Guests who’ve stayed in room 309 of a hotel that was once a medieval convent in Umbria, Italy, will tell you the place is haunted. They report all manner of frightful things—unexplained illness, sudden panic attacks, the sound of scratching and knocking within the walls. The owners turned to ghost hunters for help, and allowed photographer Mirko Viglino to join them in their search for the paranormal.

It was the first of 15 ghost hunts Viglino chronicled for his series EMF, named for the electromagnetic fields believers claim offer evidence of the undead. The adventure took Viglino from spooky villas to abandoned factories to musty crypts that would terrify most people. It’s a rare glimpse into a world inhabited by people who truly believe this stuff exists, even if most people do not. “I love to explore through photography all the inexplicable things I’m curious about, and even more so the things that scare me,” Viglino says. “Holding a camera pushes me to understand what I’m looking at.”

Inspiration for the project struck in February, 2012, as Viglino watched a TV show about ghost hunting. Skeptical yet intrigued, he wanted to know how such a thing works. A quick Google search identified a plethora of ghost hunters in Italy. One of them is called Hunterbrothers. He gave them a call, and they invited him to join them at the hotel. “It was like, ‘Cool mate, we’re going for a haunt this weekend, would you join us?’” Viglino says. “I was in.”

The hunt offered a look at how people like the Hunterbrothers use their equipment to find “anomalies in the electromagnetic spectrum.” Given the size of the hotel, the nonprofit Paranormal Phenomena Research Group sought help from the Hunterbrothers and the Paranormal Activity Research Investigation. Each group is comprised of ordinary people—businessmen, police officers, and the like—who wonder what lies beyond. “The question that’s the basis of ghost hunting is, ‘Is there something after death? Can we prove it?’” Viglino says.

Their investigation began around 10 pm, as ghost hunts usually do. The researchers interviewed the hoteliers—who did not want their establishment identified, for fear of scaring people off—and employees to determine exactly where the otherworldly activity occurred. They also consulted building blueprints to check for any hidden rooms or other unusual features. That done, they set up video cameras with a laser grid scope to record any movement and electronic voice phenomena recorders so they might hear spirit voices and other paranormal sounds.

Researchers use electromagnetic meters to check for interferences, which supposedly could suggest the presence of an invisible being. Researchers use electromagnetic meters to check for interferences, which supposedly could suggest the presence of an invisible being.
Mirko Viglino

Then they all gathered in room 309. It was nearly pitch black. The ghost hunters asked if anyone in the room would like to speak, or communicate in some way. Everyone listened intently, periodically checking a Gauss meter for “variations in the electromagnetic field.” They were at it until 5 am.

Viglino watched it all unfold through the viewfinder of his Nikon D800E. He didn’t use flash, but instead used a high ISO, a slow shutter, and minimal depth of field. The method perfectly captured the unnerving, spine-tingling spirit of the hunt.

After leaving the hotel, the team spent hours analyzing video footage for anything unusual, like an unexplained shadow or an object moving of its own accord. They also analyzed the electronic voice phenomena recordings with programs like Adobe Audition to check for unearthly noises. They found nothing at all out of the ordinary.

Things don’t always turn out that way. Viglino has joined 14 other hunts, one at a country villa about an hour south of Rome. The owner believed it was haunted by a woman. At night he claimed to feel intense pressure on his chest, as if someone was pushing on it. And his mother said various items in the house would mysteriously change position. A ghost hunter identified some eerie sounds on an electronic voice phenomena recording, but it was Viglino’s photo that was the most intriguing.

The image—photo No. 4 in the slideshow above—shows a ghosthunter named Alessia, her face illuminated from below and reflected in the glass of a painting hanging next to her. What looks like the face of another person is reflected in the glass of a painting to the left of that, and no one knows who it is. “Once I developed the RAW file I noticed this face,” Viglino says. “There were other people in the room, but nobody in the right position to be reflected in that painting.”

The owner called a medium in an effort to contact whomever it was reflected in the glass, but nothing Viglino experienced makes him believe ghosts are real. Instead he thinks the spooky things hunters interpret as supernatural phenomena can be explained by science. “I’ve found that I want to believe, but actually I don’t,” he says.

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