Photographic evidence of UFOs has always been pretty shaky at best. Among all of the videos and photos of supposed UFOs there are the hoaxes and fakes, and this has only become more pronounced in recent years with the advent of advanced means to fake photos such as Photoshop. Yet controversial photos and video footage of UFOs go way back in time, to the days before Photoshop and computer manipulation, back to the simpler times of the 1950s.
By far the most famous and iconic purported UFO photos from the 1950s were taken by a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Trent, in rural McMinnville, Oregon. On May 11, 1950, Mrs. Trent was out on their farm when she allegedly noticed a strange, disc-like object flying out over their property. She immediately called out in a panic to her husband, who ran over to see it as well, managing to take two photographs of it before it shot off. These photos would hit the media, including Life Magazine and create quite the stir at the time. They were the clearest photographs ever seen of a “flying saucer,” which was a concept that was at the time just starting to really take off in the mainstream. For a long time, these photographs were widely discussed and debated, going on to become iconic in the UFO field, but it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the Trent photographs would be subjected to any detailed analysis, by an astronomer from the University of Arizona, William K. Hartmann. After performing a painstakingly meticulous investigation of the photos, using various scientific photographic analysis techniques and photometric measurements with the original negatives, he came to the conclusion that they were the real deal, saying:
It appears significant that the simplest most direct interpretation of the photographs confirms precisely what the witnesses said they saw. To the extent that the photometric analysis is reliable, (and the measurements appear to be consistent), the photographs indicate an object with a bright shiny surface at considerable distance and on the order of tens of meters in diameter. While it would be exaggerating to say that we have positively ruled out a fabrication, it appears significant that the simplest most direct interpretation of the photographs confirms precisely what the witnesses said they saw, and that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disc-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of [the] two witnesses.
Of course, not everyone agreed, with more skeptical photographic analyses coming to the conclusion that the UFO was faked, which is not really hard to guess since looking back on the photos now they are obviously a hoax. However, experts continued to defend them as genuine, including optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee, who did his own analysis and insisted that it was an object “over 1 kilometer away, and about 30 meters in diameter and 4 meters thick,” while also debunking many of the skeptical arguments. The Trent photographs are now widely considered to be faked, but they are an interesting case of early UFO photographs astounding everyone when they were first released.
Another set of photos that made waves in their day were taken in 1952, in Barra da Tijuca, Brazil. On May 7, 1952, press photographer Ed Keffel and reporter Joao Martins were in the area on an assignment when they spotted a strange object in the sky moving very fast at approximately 4:30 p.m. They at first thought it was a plane, but soon realized that this was something else, as it was flying too fast and in a very odd manner. It looked like some sort of flying disc, and Keffel was able to shake off his astonishment enough to take a series of five photographs of the object before it disappeared. These photos would later appear in O Cruzeiro magazine in its May 24, 1952 issue, where they immediately earned wide acclaim for being among the best photographic evidence of UFOs ever taken. The Brazilian Air Force would even conduct a full analysis of the photos and deem them to be genuine, but of course skeptics say it is all a hoax, citing inconsistencies in the lighting and shadows that contradict the witness claims, but Keffel and Martins have always defended the photographs, with Marin saying:
I herewith confirm that in May 1952, I saw an “unidentified aerial object” at Barra da Tijuca, as was published, with every detail, in the review [magazine] 0 Cruzeiro at the time. Together with me was the photographer-reporter Ed Keffel, an exemplary professional, well-succeeded and well-respected for his honesty and seriousness, who obtained a series of photos of the above-referred object. These photos were also published by the above-mentioned review, for which both of us worked at the time. Besides being a journalist, I am also an engineer; and I also have a large experience and knowledge of meteorological, astronomical, and optical phenomena. I have experience of all known types of aircraft and can state that the referred object cannot be framed in any natural phenomena or aircraft of my knowledge.
Neither I nor Ed Keffel tried to derive any financial profit from the fact. We were at the time exclusively contracted by that review [0 Cruzeiro], and there we handed in our report and the photos, without receiving any extra bonus for either. Neither did we receive-nor did we wish to-any payment from anybody, either for the account or for the photos or for the appearances we were practically obliged to make on different occasions on television… I narrated the fact in free talks to military authorities and university auditoriums. I do not know what that object was, and because of this, I classified it in the category of “unidentified flying object”, commonly called a “flying saucer.” The incident, besides the annoyances it entailed, contrived to call my attention on the subject as an only advantage, and consequently I have done research on the subject with the greatest detachment, both in sightings here in Brazil and abroad.
