Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Latest on the Trindade Island Photographs

The photographs that were taken at Trindade Island off the coast of Brazil in 1958 are again the subject of a number of new reports. The most comprehensive of those was published at


You need to click on the picture of the UFO and then on the English translation to read the whole story of the investigation of the pictures and the evidence they present. You probably should also be aware that the picture on the home page rotates among several so you need click on the proper one.

The upshot of the article, written by Alexandre de Carvalho Borges and translated by Eduardo Rado and Thiago Ticchetti, is that the pictures of the Saturn-shaped UFO are a composite created by Almiro Barauna and not of a craft from another world.

This was a theory floated just last year when a Brazilian television program suggested this was a hoax. I wrote in a previous blog (which you can now skip if you read it before): 

Back on January 1, 1958, a photographer on the Brazilian ship, Almirante Saldanha, took four pictures of a "Saturn-shaped" object as flew over the island of Trindade off the coast of Brazil. Almiro Barauna developed the film about an hour later. He and Captain Viegas entered the ship’s darkroom together. After developing the negatives, Barauna at first, thought that no image had been picked up, but Viegas, looking carefully, spotted the UFO.

That, in a nutshell, is the story. There are, according to some sources, many witnesses to the craft. Skeptics suggest that few others saw anything at all. That is a matter for another time.

What brings all this up is that a Brazilian TV network, Fantastico, just broadcast a story that suggests, finally, an answer about authenticity of the pictures has been found. According to Fantastico, "This Sunday (August 15), for the first time Fantastico reveals the truth about the Trindade Island UFO. A friend of the family told what she heard from the photographer himself [Almiro Barauna] he had hoaxed the images, it was a montage. ‘He got two kitchen spoons, joined them and improvised a spaceship, using as a background his fridge. He photographed the fridge door with the object in perfect illumination. He laughed a lot about it,’ revealed Emilia Bittencourt. Barauna’s files are in possession of his niece, who didn’t want to record an interview, but confirms the hoax."

The idea that the pictures were faked has been around almost from the moment they were taken. Donald Menzel, the Harvard astronomer who never met a UFO case he liked, claimed, at first, that an aircraft, "flying through humid but apparently super-cooled atmosphere," could become so completely enveloped in fog that it could take on the appearance of a Saturn-shaped object.

Okay, but I’m not buying this.

And apparently Menzel wasn’t either because later, in his book The World of Flying Saucers, he wrote that the case was a hoax. He said that Barauna had faked the pictures with a double exposure.

More likely than the fog-shrouded airplane but a statement without a fact to back it up. You can’t just declare something a hoax because you don’t like it and have no other evidence except your opinion that it is a hoax.

My first thought on reading this latest revelation from Fantastico was that the explained the case.

My second thought was, "Not so fast."

Yes, I’m aware of work done by many researchers in their analyses of the pictures and that some have said they found evidence of fraud in the photographs. Some of it is impressive work.

But I’m also aware of the claim that there were many witnesses to the object’s flight, and it would mean that a couple of dozen were in on the hoax and never breathed a word about it... until now.

But the person making this new claim of hoax is not a relative, or a witness for that matter, but a neighbor and she has no evidence to back up her accusation. There is also a niece, unidentified other than as a niece, who says she has Barauna’s files and she confirms it is a hoax.

Here’s the deal... and I’m sure even the skeptics will agree with this. Let’s wait on the final pronouncement until the files surface and prove the hoax. In the last few years, we’ve had several people come forward explaining that their UFO photographs, none quite as famous as these, were faked. I have no problem with the photographer telling me he or she faked the pictures. That seems to be solid evidence.

In this case, however, we don’t have the photographer, but a neighbor. And the niece who has the files. Let the documentation from the files be reviewed before we completely close the case. If it is a hoax, so be it, but let’s wait until we have the absolute proof before we label it. That might be coming soon.

Now we have more of that evidence thanks to UFO Brazil and Carvalho Borges. The new information comes from the nephew of Barauna, Marcelo Ribeiro, who said he kept the secret for fifty-three years. According to him, the photographs are faked.

Asked what is the truth about the pictures, Ribeiro said that they are not true because there was no flying saucer. He asks, "If there had been one, wouldn’t some of the others on the ship have taken pictures of it?"

Strangely, he then refutes the tale from Fantastico TV, saying that Emilia Bittencourt had told nothing but lies. She knew nothing about the pictures or how they were created.

