24 July 2012

FOTOCAT: the work of a great Spaniard scholar

Let’s talk about FOTOCAT

an interview by Milton W. Hourcade

How and when did you get the idea?

When I was 17 years old I initiated my ufologic walking, it was1965. Since then, one long ufological life of 47 years has passed (1) during which I have fulfilled several stages, dedicated each one of them to a long duration project, as the study of the landing cases in Spain and Portugal (1974-1978 and 1985-1987), that generated 3 books (2), a stage centered in field investigation and in developing of investigation methodology (1979-1984), that contributed to 2 books as result of my work(3), the compilation and analysis of UFO cases with military witnesses in Spain (1988-1999), including my personal involvement in the beginning and pursuit - like informal adviser-- of the process of declassification of the UFO files of the Spanish Air Force (4), mainly.

When I finalized what I consider it was the first part of my work with the files of military sightings (since it is left many material to share and to reveal to the ufological community), I decided that it was time to change of registry and thought about approaching a subject that captivated me from my beginnings in ufology, the photographic images and films of UFOS. It was then the year 2001.

How many photographs did you begin with?

The initial idea was simply to organize and to catalogue several hundreds of photographs of UFO case that I had, in a special file. Although the photos never have been a fundamental reason for my interest, yes it is true that in the first three decades of my ufologic practice I tried to get copies of the original photographs of supposed UFOS, which were apparently extraordinary. Its attractiveness transcended my liking by the subject, it was an artistic, plastic attraction. In the same way as Kandinski, Picasso or others fascinated me, I was seduced by the images of presumed flying saucers. I kept them until they reached the point of a more than acceptable collection, but about which I did not do nothing else than to accumulate them.

Once the graphical material took form in a computerized inventory, I thought about the possibility of a long term project that would consist of a revision of world-wide UFO literature in several languages - specialized books and magazines-- to extract all the information on photographic sightings, creating an individual physical file that gathered all the published history about each case. The logistics until the present is that I have reread or consulted 225 books in English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese Spanish, etc., as well as I reviewed 50 collections of specialized magazines of EE.UU., France, Spain, England, Canada, Sweden, Russia, Australia, Italy, Chile and other countries, published since 1948. It is said easily, but it has been a tremendous work. And the knowledge yes occupies place, as a matter of fact I dedicate a complete room to these files.

How many photos does the catalog currently have?

In addition to 200 folders that group the files of the cases, by country or date, the catalog (FOTOCAT) in itself is a table of Excel that has 28 columns of data; the 7 first contain control data and information for the author, followed by 17 columns of basic data about the observed phenomenon: date, hour, place, duration, geographic codes, name of the photographer, landing, aerial photograph, singular data, references and other information. At the time of printing, each record - there is a record for each event, concretely one for each series of photos, this means that a sighting can produce multiple records—is formatted in three pages in total. Finally, 3 other columns, which are not printed, gather some complementary data that is useful.

Complementing the file in paper they are the files of slides and that of digital images, this last one is still in process of chronological arrangement and to be ordered by country. Many thousands of original slides and digital are the graphic support of the catalog.

As of to date (2012 July), FOTOCAT has nothing less than 11,050 records or reports. The total number of photos could arrive at 50,000. The organization of the vast volume of visual information is in different phases, according to the country, since we have spent more time in one country than in other, but – along the time we hope to have a perfect systematization of the graphical information.

The catalog begins with the first known photo of a UFO (year 1762) and comes to an end --as a general rule—on December 31st. 2005. Why such date?

At the end of that year I decided to make a cut as to the admission of new cases to the catalog, when I saw that in the twenty-first century, the vast majority of-many-pictures that were known (mostly via the Internet) were pure garbage: birds ---some of them frozen in flight using digital photography. I thought that if it has to be comprehensive it was necessary to set a date to cut it. However, there are some exceptions, due to several factors, such as Argentina, that ends on December 31, 2006 and Spain that ends on December 31, 2008. At the moment, there is no deadline for cases of ball lightning or military sightings or landings in Spain.

The FOTOCAT matrix creates more than 300,000 data (11,050 cases X 28 columns), a true mine of information that - when the project would be finished, will be sent over the Internet completely and obviously free. It is an example of public service, not only for the sake of its own definition, but also by the hundreds of contributors who sent regularly photo cases to this big to catalog that every day -as if it were a living creature-- is evolving and growing visibly.

Do you arrive to some conclusion from all these photos ?

I have dedicated over 10 years to this project and the findings verify the assessment of experts that the reliability of graphic documents of UFOs, as a rule, is not more valid than the testimony of eyewitnesses, due to the high margin of error, and specifically about the photos, due to hoaxes. But for the first time, the published works (see references as well as my book list starting in 2003) provide a big amount of fresh information, analytical data and research that no doubt will be of interest to the student of the UFO phenomenology.

There is a lot to be done, many critical periods to be analyzed, many countries to consider, many comparisons to be made between regions, years, types of cases, etc.. In spite of all that have been accomplished, it is little compared with what lies ahead. For sure in the coming years we will be able to isolate and draw some general and clever conclusions.

So far, this research process also involves the collaboration of technicians and specialists who analyze noticeable cases, classic or potentially valuable, and whose opinions are appearing on the blog FOTOCAT, solving or confirming sightings.

