By Dale O’Dell
If you read Alan Dean Foster’s article in last month’s 5enses, “Your Science Conspiracies may be Charged at a Higher Rate,” you got a taste of the ridiculous things conspiracy theorists believe, like how the Rothschild family “controls the weather.” Taking the path of least mental effort, it’s easier to believe a rich family controls the weather than it is to learn some weather science. Mr. Foster’s article presented a long list of conspiracy theories credited to the Rothschilds including Bigfoot.
Ah ha! Bigfoot — now that’s a conspiracy theory I know something about! I absolutely assure you there are people all over the world who believe there’s a real Bigfoot creature out there. These people are true believers and they will NOT be dissuaded, facts be damned.
There was the guy who brought me a picture of Bigfoot for photo analysis. He was so biased and absolutely positive he’d found a “real” photo of Bigfoot that when I didn’t confirm his bias he got angry and called me a liar. He could not accept he was wrong, so I had to be. He stormed off before I could tell him how I knew the photo was fake: It was my photo! He had a stolen copy of one my Bigfoot photos.
This isn’t the first time I’ve run into caption confirmation bias. So many true believers are cock sure their photos of Bigfoot, UFOs, space aliens, lake monsters, and other weird things are real. I can point out the strings holding up the UFO model and they just say I’m stupid. I can show them my own background photos, models, props, and even the Certificate of Copyright from the Library of Congress and they still refuse to believe. They’re hopeless.
[Author’s Note: Dale is a phenomena illustrator and NOT a hoaxer. If you should ever find one of Dale’s UFO or phenomena pictures presented as “factual” anywhere, PLEASE contact Dale so the record can be set straight.]
The above disclaimer is on the “Information” page of my website and refers to the 50-image gallery of Bigfoot and other phenomena. Over the years, I’ve created hundreds of phenomenological illustrations for publication. My pictures illustrate others’ stories of strange phenomena and never once have I photographed a “real” space alien, ghost, or Bigfoot — never! Unable to photograph the real thing (assuming it exists at all), I use photographs and computer-generated elements to create photorealistic illustrations. None of my imagery should fool any reasonably competent photo analyst.
Today, the job of the photo analyst has become ever more important because of hoaxers with computers who disseminate fake pictures and muddy the waters of legitimate research. But not all hoaxers are Photoshop wiz kids. So, thanks to the Internet, they steal and re-appropriate others’ works and present them as legitimate. Now, (as predicted) they’re stealing from me.
When I put the “Phenomena” gallery on my website, I added the disclaimer with the knowledge that eventually I might have to set the record straight. Early on, I was contacted about copyright issues, but often I’m contacted by curious people who’ve seen my images on TV (“Ancient Aliens”) or elsewhere and wanted to know if they were real, and were disappointed when I told them I’d created them instead of actually photographing them.
Then came an email from a documentary filmmaker in England. She was in pre-production on a film about the British version of Bigfoot, the “Dogman,” and had been given a packet of photographs of Dogman (allegedly) shot by a local witness. Most of the photos were typical of Bigfoot pictures in that they were of poor quality and unsharp; but one stood out because it was of higher quality and showed a clear, distinct Bigfoot — or Dogman, in this British case. The photo was so different from the others it aroused her suspicion and she began investigating its provenance. Her investigation led her to a British print magazine that had the exact same photo in it, with a credit line for Alamy, a British stock-photo agency. She then searched Alamy, found the photo, and learned who created it — me! She emailed with a thumbnail of the image and asked me to verify if it indeed was mine and for other information about it. I verified it and let her know I did a lot of phenomenological and cryptozoological imagery and that that image, along with all my paranormal imagery, are illustrations and not real. I provided a link to the disclaimer on my website, thanked her for informing me of the misleading use of my image, and that was it.
Until the call from the American filmmaker. His story was similar to the British filmmaker’s, and he was calling about the same photo! He was considering a Bigfoot film documentary but was so overwhelmed with hoaxes, fraud, and fakery that the project just wasn’t worthwhile for him. He too had acquired my (Alamy stock) photo, traced it to me, and called. He’d been briefly involved in the (now shelved) British Dogman documentary film and provided more information. He even provided the name (and aliases!) of the original Dogman hoax-perpetrator in England. This new information set me on an Internet quest to find the hoaxer, which I did easily thanks to her YouTube channel, the Simlish Dog Lady.
