In his latest photobook, the New York-based photographer compiles a ‘case book’, exploring tales of alien abduction from his West Yorkshire hometown
“I was a young lad when my dad brought a national newspaper home with the story of Alan Godfrey’s encounter in it,” says British photographer Rik Moran. He is referring to the tale of a former police officer from Todmorden, West Yorkshire who, on 28 November 1980, claimed to experience an alien abduction. The story remains a much regaled part of local lore in the area where Moran grew up, and is the inspiration for his new photobook Chance Encounters in the Valley of Lights.
The story goes that Godfrey came across a huge spinning object skewed across the road in the early hours of the morning. “He tried to radio his station but it wouldn’t work, and his car wouldn’t start either,” Moran explains. “He saw a flash of light, and the next thing he knew he was 30 yards further down the road. He claimed he had 25 minutes of ‘lost time’, and during later hypnotic regression said he’d been taken on board the craft and examined.” Godfrey was also the first officer on scene to discover the dead body of a Polish miner named Zygmunt Adamski. Strange burns and an unknown substance on Adamski led many to believe the incident could be UFO-connected.
Moran’s photobook is a richly visual experiment in storytelling, comprising an array of archival material alongside photographs taken by Moran of landscapes and local buildings connected to extraterrestrial sightings. “I built up a wealth of imagery during my research – everything from stills of Godfrey’s hypnosis videos and press clippings, to reconstructions and drawings of his and related encounters,” Moran says. His process saw him visit libraries and the National Archives, purchase 1980s UFO fanzines, and attend a UFO night held in the local pub. “One of the things that interested me most as I dug into the story was the different versions of it,” he recalls. “There were reconstructions where Godfrey had a cockney accent. In one he was driving a Mini, in another a Ford Cortina. It played into the way we tell stories, and it felt important to bring that into the narrative.”
Moran describes his publication as almost “casebook-like” in its approach. “It’s loosely in chapters, each image has a plate number, referenced at the back, with chapter and appendix notes, allowing readers to delve further into the story and draw their own conclusions,” he says. Meanwhile, when asked why he thinks photography is useful in exploring tales of unexplained phenomena, Moran says, “UFO stories by their very nature are based on the visual aspect of “sightings” so photography plays into that really well, and there’s also something about the “truth” of a printed photograph; it validates things in a way.”
“I’ve always said I wanted to pour fuel on the story in some way, and continue its life by posing new questions”
Local mysteries can become deeply ingrained in the fabric of a place, passed from generation to generation. “I’ve always said I wanted to pour fuel on the story in some way, and continue its life by posing new questions, suggesting new narratives and engaging new people,” he says. “Todmorden as a place is steeped in mythology and folklore, and there’s a host of related events and places in the book as well. So what started as primarily just about Godfrey, has ended up being as much about the setting and the story itself.” For Moran, making this photobook was never about exposing or solving the mystery, but rather adding to the many retellings of the story in his own way – through his camera.
Chance Encounters in the Valley of Lights is available here
Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London