Simon Marsden


Rahul Sharma steps into the world of Simon Marsden’s gothic imagery of some of the world’s most haunted castles, ruins, statues, crypts and graves.

Simon photographed this statue at Las Vegas, Nevada, USA using a different eye. The positioning of the elements in the background, in accordance to the statue, gives a sense of impending doom.


Browsing through a variety of photobooks on cinema kept on my uncle’s shelf, I discovered an unusual one. It was not about a genre or a director but had a rather macabre and ethereal cover. It read Ghosthunter: A Journey through Haunted France. Intrigued by the disquieting images, I decided to learn more about the author and photographer, Simon Marsden. Over the course of his career, Simon photographed over a thousand haunted places and published 12 books on them. He was featured in several radio shows too. On a live BBC radio broadcast from Leap Castle, thousands of listeners attest to having heard otherworldly voices in the background. Fascinated and enthralled, I wanted to know more, and contacted his wife and archive curator, Cassie Marsden.

Ghost Stories in Adolescence

During his childhood, Simon resided in two manor houses in Lincolnshire Wolds, UK—Panton Hall and Thorpe Hall, which were said to be haunted. He often recalled experiencing frightening days in his childhood. Moreover, his father had an entire library of books on occult and used to recite ghost stories to four of his children before they went to sleep. Simon, the youngest of his siblings, was fascinated by the imagery and description in these tales. At the age of 10, he discovered Illustrated Classics Comic, which included three stories by Edgar Allen Poe. He was amazed by the perpetuity in his tales that were torn away from reality.

Simon captures the haunting architecture of the Waverly Abbey in Surrey, England. It is the country’s first Cistercian monastery founded in 1128. Its resident ghost is said to be a monk who is still searching for his lost entrails.

Learning from the Masters

When Simon turned 21, his father gifted him a Leica IIIg 35mm camera. His first roll of film contained images of cardboard cut-out ghosts. He went on to assist the Irish photographer Ruan O’Lochlainn, whose work consisted of film stills and record covers. Jackie Mackay (O’ Lochlainn’s wife) was a master printer and taught several darkroom processes to Simon.

“My craze for photographing haunted sites may be an attempt to exorcise those very genuine adolescent fears of the supernatural.”

After mastering the form, he travelled across the US in a bus. He spent two years in New York, where he held several exhibitions. Over this time period, he began using infrared film and created his trademark style by using Nikkormat FTn and FT2 cameras to make images. He eventually returned to the UK in 1974, after which he started concentrating on photographing haunted sites.

Combining his love for gothic literature with his own work, Simon produced the book Visions of Poe (1988). He took extracts from the writer’s poems and fiction pieces, and illustrated them with his own images.

The image was published in the book Memento Mori: Churches and Churchyards of England. The photographs show the theme of the irrevocable certainty of death.

Documenting His Experiences

Simon published various books that include In Ruins: The Once Great Houses of Ireland (1980), Phantoms of the Isle: Further Tales from the Haunted Realm (1990) and This Spectred Isle (2005). Cassie Marsden said, “His widespread travels have given us a historical record of many places that now exist.” Simon also contributed to several documentaries. During the shooting stage of The Twilight Hour: A Vision of Ireland’s Haunted Past , (2003), Simon and the film’s crew members heard the cry of a weeping woman in the ruins of Palladian Mansion of Woodlawn House, Co Galway, Ireland. However, when they tried to investigate the sound, there was no living person in sight. While shooting photographs for his book The Haunted Realm (1988), he was sent flying into the air by an unseen force near Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, UK. “My camera was torn away from my neck, and I discovered a bruise the length of my right arm which, bizarrely, did not hurt.”

“I remember the days when I woke at night to discover gargoyles staring at me through the bathtub— his makeshift darkroom.” -Cassie Marsden

Simon felt as if he had walked into a city of the dead when he photographed the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France. He came across several ornate Gothic statues there.

Changing Dimensions

Simon would often wonder if it was his own presence that activated the supernatural. He believed in two suppositions—the Tape Recording Theory and Ley Lines. The former suggests that inanimate objects, found in ancient buildings are capable of storing extreme human actions and emotions. The latter believes that primal forces emanating from the earth’s crust are conducted along ancient paths, called ley lines. “These timeworn tracks are where our ancestors built sacred sites—stone circles, dormens, burial chambers and churches,” said Simon, whose subjects were such primeval locations.

“I have captured things on film, that one cannot explain. I keep some of my images hidden as it will be fruitless to prove to a disbelieving world that they are genuine.”

Only when great research work, bravery and determination were embedded with his personal thoughts about the paranormal, was Simon able to capture such daunting images. His photography is a great source of inspiration for not only paranormal photographers, but also ones who shoot landscapes and architecture. One should know that only when rationality blurs, does one truly allow supernatural possibilities to settle in…just like Simon did.

This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Better Photography.