Snapshots of the supernatural
Photographer makes name as ghost buster

Paranormal photographer Mike Richard stands on the stage at Durango Arts Center, where he will he hosting an upcoming slide show on his work as a ghost buster. Richard, also the theater manager and facility superintendent at the Arts Center, says the building is haunted by not one, but two spirits./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

by Jeff Mannix

Mike Richard is a free-lance professional photographer. He lives in Durango, where free-lance photographers are plentiful, overqualified and underemployed. Mike, however, has no competition. He sees things through his viewfinder and captures on film images of metaphysical phenomena, otherwise known as ghosts. He’s the Ghost Guy.

“It all started as a joke,” Richard proclaims, sitting in the green room backstage of the Durango Arts Center theatre, where he works as theatre manager and facility superintendent. The building is haunted by a male ghost backstage only during live band performances and a female whose high-heeled shoes can occasionally be heard clicking up the back staircase.

When Richard was 7 years old, he drowned and was dead until he was later revived in a hospital. “Since then I’ve seen things, at first peripherally, then as apparitions, and I began feeling things and could predict when someone in my family would say something or do something or the phone would ring,” he said.

His parents, strict Roman Catholics, prohibited him from talking about his paranormal thoughts and sightings, and wrote him off as being a half bubble off center. “Then, when I was in my twenties, I almost involuntarily wandered into a bookstore,” he says. “I wasn’t looking for a book, had no intention of buying a book. But I walked up to a wall of books in the store and one book fell off the shelf to the floor: it was entitled Photographing the Spirit World. It had been out of print for 10 years, and the bookstore owner had no recollection of having the book in stock. I of course bought the book, and that was the beginning of my research into paranormal investigation.”

Meanwhile, Richard’s brother was experiencing the paranormal in his work at one of Hewlett-Packard’s large electronics warehouses in San Jose, Calif.

“At night, security guards patrolled all the buildings on this campus facility, and this one warehouse was presenting some problems for them,” Richard explains. “Every time they would make their rounds, the lights were on and the doors unlocked. At first the guards thought it was a missed security check, but it soon became apparent that every time they made their rounds, lights were on and doors were open in this one building.”

So when his brother called from San Jose desperate for some help on this warehouse phenomenon, Richard was on his way to California and a career as a ghost buster. Twenty years later, Richard has amassed a portfolio of photographs of people and things that don’t exist in Mountain Standard Time but nonetheless exist through his camera viewfinder and on his film and in prints that can scarcely be called hokum.

The Hewlett-Packard bust, well … it was a bust. “It was bizarre,” exclaims Richard, “all I got were overexposed photos using an auto-focus camera, but the place was haunted, no question, and all my reference shots outside around the building were in perfect focus on the same roll of film.”

A Mike Richard photograph titled "Rocky Spirit" shows a face captured in a piece of Sandstone.  Richard says he has been able to delve into the spirit world since an accident at age 7 where he was revived from the dead./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

An investigator of the paranormal has scientific interest, as opposed to New Age devotees who want and will metaphysical experience, according to Richard. However, he admits that even scientific examination of paranormal occurrence must be accompanied by belief, not only that ghosts are possible but also that the divine plays a role. “When I rid a building of a ghost, I send it back to God,” he says.

Richard also confidently reports, “(Ghosts) are people who have unfinished business in their lives or are afraid to submit to death. I have techniques to send them back fully to the hereafter, and I have a 95 percent success rate - and if I can’t get them to go, I know someone who can do it 100 percent of the time.”

Richard’s website ( receives 40 to 50 hits per day and is the source of most of his ghost-busting business. A ghost-plagued client will describe the time and places of hauntings, and then Richard uses a heat gun to measure the variations of temperature and electrically charged locations in the potentially haunted building. If he’s called to investigate a haunting, Richard says that 60 percent of those locations are indeed haunted.

“There are basically two types of hauntings,” says Richard, “a true haunting, which occurs with no predictability; and an imprint-in-time, which occurs at the same time and in the same location each time.” Richard meticulously attempts to narrow the possibilities, then shows up with his camera and infrared film and waits. He’s been called to court as an expert witness for two new homebuyers who sued real estate brokers for reimbursements based on nondisclosure of haunted houses. His testimony and corroborating photographs contributed to both plaintiffs prevailing.

Richard explains that it is usually a sensory perception that informs the presence of a ghost, saying, “I can feel the presence of a ghost in a building or on location, even if I’m there for another reason altogether. It’s an energy, but the right conditions have to be present to pick it up.”

Can ghosts pose a physical threat to a witness? “Sure,” Richard answers. “But I’ve never heard of anyone being killed by a ghost. But they can trip you or push you or fling objects at you. I don’t want to anger a ghost, they’re already afraid, confused and threatened by the presence of the living, and you cannot scare them away.”

They have to be cajoled into returning to real-time death, reports Richard, and that makes the most sense of something that makes no sense whatsoever. Apparitions, it seems, don’t have to be ghosts in human form. Richard has a triptych of vivid photographs of a flying saucer, which he quizzically shrugs about when he displays them, and comments, “If this Durango Arts Center building were to be bulldozed into a pile of rubble, I could photograph the empty lot and debris and capture the standing structure as it once was ­ perhaps not in its most recent form, but in a form it once was, if conditions were right and not too much time had elapsed.”

And down that track, Richard is working to identify the right conditions for photographing Mesa Verde to determine what it looked like when it was populated by the ancients. He’s successfully photographed metaphysical characters in one of the cliff dwellings.

Not a believer? Richard welcomes both believers and nonbelievers to his Halloween slide show at the Durango Arts Center on Mon., Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. It’s free for those cynics who wish to pass up the donation basket, and if there is such a paranormal construct as ideal conditions, All Hallows Eve ought to be one of them. •



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