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The Ghost Photographer of Bateman, Saskatchewan
by Larrie Thomson

I've had several late night encounters with other nocturnal folk over the years I've been night shooting. Some have posed significant danger and at least once, I wondered if I would meet my end while night shooting. Occasionally though, a situation comes along that is also pretty funny. Such is the story of The Ghost Photographer of Bateman, Saskatchewan.

September 1, 2001 - Day two of the September road trip . . . Bateman, Saskatchewan was a rare find. I honestly didn't think a place like this existed anymore. An entire abandoned town, intact, with blocks of residential, a main street business strip, two churches, a curling rink, but no people. In fact the last resident left in the fall of 2000.

Service Station, Bateman, Saskatchewan

I had scouted Bateman earlier in the day. It easily had potential for a full night of shooting. I arrived back about 9:30 PM, pulling the Starving Artist Van in alongside an abandoned wreck at the service station. "Good place for it", I thought. After two days of bouncing over dusty gravel roads in 100 degree heat the rusty old 81 Dodge fit right in with its surroundings. Perfect! "Stealth mode". I grabbed my gear and set out to shoot up the town. It was a beautiful evening for night photography, with interesting and varied sky conditions and temperatures still in the high 70's on the Fahrenheit scale. I shot one of the churches, worked a bit of residential area on the west side of town, then headed to the eastern edge to shoot a spectacular abandoned brick school. Nights like this are why I go night shooting! Sheer heaven.

I heard a vehicle approaching in the distance along the gravel road. It struck me as unusual since I'd had the entire town to myself all evening. I checked my watch. 1:30 AM. I had just finished light painting a shot and was waiting for the exposure to finish under the moonlight. I continued to listen. The sound of the vehicle neared -- then silence. That bothered me. It was awfully late, and what's more, nobody lives here! I figured I'd better head back and check on the van.

As soon as the exposure was complete I gathered my gear and made my way through the dark, silent residential streets back to the center of town. As I rounded the corner by the old fire hall I saw the car. It was an older Monte Carlo. Yup, I had company! There were five of them and they were vandalizing the town. They had knocked over a wooden sign and were presently trying to throw a car battery through the window of fire hall. I stood and watched in the shadows, not quite sure what to do.

Main Street, Bateman, 2 am

I was almost certain that I couldn't be seen where I was standing. Then one of them happened to look my way. Suddenly he sort of jumped and did a double take. I'd been spotted. He went over to the others. "Hey, there's a guy over there!" I dropped to the ground behind the tall grass. I was out of view but I could see them perfectly. They were all looking my way. "No, seriously! There was a guy . . . Just standing there!" A couple of minutes passed as they looked past me toward the dark row of houses and back at each other.

After several minutes they seemed to have discounted the mysterious sighting and moved down the street to the service station. This time they were throwing rocks at the windows. They were literally feet from the Starving Artist Van and I was beginning to get concerned. I moved quietly through the residential streets, down another block and across the main street when they weren't looking. I approached again to within a block, this time on the same side of the street. Actually, I've been in much, much, more dangerous situations, and if I chose to sacrifice the van and its contents this predicament posed no danger at all. I didn't like that option though. Practically everything I own was in there! On the other hand, the idea of a chicken night shooter like me taking on five vandals in the middle of nowhere seemed foolish. Night photography is risky enough at the best of times. I like the idea of returning from these road trips with the same number of teeth and all my internal organs still on the inside, thank you!

Townpump, Bateman

So, what to do? Confront them, or hide and potentially lose the van and all my gear? Was there another option? There was, actually. It was a long shot but it freaked them out once already so it was worth a try again. Banking on fear of the unknown to help balance the five against one odds, I stepped out of the shadows onto the street. The moon was directly behind me, as I stood motionless in silhouette against the distant prairie horizon. Several minutes passed without them noticing. It seemed like hours. Then the same guy who saw me last time happened to glance down the road. Even a block away I could see his startled reaction when he spotted me. I stood perfectly still. He sort of "squeaked" to the others. In a moment all five of them were standing beside the old Monte Carlo, staring at me. I stared straight back at them and didn't move a muscle.

I wasn't sure what they were thinking at that point. Myself, I was thinking something like "Oh crap! Now I've really done it. There's no going back now..." More tense seconds passed as the standoff continued. Then a very cool thing happened. Almost simultaneously, they turned and looked at each other, turned back to look at me, back to each other again. Without saying another word, each one made a scramble for the nearest door, the driver threw it into gear and they burned out of there in a cloud of oil smoke, dust and gravel! I had the town to myself for the rest of the night.

I'd love to know what they thought they saw. I can only begin to imagine the impact of thinking you are all alone in a desolate, abandoned place miles from anywhere, then suddenly seeing a human form in the distance. ...Especially when that form seems to appear and disappear at will. This is the stuff from which urban legends are made! I walked back down the deserted streets toward the old brick school as the tension of the moment melted into relief, then amusement. I think I chuckled out loud recalling the look on the driver's face as he peeled away. 'Yup, this town is safe once again, thanks to the Ghost Photographer of Bateman, Saskatchewan.'

Larrie Thomson lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His website is