I was not familiar with “medium” Jeanette Wilson prior to receiving a message from my friend Susan Gerbic (of the Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia project) one morning. Gerbic explained that she had organized another psychic sting operation, code-named Operation Purple Pinecone Pie, which focused on gathering information about Wilson’s alleged psychic healing abilities and her dangerous promotion of ineffective supplements for people to use against COVID-19.
Jeanette Wilson, a former bank manager-turned-spirit medium/psychic surgeon, is described glowingly on her website as a “remarkable healer” and even proudly boasts that “I’m the best medium I know of” during one of her workshops. Wilson also claims to be in communication with up to seventeen spirit guides, with at least one described as a “dead surgeon” who works through her. That doctor—Dr. Augusto de Almeida—doesn’t seem to have existed in the real world but appears instead to be made up by Wilson’s mentor, John of God, whose real name is João Teixeira de Faria, a man who has over 600 accusations of sexual abuse and was sentenced to over sixty-three years in prison for the rape of nine women in 2019. It’s curious that Wilson failed to receive any spirit messages warning of her mentor’s criminal nature.
As part of the sting operation, Gerbic took part in a two-hour online workshop with Wilson. Titled “Connecting with Loved Ones,” the workshop claims to help participants “make a connection with their loved ones in Spiritworld.” The event cost NZ$55 per person (about $35). During the workshop, Wilson featured a segment called “How/Where are our loved one?” in which she began displaying (on screen) various photographs and claiming there were spirits captured in them. Since ghost photos are my niche, Gerbic sent me a copy of the video and asked for my opinion. I was happy to oblige.
In this article, I am going to take a closer look at a few of the alleged spirit photographs Wilson showcased during her presentation. I will include a quote from Wilson describing the image and her interpretation of the images, followed by my own interpretation.
1) “Man with dog.” Wilson’s description: “Hopefully you can see the legs of the man there, and I think he’s got a dog. Just to his left, there’s a dog. Yeah. So, this was a house up in the north of New Zealand where I was asked to remove a spirit, which I did at a distance. But this was the kind of phenomenon the family were getting on their camera.”
The first thing I noticed was that Wilson states she “removed” a spirit from a distance, meaning she was not physically at the location. Furthermore, she mentions these anomalies were what the family was getting “on their camera”—meaning these photographs were not taken by Wilson, who apparently had not even been to the house.
The image itself demonstrates a trick used by many “spirit photographers” back in the early days of photography that is a common mistake stumbled upon by many modern ghost hunters: the long exposure. The image appears dark with no sign of a flash having been fired. There is also quite a bit of image noise (the digital equivalent of film grain), visual distortions with random brightness and discoloration of pixels. This, and the overall lack of brightness, tells me the photo was probably taken in the evening (low light) with little more than a distant streetlamp providing light. There was most likely someone, perhaps walking their dog, who stopped in front of the driveway briefly during the photograph and then moved on before the camera shutter closed.
What also raises an eyebrow is the subject matter. It’s just a poor-quality image of a garage and driveway. There’s nothing special or of interest anywhere in the image. So why was it taken? Wilson admits this photo was taken by the family, who apparently can’t see spirits or ghosts, so I’m hard-pressed to find a reason the photograph exists.
2) “Two Orbs.” The next image is from the same house mentioned above. Wilson’s description (“You see those two white-ish blobs? Yeah, they were troublesome spirits, they were not good spirits”) does not give us much to go on, does it? I noticed this photograph is likely cropped down from a larger original. The size ratio is off, which usually means the person is trying to hide information (something in the original image) or overemphasize the size of something.
In this case, the two “orbs” are likely the result of dust particles floating in the air awfully close to the lens and within its field of view. These small particles reflect the camera flash (or other light sources, such as sunlight) and produce these transparent artifacts. The particles are well before the depth of field, which is “the zone of acceptable sharpness within a photo that will appear in focus,” thus causing the particles to be out-of-focus and show up as “orbs.”
Dust particles captured like this are not what the camera focuses on, and therefore the light they reflect does not converge on the focal point of the camera after passing through the lens. This creates what are called “circles of confusion,” an out-of-focus and enlarged representation of the object (see diagram). This is the reason we see “orbs” in photographs.
3) “Drinking Beer at Grave.” Wilson’s description: “This is a picture of a funeral and on top of the casket you can see that there is white light. The little boy, the son, got very, very upset because he could see daddy lying on top of the casket. He was. Don’t ever do as these gentlemen are doing; drink alcohol at a gravesite. That is really, really not good. Really, really not good. So, that’s the soul that was laying on top of his box, not going through where he needed to go through to.”
This example was a poor choice because the alleged spirit is partially blocked by Wilson’s banner overlay. Despite the poor presentation, I’ve seen this type of anomaly several times over the years, and there are a few possible causes. The overexposed anomaly is not only very bright, it also has soft, blurry edges, which suggests it is a small object near the lens (and thus out of focus).
One possible cause is a strand of hair from someone’s finger. When holding compact cameras, most people use their right hand with their index finger and thumb forming a “C” shape and usually tuck the other three fingers into the palm of their hand. Some people fail to tuck in the other fingers enough, and thus they tend to end up near the edge of the lens. Most of us have small hairs along the top of our fingers, which stick out just enough to make it in front of the lens. In most cases, the hair does not show up. However, when a bright light source (such as the camera flash or, in this case, the sun) illuminates the hair, the small strands of hair suddenly become visible. Like the dust particles in the previous photo, this hair strand is out of focus because it is so close to the camera lens.