Ribeiro said that the people on the boat did see something but that it was a strange cloud formation or something else natural. He said that his uncle, who had been taking pictures underwater when the object was first seen, climbed onto the boat but had no unexposed film in his camera. Figuring out that he could make money, he pretended that he took a number of pictures before returning to his cabin for another roll of film. When he returned, there was nothing in the sky but he took several pictures anyway.

Ribeiro makes it clear that there was something in the sky, but it wasn’t a spaceship. Ribeiro doesn’t believe in alien visitation because they would be billions and billions of light years away. I mention this only because it is so wrong. The closest star is only 4 light years away and there are many, many stars within fifty lights... which is not to say that travel among them is possible, only that it is more likely than dealing with another galaxy a billion light years away.

Anyway, Ribeiro claims that his uncle, once he had taken pictures of the landscape, developed them on the ship on the orders of the ship’s captain. He had no photographic paper and showed the captain the wet negatives. Ribeiro suggested that by pointing to certain areas on the negatives, his uncle was able to convince others including the captain that the object was there when it was only some artifact in the clouds.

I do know that it is difficult to identify things on a photographic negative and I know that if you point to something and suggest it is an object, many people will agree with you. I don’t know how successful this might be in the circumstances described here.

But now we move into an area that suggests that the photographer was able to think ahead... or an area that suggests this latest explanation falls short. According to Ribeiro his uncle realized the commercial value of a high quality photograph of a UFO and knowing that set the stage while on the ship. He knew that he would make money.

Once the ship returned to port, Ribeiro’s uncle, Barauna, left, taking with him, the negatives he had shot. At home, in his studio (or laboratory as they suggest in the article) he experimented with various objects until he settled on bus tokens. He photographed them against a black background and then printed his pictures with one negative and then another creating a composite that held both the ground details and the UFO.

At this point I suppose I should mention that Barauna had, in the past, done an article about the creation of UFO photographs. He was a skilled technician, some might say an artist with a camera, and creating the composite and then a negative from that wouldn’t have been difficult for him. Done properly, no one would be able to tell that the composite print and negative made from it were a double exposure, at least according to Ribeiro. The print would look just like, well, the photographs that we’re all familiar with.

Now comes the rest of the story. Ribeiro said that Barauna shared the story with him but didn’t want him to tell anyone because he would be "demoralized" which might be a poor translation. It probably should be discredited. At any rate Barauna didn’t want his nephew to say anything until after he was gone.

So now, with his uncle safely buried, Ribeiro is saying that the pictures were faked for the money they would make. It was sort of a spur of the moment plan conceived on the ship as the crew and others were standing around thinking they had seen the Saturn-shaped object.

The article’s author, Alexandre de Carvalho Borges, said that in 2003, he had called Barauna,s friend, Amilcar Vieira, who had been on the ship and asked about it. Vieira said that he had seen the object. Ribeiro agreed that Vieira had seen something, some object, just not the thing in the photographs and certainly not a craft from another world. Ribeiro suggested that if others were standing around, pointing at the object in the sky, that strange cloud formation or natural phenomena, Vieira would have seen it too. That’s just human nature. It is the interpretation of the object that is in question here... and, of course, the real shape of it.

I asked both Jerry Clark and Brad Sparks what they thought of the newest information. Both had studied the case in the past.

Jerry (Jerome) Clark detailed the case in the second edition of his classic The UFO Encyclopedia, wrote, "The latest developments, like the ones last year, look pretty questionable, with some very serious problems coming out of the gate.

Sparks wrote, "All I would say is that the double exposure theory is rubbish and a violation of the basic physics of photography. A double exposure cannot possibly take away light from an image, it can only add to it (a "double" exposure is the taking of two pictures on the same frame of film without advancing the frame). Yet, parts of the UFO image are darker than the sky, which is not possible for a double exposure. If the fake UFO is photographed over the sky-and-Trindade island background then no part of the UFO image can be darker than the sky onto which the fake UFO is filmed."

And both of them suggested that I contact Martin Slough for his opinions on the case. Slough had been studying the case in depth for many years and had been one of the first to suggest that we not take the new information at face value without some further research.

Martin Shough was quick to respond. He hadn’t been very impressed with the revelation of Emilia Bittencourt last year, isn’t much more impressed with this latest story. He wrote to me:

I should perhaps add that the possibility ...that Ribeiro is [blending] memories of various discussions related to the several "trick shots" which everyone knows Barauna was involved with.