The Simlish Dog Lady is quite a hoaxer and aggressively full of crap. [Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of 5enses. For all we know, she’d prefer the pessimistic label “aggressively empty of not-crap.”] I commented on her YouTube Channel and called her out. This led to me connecting with other British Dogman/Bigfoot-cryptozoology groups and leaving comments and making statements about the differences between “real” photos, hoaxes and illustrations. I even reconnected with the original British filmmaker and sent her a longer and more detailed email. She published my email and my (now controversial) Bigfoot photo online to debunk the Simlish Dog Lady’s claims. Apparently the Simlish Dog Lady is quite a thorn in the side of the British Bigfoot/Dogman research community. (And, yes, it is a community.)
This is all pretty funny … up to a point. It’s one thing for the hoaxer to appropriate my imagery to feed their ego, get some attention in the form of clicks and likes, or maybe even get a TV or movie deal, but dear Dog Lady went too far. Unfortunately, she involved the police with a hoax claim that “Dogman took my dog,” and sent the local bobbies on a fruitless search which wasted time and resources. When she tried to present my stolen photo as evidence, the bobbies were smart enough to recognize a picture that was too good to be true. The British police eventually called me, I verified the photos’ inauthenticity and we had a good laugh at the Dog Lady’s expense.
I really do appreciate the humor of the situation. Considering all the current controversies in the media, I’d much rather be debating the veracity of a photo of a thing we can’t even agree is real than the other stuff in the news today that is real, like misogyny, racism, corruption, etc. Yeah, Bigfoot is harmless silliness compared to that.
My phenomenological and cryptid imagery is not real and is not presented as real. I’ve always made that very clear, but once the imagery leaves my possession, it’s out of my control. People believe what they want to believe; it’s called confirmation bias. People like the Simlish Dog Lady already believe; they don’t have to be convinced. My photo merely confirmed her already-held bias that Dogman is real and my picture proves it for her (she did cross a legal line when she claimed it as her own). She’s not a skeptic and she’s not going to question the image. Cognitive dissonance does not allow people to change their minds when confronted with new information that conflicts with an already held belief. It’s easier for a believer to call me a liar than to consider themselves wrong. They’re wedded to their preconceived notion — irrespective of the facts. It would be too uncomfortable for the believer to admit they were (willfully) fooled.
In this new, dangerous era of so-called “fake news,” one must take the position of open-minded skepticism regarding all information. We must be especially critical of photographs in this post-Photoshop era, too. Follow the examples set by the filmmakers who contacted me: Check it out, think critically, and ask questions. The camera doesn’t lie, but liars take pictures and liars with Photoshop can make pictures. In the end it doesn’t even matter if a picture is real when it furthers the agenda of those who won’t think critically, like dear Dog Lady.
Credibility of the source, provenance, logic, and conventional wisdom are some factors we must employ when considering the authenticity of an image. Consider the context of an image: If it’s published in some tabloid like The Weekly World News [R.I.P.], it’s probably fake; if it’s published in Time Magazine, it’s probably real — “probably” being the important word here. A publication’s credibility is a factor, but it’s essential to think critically. What’s the provenance of pictures on the Internet? Do you know who created the image? Are they credible? Perhaps the metadata has been stripped from the image — why? Always be skeptical.
The Simlish Dog Lady believes what she wants. Luckily, she chose to steal one of my photos to prove her Dogman sightings, the provenance of that image drew a line straight back to me, and I debunked her claim (of both the reality and her ownership of the image). The British Bigfoot/Dogman researchers appreciate me debunking my own image but as you may guess, those who believe the Dog Lady believe that I’m the liar. It’s not in their interest to believe the facts.
Be thoughtful, critical, and wary of everything you see. If it’s raining, don’t assume the Rothschild family caused it. And if you come across a really high quality picture of Bigfoot, don’t assume it’s real. It’s probably one of mine.
See more of Dale O’Dell’s phenomena illustrations and digital art at DalePhoto.Com.