The last time you developed a roll of film only to discover that fuzzy blobs and streaks of light had ruined your photos, was your first impulse to believe that this was the spirit of your dead dog, returned to communicate messages from the afterlife? It’s unlikely that many people reading this (i.e. anyone with access to the internet), have even developed a roll of film in the last five-plus years, but “orb photos” are ubiquitous in cyberspace, as are those who believe that these little traces of light are evidence of the paranormal: ghosts invisible to the naked eye, perceptible only on film.
Orb photography has become a veritable phenomenon — chronicled on hundreds of websites, celebrated at orb conferences, hunted and fetishized. There is a scientific explanation for the orb photo: backscatter and reflections of moisture or dust trapped inside the camera lens — but believers dismiss this as so much coincidence.
Photographer Carlo Van de Roer of New Zealand has generated his own answer to the orb photo: sparse, misty landscapes overlayed with screen-printed “orbs,” the theme exaggerated with candy-colored balls that hover enormously, obscuring large swaths of the photograph. Van de Roer is a man who is easily-possessed by a motif, if his Watermark series is any indication (a series that included hundreds and hundreds of creepy, dejected-looking empty pools).
How did he get into orb photography? “I googled orb,” Van de Roer said glibly. This would precipitate months of internet trolling in search of increasingly strange paranormal websites. He just couldn’t get over what he described as “a steadfast desire to believe that orb photographs document the supernatural, despite being explained by the photographic community.”
And it’s not a phenomenon confined to a scattering of crazies, he said. “There was a three day orb conference in Palm Springs last March, and a full-length documentary film titled ‘Orbs: The Veil is Lifting’ last year. Orb hunters are regularly organizing orb hunts; a few weeks ago there was a public orb quest in California.” Try googling “orb,” and tell me you don’t spend the next two hours flipping through cotton swab- and streak-covered snapshots. Visit some of Van de Roer’s favorite sites here, here and here.