obviously had missed. He also made some photos in which images of deceased people appear. And he even managed to achieve this with people around him and using a camera which was not one of his own.
Comeback in 2012
After being exposed Van den Broeke was away from mainstream media for some years, but beginning 2012 he made a comeback with new photographs and videos on a brand new website. In April Nanninga also gave a very plausible explanation for his photography tricks. In an article on the Skepsis blog he explains how Van den Broeke most likely makes his ghost photos.
In short: you prepare an image on your computer in an image editing program, cut it out so that the background is empty and then print the image on transparent foil (the type we used to use in the age of overhead projectors). You then cut that transparent foil to easily concealable size and hold in in front of the camera lens when making your pictures. Doing so, Nanninga made some pretty convincing ‘Van den Broeke’-like photographs.
The photo experiment by Van den Broeke
In an attempt to prove this theory wrong, Van den Broeke shot the following video. It’s a continuous shot, in which he first shows that his camera has no images preloaded on the memory card, shows that there is no transparent foil in front of the lens, takes three pictures and finally shows to the camera that two of those have ghosts in them! The spirits are Pat Delgado, a crop circle researcher, and Dave Chorley, one of the British couple who came forward in 1991 telling the world they had made many of the crop circles in the years before.
Now watch yourself: ‘Van den Broeke proves himself in a photographic experiment‘
This has caused quite a row in the world of crop circle enthusiasts. Not because of these pictures per se, but because of the messages, Van den Broeke claims to have received from the spirits of Delgado and Chorley. The story behind these ‘crop circle wars’ doesn’t really interest me, but if you do want to find out more about it, I suggest you start reading here.
On her website, Nancy Talbott, a staunch believer in Van den Broeke’s capabilities, gives quite some attention to this experiment. From Talbott’s website I copied the three images which were shot in the video (you can check by watching the video carefully that these are indeed those images). On his own website, Van den Broeke only shows the first two.
Talbott remarks that the time-stamps of the pictures, which seem to be taken within a timeframe of a few seconds, appear strange:
Photo #1 (Dave Chorley) taken @ 03.21.04 am
Photo #2 (Pat Delgado) taken @ 03.28.58 am
Photo #3 (Stan w/video) taken @ 03.55.45 am
Most people would take this as a strong indication that there is some trickery involved, but time aberations happen more often when Van den Broeke takes his photos of spirits. His believers rather see this as more evidence that he has remarkable capabilities. But they seem to miss a more obvious example of his powers. If you look closely at the pictures above, you’ll notice that only in the last one the cameraman is wearing the hand strap of the camcorder! If the photos are really taken within ten seconds or so, this hand strap found its way around his wrist without any noticeable camera shake as result. Truly remarkable!
So let’s assume that the first two pictures were taken earlier, about a half hour before the video was shot. How did he manage to show the message of ‘no available pictures’ which points to an empty memory card at the start of the experiment? I had several ideas how to do this, but probably the suggestion by a commenter on grenswetenschap.nl points in the right direction. He mentions the possible use of the internal memory of the camera. At first, I didn’t think this was possible, because most camera’s I had used give an error message when you try to take a picture without a memory card inserted. But to my surprise, the camera which I bought two years ago (a Panasonic Lumix) does this without problems.
So, without a memory card inserted you first take a couple of ghost pictures using the trick described by Nanninga. You select the best two and delete the rest. Now you have two photos in internal memory. Insert an empty memory card and press ‘play’. The camera will give the message that there are no pictures available for display. It then just takes pressing a few buttons to copy the images in internal memory to the card. See page 77 of the manual of the camera Van den Broeke used to see how this is done. It’s important to know that it doesn’t matter whether you do this copying before or after taking new pictures: the sorting order is by the timestamp of the pictures.
After examining the video frame by frame I think I know when Van den Broeke performs the copying procedure. It’s just after making the last photo, between 1:19 and 1:22. For a couple of seconds you lose sight on his right-hand thumb, which shows up in sight again resting on the ‘Control’ button. That button must be used for the copying instructions. If he was just going to press ‘play’ he would have had to press the smaller button down left of the ‘Control’ button (as can be seen earlier in the video, when he shows the card is empty).
Also when the video camera is getting closer to get a close up of the LCD display, the first picture hasn’t shown up in the display yet. It looks like the camera was not yet ready and busy doing other things (like copying pictures from internal memory to the memory card?). Of course, Van den Broeke has to be quick to press the right buttons, but I’m sure it can be done. With some practice, you can do it blindly.
But there is still one issue with this theory which needs to be solved: listening to the video, you can hear three ‘clicks’. So Van den Broeke took three pictures. As he shows only three (in a loop) to the video camera, of which two were likely made a little while earlier, he must also have deleted two of the three pictures taken in front of the video camera. That looks a little too much to perform in two seconds together with the copying instructions. But a closer look at the video at the times he takes the pictures reveals something interesting. The photos are taken around 1:07, 1:11 and 1:16, but only around 1:12 you can see his face lighten up by the glow of the LCD which is displaying the photo which he has just taken. I strongly suspect that the sounds at 1:07 and 1:16 were added later when the video was edited (that’s just an easy copy-paste action) and that he only took one photo during the video.
Where did Van den Broeke get the images from?
As with his other famous images, sooner or later the source of the images Van den Broeke used are found in magazines, books or on the Internet. In this case, the likely source has also been found. Roger Wibberley shows this on YouTube in “Robbert’s Fake shots of Pat Delgado and Dave Chorley“.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gsa2oYECcFg [unfortunately the video is no longer available]
The documentary from which the images are taken reports on the public outing of Chorley and Doug Bowers as crop circle makers.
This post is more or less a translation of the Dutch original on kloptdatwel.nl: “Robbert van den Broeke fotografeert weer eens wat“
Update 9 September 2018
Last month American filmmaker William Gazecki accidentally acquired proof that Van den Broeke indeed uses cut-out forms he holds in front of the camera to makes his ghost photos. Gazecki was shooting for a documentary on Van den Broeke and lend him his iPhone for a short while. Van den Broeke shot some ghost photo’s with this phone, but when Gazeccki downloaded these images to his laptop he found that the iPhone had been set in ‘Live Photo’-modus so that it records a couple of seconds before each take as well. On this imagery, it is clearly visible that Van den Broeke holds up these forms before the lens. Van den Broeke now claims that Gazecki had asked him to do it this way (the way skeptics assume he does it) and that the photos made in this fashion would be used in the documentary to show that these look different than his ‘real’ ghost photos. Read Gazecki’s statement and see the imagery on his Facebook page.