Another cause could be a camera strap. There is no indication this photograph was taken with a modern smartphone, and there are several blemishes and artifacts that have me thinking this this a print from a film camera. Many compact consumer film cameras came with either a braided or flat-style wrist strap, which would often accidently get in front of the lens due to the way the camera was held. Like the hair strands mentioned above, the straps would appear blurry due to being so close to the lens. The camera flash or bright light from the sun would cause this strap to appear white (washed out). All of this combined caused an effect of “spiraling vortex of energy,” much like what is seen in this image (see Joe Nickell and Kenny Biddle, “So You’ve Got a Ghost in Your Photo,” Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 2020, 40)
4) “Cake with Two Children.” Wilson describes this image as a spirit, stating, “That’s the child’s birthday cake and that’s a spirit that they captured on film. Isn’t that cool?” That is it; that’s her entire description of this photo. I have a slightly different opinion: it’s a knife.
The image is dark with an overall warm (yellow-orange) color tone. In addition, too much of the scene is in shadow. This tells me that the camera flash did not fire. Otherwise, the kids would have been brightly lit. The warm color tone tells me they were using ordinary house lighting for the photo, which is usually from common incandescent bulbs. These conditions are setting the camera up for a long exposure in which the camera keeps the aperture open longer and allows more light to reach the film or camera sensor.
The object spanning the image left to right—which Wilson claims is a spirit—looks to be nothing more than a long cake knife. We can see a shadow on the table (lower right) which is caused by the knife and the hand holding it. We can also see tiny light reflection along the blade, which appears to have some cake frosting on it already.
Because the low-light environment caused a longer exposure, any movement in the scene would be blurred, which is referred to as “motion blur” for obvious reasons. We see this motion blur toward the right side of the knife, as this would be where the most motion would occur. When cutting something like a cake, it’s natural to set the tip of the knife in position first and then follow through the slice by pushing the handle end down, thus creating the motion blur seen in the photograph.
In addition, the kids are looking directly at the knife, and the child on the right is celebrating that the cake is finally getting cut (and he’s going to get some).
5) “These are my Beautiful Kids” (I blurred the faces of the children to protect privacy). Wilson’s description: “This is what children look like when they’re not vaccinated. We don’t see children this light or this clear anymore. The new normal is vaccinated kids and so when I see these pictures of my kids I realize…Ohhh…Mmmm.” (I have no clue what she meant with the “Ohh…Mmmm.”)
Wilson’s statement implies that vaccinations somehow change the way children look in photographs. If this makes sense to you, read that sentence again. This is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard in the past thirty years of looking at and analyzing paranormal photography. This is also Wilson’s indirect way of saying vaccines are bad (they’re not) and somehow distort how people look (they don’t). If her kids fail to show up clear and well-lit in photographs, it’s because she’s horrible photographer. Next time, Ms. Wilson, have a professional take the photos; I can recommend a photographer in California. Her name is Susan Gerbic. I believe you two have met.
Back to the photo. Wilson references two dust-orbs (ignoring at least seven other dust orbs that also stand out), claiming that these are the spirits of her grandparents. She claims these are spirits because “spirits that are good and happy have a clearly defined outer edge.” It’s an interesting observation, because orbs created by other (presumably non-happy) random objects—including dust particles, bugs, rain, snow, pet dander, textile fibers, and so on—also have clearly defined edges. These two “orbs” are most likely dust particles, just like the others in the photograph.
6) “Interlocking Orbs.” Wilson’s description: “Now, I have got thousands of photographs of orbs, balls of light, spiritual phenomenon—thousands. Only on my son’s birthday do we get this phenomenon. None of the other photographs I have, have I got two orbs interlinked like that. So, on his very next birthday I dragged the camera out again. And there you go, on the left you can see, my son is now eight, you’ve got the two balls of light, but they are more interlocking than they were last time. Cool.”
Dust particles are the most common cause of the “orb” effect in photographs, and it is everywhere. As we discussed above, dust particles and other objects captured close to the lens result in an expanded size. This means a small speck of dust can appear as large as a basketball. Due to this exaggeration of size, small airborne particles can appear to overlap. This is not a supernatural phenomenon but instead just optical science.
I’ve provided an example I took almost twenty years ago while visiting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This image shows a friend of mine as he walked up to a building. In doing so, he walked over a large area of dry, loose dirt, kicking up little dust clouds as he made his way across. Anticipating what would happen, I snapped several photographs of the scene. As you can see, there are several overlapping “orbs,” all with clearly defined outer edges—and all caused by dust/dirt.
Jeanette Wilson is as much a skilled photographer as she is a psychic/medium/healer, and she is not a psychic, medium, or healer. She promotes dangerous health ideas, false or misleading information, and provides nothing more than false hope to those in need of science-based medicine. To make this even worse, she expects the public to pay for it via her shows, books, and online workshops. Wilson confidently presents well-known photographic mistakes as proof of spirits and the afterlife, which only demonstrates her ignorance of the subject. Based on the information on her website, the two-hour workshop I reviewed, and a plethora of videos featuring her alleged powers, I see little more than just another grief vampire making a living off other people’s desperation and sorrow. Shame on her.