Caught in the Snap: when photographers get framed

If you’ve played around with Murder in the Manor, you will know that it features eight rooms from Preston Manor. Other than the stories that bring them to life, the rooms are empty. But look around the Morning Room, and you may catch a glimpse of a mysterious figure reflected in a mirror.

Photograph taken from Murder in the Manor website
Still from the Murder in the Manor website

Although Preston Manor has a reputation as a haunted house, and there has been at least one ‘ghost’ accidentally caught on camera, there is nothing supernatural about this image. The figure is Richard Sams of Say Digital, who conducted the panoramic photography that is used on the website. As the mirror was an unavoidable feature of the room, he has captured his own reflection while shooting. Moreover, if you explore the room further you can find a second image of Richard — look behind you when you enter the room.

Of course, Richard is not the first photographer to be caught by a mirror. In early 1915, Brighton photographer AH Fry suffered a similar problem while recording the Royal Pavilion’s use as an Indian Military Hospital during World War One.

Red Drawing Room of the Royal Pavilion Indian Military Hospital, 1915. (BH411228)
Red Drawing Room of the Royal Pavilion Indian Military Hospital, 1915. (BH411228)

Fry wasn’t directly captured on this occasion, but if you look closely at the mirror on the far wall you can see two military figures  who were presumably accompanying the photographer.

Detail of BH411228
Detail of BH411228

What’s striking about these small accidents is how they reveal the context in which a photograph was taken. Photographs often present themselves as objective windows on the world, but for any photograph to be made a whole series of personal decisions and actions needs to be taken. Understanding how a photograph came to be taken can often shift our appreciation of what it tells us.

Fry’s photograph of the Red Drawing Room is a good example of this. Taken as a whole it shows the benevolent care given by the British Empire to its wounded Indian troops: the luxurious decoration of the room, the neat sheets, and the white doctor on hand for his patients. But the reflection in the mirror reminds us that the photographer is accompanied by two military minders, and that this image is produced for strategic ends: principally to maintain Indian loyalty to the British cause.

But the best example we hold of a photographer caught by his own camera is this spirit photograph from 1886. Purporting to show a shrouded ghostly hand that has mysteriously appeared on a portrait of an elderly woman, close examination reveals the arm and neckline of the living person faking the scene. A copy of this photograph is presently on display in a small exhibition on spirit photography at Preston Manor, and I wrote a short piece about it back in 2010.

Spirit photograph, 1886. Shows a ghostly hand in front of a woman's face... and also the arm and neckline of the person pretending to be a ghost! (HA900406)
Spirit photograph, 1886 (HA900406)

As far as I’m aware, the Morning Room is the only area of Murder in the Manor in which Richard can be glimpsed. But if you spot the photographer or any anomalies elsewhere on the site, do let us know in the comments below.

Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer

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