Ribeiro mentions the Mundo Illustrado photos and the Carioca fleet bus tokens, making an explicit connection to what he remembers Barauna telling him re[garding] the Trindade case... We know Barauna must have been often asked 'Did you fake it?' and 'How did you fake it?' or 'If you had faked it, how would you have done it?' - the latter being the question that the Navy technicians astutely asked him in 1958.

Ribeiro no doubt correctly characterises Barauna as a great talker and a joker who loved to hold forth, and he must have talked about his escapades many times. ...Of course he may have told Ribeiro that he faked them. Ribeiro may have added some confusion to the core of a true memory. But given the inconsistencies in the story I'm afraid we have to place it in the category of questionable hearsay. Sadly no amount of questioning of Ribeiro now is likely to encourage him to reflect on the story he has made so public, and the witnesses he says he could have added in his support are unfortunately dead. It's a shame he didn't produce this story years ago.

I'm not sure it is true that microscopic examination of grain structure would fail to spot [douible exposure]. The double exposure doubles the numerical grain density in the region of the UFO on the final fake negative. It may be difficult to spot this doubling, given that the background is not very emphatic and of course the grain structure is a fuzzy, flocculent mess that's difficult to quantify, but it is not the case that there is just no possible physical trace of the operation in the grain structure, as Ribeiro seems to suggest. There could be a detectable trace and the Navy people might have looked for it. I would like to see this tested.

And there is something here that Martin, Clark and Sparks didn’t address and that is Ribeiro’s story is second hand. We are warned, repeatedly, about the value, or lack of value, of second-hand testimony. It is often flawed, misunderstood, and many times impossible to corroborate. Here we have a story told by the nephew of the original photographer about how the Trindade Island photographs has been faked, but we don’t have the same sort of confession by the original photographer.

All three of them said that we shouldn’t accept this new claim as authentic without some kind of corroboration... just as we shouldn’t accept a UFO claim as authentic without the supporting evidence.

I will note here that over the years many of those who took pictures of UFOs have come forward to tell us that they faked them. Some of those were teenagers when they did it and a few were young adults, but the point is that they did confess. With the Trindade Island photos we have no such confession except for the uncorroborated claims of a nephew... and interestingly, those of Bittencourt, who he says was lying about it.

It seems to me, given all this that we don’t have a real solution. We have some uncorroborated testimony from the nephew of the man, but we don’t have anything like that from the photographer himself. Barauna said, repeatedly, that the pictures were authentic... except, allegedly, to a couple of family members.

I had hoped, with this latest revelation, we would come closer to a solution for this case but that hasn’t happened. We still don’t know if the object photographed was real, was alien, or a trick whipped up in a photo lab. I’m afraid it just might remain that way.


cda said...

The US Naval Attache in a report dated March 11, 1958 decided the photos were a hoax or publicity stunt. That was the US official view and has been so for 53 years. Dr Olavo Fontes (a very pro-ETHer) during the early 1960s promoted them as photos of a genuine UFO that was watching the Brazilian naval activities off Trindade. So did APRO, several times.

Countless people have debated the photos ever since, without any definitive answer.

I agree with Kevin that no final definitive conclusion will ever be reached on these pics.

The same arguments can be used to denounce them as are used to promote Roswell (deathbed confessions or such, 2nd and 3rd-hand tales told to Barauna's relatives, friends, etc.) without getting anywhere. There are no original Barauna diaries or notes, or at least none found so far.

We have endured endless photographic analysis from both sides, again with no conclusive answer. The pics were the culmination of a series of UFO sightings (of rather poor quality in my view) that occurred on the island during the previous Nov. and Dec.

I accept the US Navy's conclusion, but anyone is free to dispute it and people will agree and disagree forever on this. Was anything unusual seen from the ship that day? We simply don't know.

paul thompson said...

This photo is good support for the truth that no UFO still picture proves anything. There are just too many ways a clever photographer can fake them. Thwe same is true, incidentally, of digital video. A creative editor can create totally convincing UFO footage that is a complete hoax.

Jeff Thompson

p.wadhams said...

This flattened sphere with a narrow rim bears a close resemblance to a UFO photographed on Vancouver Island and shown in Peter Sturrock's autobiography. There is no suspicion that the witnesses were faking it.

Luckyluke said...
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