Also from 1952 is an actual color film taken of a supposed UFO in the U.S. state of Utah. On this occasion, Warrant Officer D.C. Newhouse was out with his wife in the vicinity of Tremonton, Utah, when they witnessed a formation of flat and circular disc-shaped flying craft flying across the sky in broad daylight. Newhouse happened to have a 16mm color camera with a 3-inch telephoto lens, with which he was able to film the mysterious objects as they traversed the sky. The excited Newhouse would perhaps foolishly submit the film to the Air force, who later returned the film with sections and frames mysteriously missing. The Air Force concluded that the film was of out of focus seagulls, but if this were the case, then why had portions of the film been removed? This was never explained. Other experts who looked at the film debunked the seabird theory, such as Dr. Robert M.L. Baker, Jr., Douglas Aircraft Corporation, who said:
The motion of the objects is not exactly what one would expect from a flock of soaring birds, not the slightest indication of a decrease in brightness due to periodic turning with the wind or flapping. The evidence remains rather contradictory and no single hypothesis of a natural phenomenon yet suggested seems to completely account for the UFO involved.
What did Newhouse film out there? You can see the footage here and decide for yourself. Another photo of a UFO from the same year comes to us from the country of Peru, where on the afternoon of July 19 of that year a Sr. Domingo Troncoso, then with the Peruvian Customs Office at Puerto Maldonado on the jungle choked Bolivian border, saw a gigantic cigar-shaped object soaring over the rainforest leaving a trail of smoke or mist behind it. Troncoso was able to take a single photo of the object before it shot off out of sight. Apparently at the same time, other witnesses in the region had seen it as well, and one Peruvian UFO researcher would tell the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) of this:
In Lima I met Senior Pedro Bardi, who is an agricultural engineer. On July 19, 1952, while on a farm in the Madre de Dios section of Peru, he and others saw a saucer. It was about 4.30 p.m. and they were talking to Lima by radio. Suddenly, according to Bardi, the radio went dead. They looked out the window and saw a round object going by at high speed. (The witnesses included Pedro Arellano, owner of the farm). The object had passed; it was at an estimated 100 meters altitude and was a little smaller than a DC-3, according to Bardi. It made a buzzing sound as it went by.
The object’s speed was determined by a report that it was seen four minutes later near Porto Maldonado, 120 kilometers distant. This speed was computed at 1117 miles per hour. The photograph was secured from a customs administrator named Domingo Troncosco, who said he had taken it as the object flew near the port. Though the photo shows a cigar-shaped object instead of the round shape Bardi described, this could possibly have been due to an elongated effect caused by speed. It seems obvious to me that the photo is genuine. Incidentally, I strongly doubt if this particular saucer was anything but earth-made. The object traveled from left to right at about airplane speed. When the trail settled to ground it turned out to be a mass of thin fibrous threads.
Moving ahead to 1957, there is a curious set of photographs taken from the British ship S.S. Ramsay by a radio officer named Thad Fogl. At the time, the ship was near the coast of California when Fogle was called to the deck by the excited 2nd Officer at around 2:30 p.m. When he arrived on deck, he found other crew members staring in awe at a massive disc hanging in the sky. He would later tell Flying Saucer Review Magazine of what happened next:
Without being told twice, I grabbed my Yashica C reflex camera from my wardrobe and dashed on the side of the bridge. Sure enough, there was a queer looking object hovering in the distance. It was suitable for a shot so I waited. In the meantime, I tried to keep under control my shaking knees and hands, and watched the disc. It made no noise and was not more than a mile away. It was silver and black. There was no smoke or any gases coming from it. However, under the disc, a red light pulsated.
We thought it tried to signal, so the 2nd Officer grabbed the Aldis and flicked back, but there was no response. At last the disc came down near enough and I got one shot. Then it turned and I shot again. The disc was rather thick, and had a flat dome. There were no ports. However, there were some black marks, and I wonder if they were not some sort of exhausts. Then we noticed a ladder! Whether it really was a ladder I can’t say. It could be some depression in the craft. The object moved very slowly and stayed with us for a few minutes. Then it shot with quick acceleration towards a rugged mountain, and the desert coast of sun-baked California.
The photographs would turn out to be incredibly clear and showed something that seemed decidedly otherworldly. These photos would be published in several high-profile publications, including The London Illustrated News and Life magazine, earning Fogle much unwanted publicity, much of it negative. His photos were widely derided as clear fakes, and seeking to avoid any more embarrassment, he would say that he had indeed hoaxed them, although he would later claim that this was just to dispel all of the negative publicity being aimed at him and to get everyone off his back. After that he refused to talk on the matter anymore, even though there were plenty of believers who suspected that the photos were actually real. Indeed, we are left to ask if any of these could possibly be real, but real or not, they form the first stirrings of a wave of the proposed photographic UFO evidence that was to come, and have their own place within the world of Ufology.