We live in an age when most people say there is no such thing as ghosts.
Technology, reason and modern thinking, for many people, have squelched the concept of supernatural spectres and phantasms. Something that goes bump in the night is usually, and quite often rightly, regarded as a thing such as an air-conditioner, the house settling, a passing car with a bump-bump bass line echoing from a stereo system.
While most folks do not believe in ghosts, it seems technology has surrounded us with the images of ghosts.
Two hundred years ago and longer, when a person passed away, the only images left of the deceased were mostly in the memories of the people who knew them. Only a few rich and famous people had their portraits painted in those days, so most people’s features and images vanished without a trace once the generations who remembered them died too.
Not any more.
Flip through an old family photo album and reckon with the images of people found there. They are not frightening images. Likely many pictures are filled with the images of people long gone, greatly missed and still greatly loved.
Today, photographs capture snapshot images of people gathered at play, acting silly, or not even aware of the camera. Hundreds of photographs capture people in all stages of life. Forever reliving certain moments of a lifetime like some spirit in an old ghost story.
Some family albums have century-old photographs. There are photographs of relatives that no living family member ever met. Yet, images of their faces remain affixed in the photo album, their names often written in fading pencil on the back of the picture.
Look at the faces captured in these pictures taken when photography had become more common but was still rare. The faces usually stare directly into the camera, serious and solemn. As if they may have realized that their images would now survive the years, to stare into the eyes of future generations. As if they knew their features would survive past the grave.
They may have realized this photograph would be the only likeness to survive them.
Serious business having one’s picture taken.
One’s image could reach into the future like a ghost returned from beyond. And maybe that’s why these old photos sometimes inspire a certain haunting feeling whenever we touch them. After all, these family members are strangers, beings we have only heard snippets of stories from grandparents or maybe know nothing of them at all, but here is their image staring back at you from the photograph in the family album.
And what of television where Charlie Chaplin, for example, remains alive in old films and taped footage though he’s been gone for decades?
With the push of a button and placement on a TV schedule, dead people move and speak across the screen. A person can rent a movie where the entire cast has passed away. Still we can see these people repeat their actions from decades ago. Again and again.
Perhaps, people no longer talk about ghosts because in many ways we are surrounded by them. Perhaps, people no longer fear ghosts because we have grown accustomed to them.
Or perhaps, we think we can control them. With a push of a button, we can summon them in a movie and with another push of a button, we can send them away again.
Ghosts are things of memory. Humanity has always had memories, dreams and nightmares. Ghostly memories have long haunted and visited people in their sleep and in their thoughts. It has only been in recent generations that ghostly images have outlasted immediate memory to ensure their survival for generations to come.
Dean Poling is an editor with the The Valdosta Daily Times.