Is it there one or a group of photos of alleged "UFOs" which are really valid as graphic evidence of something strange in the skies?

It is evident that the global casuistry mix contains some examples of phenomena of difficult appraisal, which is a spur to further investigation of such kind of reports. The problem is that in some of the better unidentified cases (e.g. Cocoyoc, Mexico, 09/10/1990, or Alfena, Portugal, 11/03/1973), the shape and dynamic feature of the objects filmed are similar to hot air balloons; in other situations, such as the classic events of McMinnville, Ohio, 05/11/1950 or Great Falls, Montana, 08.15.1950, --to name a couple of them in the United States--, those are very controversial and very disputed cases for which reasonable alternative explanations have been given. What it seems clear is that the best photographic evidence is in the oldest events, just when film media (either photography or movie) were of lower quality.

At this moment I cannot pronounce myself for "best photos" because the pending task of analysis is still big.

How the catalog could be accessed?

The catalog itself is not publicly available yet, but the author provides regional listings annually to researchers who request them, which is very common. I invite any researcher that needs a list of cases of his country or of certain period, for his work in ufology, to get in contact with me so I can give what is needed: ballesterolmos@yahoo.es

Since October 2002 I edit a blog that (not) regularly gives accounts of the progress of the catalog, reports of work done, provides photographic reports, producing statistics from FOTOCAT, makes book reviews and serves to mention and thank the broad international support given to this project. In the world of ufology, this blog was the first and one of the few who is bilingual in English and Spanish. I suggest reading visiting this link: http://fotocat.blogspot.com/

Beyond the accumulation of photos with details of who, when and where they were taken, what other scope has FOTOCAT?

FOTOCAT itself could be an ultimate end in itself-and is the largest global database on this category of sightings, but I see it as a database for the generation of thematic, regional or year, of which have already been published several, a study of UFO photographs taken in Argentina in 1965 (5), a collection of cases of the global wave of 1954 (6), catalog and photographic analysis of reports generated in France (7), spheroids photographed from the air (8), catalog and analysis of UFO events and phenomena Hessdalen in Norway (9), and several others in various stages of preparation, some of them in collaboration with leading international researchers.

Also during these years, in the blog of the FOTOCAT project has been published brief studies on the casuistry of countries (Finland, Australia) on "repeaters" in photography, IFOs vs. UFOs, distribution of reports by decades, and many other topics related to the UFO phenomenon as a global one in relation to the pictures taken.

Would you like to add any other details or comments?

FOTOCAT is a project that requires enormous amounts of energy, dedication and work. Therefore my research over the years has gone also in another direction, as could be predicted by someone who knows me well, and I have written several essays on casuistry, research and history . I want to highlight a review of the process of declassification of UFO files worldwide (10) and my recent contribution to a collective work on a book about which Jerome Clark just say this: : I hesitate not a moment to pronounce this among the most significant UFO books ever written… (11).

The work that lies ahead for FOTOCAT is immense, the search in books and magazines for photographic cases seeking to add to the list, mail with national scholars to exchange information and establish the sample reports for countries, reporting topics (UFOs in Antarctica, 1947, Chile, ball lightning, the Belgian wave, Great Britain, etc..). The collaboration of researchers is much appreciated, and the role they can play in expanding the catalog can be special, so I end this interview by welcoming any collaboration with this project.


(1) My bibliography 1965-2011 can be read here: http://www.ikaros.org.es/bibliog1.pdf

(2) A Catalogue of 200 Type-I UFO Events in Spain and Portugal, Center for UFO Studies (Evanston, Illinois), 1976.OVNIS: el fenómeno aterrizaje, Plaza y Janes, SA (Barcelona), 1978. Enciclopedia de los encuentros cercanos con OVNIs (with Juan A. Fernandez), Plaza y Janes, SA (Barcelona), 1987. The three books were prefaced by Dr. Jacques Vallee.

(3) Los OVNIS y la ciencia (with Miguel Guasp), Plaza y Janes, S. A. (Barcelona), 1981 (foreword by Dr. Richard Haines).Investigación OVNI, Plaza y Janes, Inc. (Barcelona), 1984 (foreword by Dr. J. Allen Hynek).

(4)Expedientes insólitos, Temas de hoy (Madrid), 1995 (foreword by Javier Sierra and epilogue by Dr. Jacques Vallee).

(These books are out of print but can be found at the flea market and Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/7glwc9x)

(5) "Argentina, The Year 1965 in Photos"
"Argentina, El año1965 in fotos"

(6) "The Year 1954 in Photos (Expanded)"

“El año 1954 en fotos (Versión Ampliada)”,


(7) "An Approach to UFO Pictures in France",

(8) "Spheres in UAP Airborne Imagery" (with Martin Shough)

(9) Norway in UFO Photographs: The First Catalogue (with Ole Jonny Brænne) http://www.upiar.com/index.cfm?artID=174

(10) "State-of-the-Art in UFO Disclosure Worldwide" http://tinyurl.com/3b3qh5q

(11) UFOs and Government (with M. Swords, R. Powell, C. Svahn, B. Chalker, B. Greenwood, R. Thieme, J. Aldrich and S. Purcell), Anomalist Books, 2012. (This book is available on the website of the publisher: http://www.anomalistbooks.com/book.cfm?id=64 and Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/7vn2r9u or Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/cr4rp6s

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