The Photo

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The Photo was a clue and puzzle in two parts used in the first puzzles in May 2007. Three days after the first forum members "arrived" at the official forums, A Friend sent e-mails to the currently registered members asking for help to solve a puzzle involving an old photograph.

Front

The front of the photo

The front of the photo was obtained via an e-mail from A friend. It was sent to all registered official forum members as of May 12, 2007 at around midnight. It read:

from: A friend <the.hidden.places@gmail.com>

date: Sat, May 12, 2007 at 1:30 AM

subject: A friend needs your help

I said I would call on you again. I had no idea it would be so soon.

A trusted friend has sent me a scan of an old photograph thought lost that may hold clues to the true nature of the conspiracy. I need your help to decipher the clues and find its source.

You were the ones, the chosen ones, who discovered the truth behind the numbers. You are needed once more.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thehiddenplaces/493782881/

Your friend,

HS
A friend, no source

The flickr page showed the front of the photo and an accompanying text:

A.B. sent it to me. I don't yet know why - she refuses to say. What significance does it hold? I must gather the following information: When was it taken. Where - exactly - and by whom. Who is the man standing near the camera? And how will this information relate to the approaching darkness? (Quickly now...they are trying to make this all go away. I will have to move the photograph again soon.)
A friend, source

It asked mainly for the exact date and time the photograph was taken, exactly where it was taken, who took the photograph and who his most trusted friend was. It features four humans, dressed in heavy winter clothes, standing in front of a big adorned stone gate. The location seems to be in a snow-covered valley. The image and text were soon after removed.

Characteristics

Pentagram

Scribbled at the top of the photo is a part of a pentagram. Around the pentagram, there are five Latin words scribbled: "ergo", "Dominus", "Deus" "soporem", and "Adam." When combined in a sentence it refers to Genesis 2:21 in the Old Testament. Translation of the verse:

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
KJV, Genesis 2:21

Chinese glyphs

In the bottom left and right there are two Chinese glyphs. These give the Chinese year of the metal rooster, 1921.

Clock

A little right and down from the center, there is a circle with two lines in it. It is an analog clock with the minute-hand pointing at 12 and the hour-hand pointing at 8. It appears to give 8:00 in the 12-hour format. The community discerned that it could be read as actually pointing to numbers on the clock rather than a specific time, and read it as 8:12, which would turn out to be correct.

While this may just point to the time the picture was taken, it can also be read as a clue. One of the words associated with Amundsen is "Wagtail". "Wagtail" is also the name of a dance bees preform to communicate directions to each other and it takes the form of a figure 8 [1]. Thus the clock pointing to 8 could be a Wagtail reference, and it is possible that it was intended as a clue to who took the picture since Wagtail was Amundsen's nickname for Nicolas Belmont.

Image metadata

In the comments field in the JPEG header of the image, there was text that read:

From the journal of Nicolas Belmont:

"We descended into the valley, ten years after A. first found the gate. After taking the photograph, I followed, the last man through that terrifying stone door."

"I remember turning, seeing a dazzling blue sky, a brilliant white sun, and then...descending into that primeval, eldritch darkness. Led by Tibetan Sherpas, our journey into the mountain felt eternal - hours turning into days, ever downwards, madness lurking at the edge of our thoughts - until finally we--"
Nicolas Belmont, no source

Solution

When was the picture taken?
Dec 21, 1921 (Based on the Chinese year of the Metal Rooster and reading the bible quote number as 12:21)
What time was it taken?
20:12 (Gathered from the clock on the image)
Where was the picture taken?
Antarctica 86 15 24S 153 42 40E (Determined from the coordinates found in the puzzle involving the Sanskrit glyphs in Dark Days Are Coming puzzle, since the South Pole was the only one of the locations that could have the dazzling blue skies and white sun at 20:00 in December, as described by Nicolas Belmont in his journal)
Who took the picture?
Nicolas Belmont. (Given in the image metadata)
Who is the man near the camera?
Amundsen (Based on the phrase from the earlier ARG, "Amundsen found it under the ice")
Who was the most trusted friend/the best friend?
Roald Amundsen

Back

The back of the photo

The back of the photo was obtained by solving the puzzle regarding the front. By combining the answers to the puzzles to a numerical string and adding it to the URL of www.darkdaysarecoming.com produced www.darkdaysarecoming.com/1921122120128615241534240, a login page titled "Welcome back, Aveline" asking for a username and password was shown. The username was: Belmont and password: Amundsen. The back-side of the photograph was revealed.

It features a French hand-written letter in the style of a letter to an unnamed person. It is smudged and drops of some dried liquid substance are apparent. It is signed by Nicolas in Paris, 1924.

The contents were typed down by a community member and read: (spelling errors in parentheses)

Mon cher amour,


Au moment même où je vous écris ces mots,
nos ennemis gagnent du terrain. Je ne les
laisserai pas me prendre.

Les secrets que je garde ne doivent
pas, ne devront pas, tomber entre leurs mains.
J'ai essayé d'empêcher ces terribles événements
d'avoir lieu, mais j'ai bien peur d'avoir échoué.
Mon amour, je ne vous reverrez (reverrai) plus, mais vous portez
en vous mon héritage. Mettez vous à l'abris (abri). Allez à
l'Ouest, au Nouveau Monde et cherchez y nos amis.
Ils vous aideront tous les deux.

Mais prennez (prenez) garde,
Nous (nous) sommes face au plus grand de tous les mystères.
Une conspiration plus anciène (ancienne) que cet âge, que
tous les âges.

Ils se rêveillent (réveillent).
Ca a commencé.

Eternellement vôtre,

Nicolas,

Paris, 1924
Nicolas Belmont, source

Which roughly translates to:

At the moment I'm writing these words, our enemies are closing in. I'll not let them take me.

The secrets I keep must not, ought not, fall into their hands. I tried to stop those terrible events to happen but I fear I failed.

My love, I won't see you ever again, but you carry my heritage with you. Find a shelter. Go West to the New World and find our friends there. They'll help you both.

But take care, we face the biggest of all mysteries. A conspiracy older than this age, than all ages.

They are awaking. It begins.

Faithfully yours,

Nicolas,

Paris, 1924
Nicolas Belmont, source
Alternate Reality Games
Dark Days Are Coming - The Photo - They Are Coming Back - Code Name: Wagtail - Two Lines Twine - Inside the Box - At the Door - Something in the Static - The Dark Places (disambiguation) - The Fool's Journey - Gather the Pieces - Council of Venice Systems Malfunction - The Fool's Journey, Act 2 - A New Mission Begins