You know that not everything you believe can be true, and not everything that’s true can be believed. And whether or not something written is true may well depend on your point of view. Where this story falls, as I relate it to you, is somewhere on the continuum. Were you to file it under tall tales in your own thinking, I would not be offended. It was an evening I’ll never forget; the night I began re-thinking my thinking on Bigfoot.
Photo by David Wilson
“Shadow of Himslef.” The eerie shadow of the creature spread across one of Fernbridge’s giant supports. Fernbridge, Humboldt County, California. 1997.
It was before the turn of the century that we encountered him, on a night back in, oh, ’97, I think it was, when photography was about film and regular folks didn’t have digital cameras. Even then I was into night photography, though it was harder to do with film than it is today with digital equipment.
That night I felt my creative self pulling me to photograph beneath historic Fernbridge on the Eel River. I called my buddy and persuaded him to accompany me for a little photographic painting with light in the dark of the night. By “painting with light” I mean I would mount my camera on the tripod and compose a scene, then, with the shutter open for many seconds, I’d paint light with a flashlight to illuminate select areas in my composition. Only upon developing the film sometime later would I see whether I’d painted successfully.
For lighting this time, I placed a small tripod off to the left, maybe 15 or 20 yards away, and taped a couple of flashlights to it to illuminate part of the old bridge. I affixed a green filter to one light and a red filter to the other to produce a bold orange-yellow glow where they overlapped. With the flashlights set up, I walked back to my camera.
No sooner had I composed my photograph than great splashing sounds from the river alerted us to something large in the water out beyond the mounted lights. We strained in vain to see into the blackness but could discern nothing past the flashlights’ glare. Whatever it was, its giant size was beyond doubt, for not only was its splashing prodigious but it grunted and growled with fearsome intensity. It splashed and moaned so for perhaps a minute, then all was silence again.
Hearts pounding, half wanting to run and half frozen in place, we stared into the blackness. Finally its huge form took shape in the gloom. It stood in the dimness at the edge of the light circle, transfixed by the light, frozen as a statue. Its figure was far larger than a man, standing, I estimate, fully 8 feet tall. Sleek brown fur clung in its wetness to a muscular body that seemed of equal parts ape and man. The face was distinctly ape-like — except for the eyes, for looking out from the face of that giant creature I could not help but recognize the eyes of a human being.
Without acknowledging us in any way, it strode with the easy grace of a wild animal across the large river rocks and directly into the twin beams of red and green light. As it moved inside the two primary colors, it became a glistening silhouette rimmed with burning yellows and oranges, reds and greens as the colors mixed together with his motions and bounced off of its glistening hide. It paused there, facing into the lights. And then, very slowly, it raised its arms and face to stare in silence into the heavens. The creature stood thus for several moments.
I glanced at my friend and saw in his face the same incredulity I felt. Beyond him I noticed the fantastic shadow the creature was casting onto the bridge, lying perfectly within my camera’s composition. I clicked the shutter open. It was startlingly loud in the quiet of the night.
But the creature paid no attention.
It remained silent and motionless in the lights. For perhaps 10 or 15 seconds we held our breaths. Then the shutter closed suddenly with a loud click-zzhhht
. Instantly, the creature wheeled toward us, piercing our own stares with his human-like eyes. He bellowed once, a terrific blast of sound that might have been a word, though one I had never heard. Its earlier vocalizations had been distinctly animal-sounding but this sound was something human-like, an unknown word belted out as he cried, “Himslef!” Instantly the giant frame wheeled and, with a bound and a splash, he was gone.
I only came away with the one shot. It was enough for one night. And, yes, we could then see he was male.
File this under Myths and Tall Tales. An image will tell its own story when the author’s words aren’t present to describe it or warp a viewer’s perceptions around it. I’m afraid I might have supplied my own narrative here for this image, and I wonder, do you still have your own story for it, or does this one then become yours? Maybe your version tells where the creature went; I’d be interested to know.
Years ago I had this photograph hanging in a show. My title for it was “Shadow of Himself,” but someone kindly pointed out that the title I’d printed for it beneath the photograph read, “Shadow of Himslef.” Dang, I thought. But the word quickly grew on me, and since then I’ve thought of it as its title. Though it began as a typo, the new name also brought with it a new story for me, the one I’ve just shared.
To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, visit or contact him at his website mindscapefx.com or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx.