Is the Famous Photo of Lee Harvey Oswald Posing with the Gun Used to Kill JFK a Fake?: 3D Forensic Analysis Reveals the Answer

As long as the 20th cen­tu­ry remains in liv­ing mem­o­ry, the assas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy will con­tin­ue to draw pub­lic inter­est. A great many Amer­i­cans feel they still haven’t heard the “whole sto­ry” behind what hap­pened on Novem­ber 22, 1963; a few have ded­i­cat­ed their lives to find­ing out, grow­ing less inclined to accept the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a lone gun­man the deep­er they get into the doc­u­ments. But that gun­man, Lee Har­vey Oswald, does fig­ure direct­ly into some of the mate­r­i­al held up as evi­dence of a con­spir­a­cy. Take the “back­yard pho­tos” that depict him pos­ing with what was ulti­mate­ly found to be the very gun used to kill JFK.

Such images would seem strong­ly to impli­cate Oswald in the assas­si­na­tion, and the War­ren Com­mis­sion seems to have regard­ed them in just that way. But for near­ly six decades now, some the­o­rists have argued that the back­yard pho­tos are fake — an idea that began with Oswald him­self, who before his own assas­si­na­tion insist­ed that he’d nev­er seen them in his life, and that some­one had “super­im­posed” his face onto anoth­er body.

The Vox video above lays out the main ele­ments of one par­tic­u­lar pic­ture that have been called repeat­ed­ly into ques­tion: the angles of the shad­ows, the shape of Oswald’s chin, the length of the gun, and Oswald’s unusu­al pos­ture.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, foren­sic experts tried just about every­thing to test the authen­tic­i­ty of this pho­to,” says the video’s nar­ra­tor. They could­n’t find any evi­dence of fak­ery, but they did­n’t have the 21st-cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy at the com­mand of the UC Berke­ley School of Infor­ma­tion’s Hany Farid, a well-known spe­cial­ist in the analy­sis of dig­i­tal images. Farid and a team of researchers recon­struct­ed Oswald’s body and weapon­ry (though not the copies of The Mil­i­tant and The Work­er, two ide­o­log­i­cal­ly opposed news­pa­pers, he bran­dished in his oth­er hand) and found that every­thing added up, from the seem­ing­ly mis­aligned shad­ows cast by the sun to the sta­bil­i­ty of his odd stance. If there was indeed a con­spir­a­cy to kill JFK, then, it was­n’t a con­spir­a­cy of pro­to-Pho­to­shop­pers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

2,800 JFK Assas­si­na­tion Doc­u­ments Just Released by the Nation­al Archives

Novem­ber 22, 1963: Watch Errol Mor­ris’ Short Doc­u­men­tary About the Kennedy Assas­si­na­tion

The Exis­ten­tial­ism Files: How the FBI Tar­get­ed Camus, and Then Sartre After the JFK Assas­si­na­tion

Noam Chom­sky on Com­mem­o­rat­ing the JFK Assas­si­na­tion: It “Would Impress Kim Il-Sung”

Long Before Pho­to­shop, the Sovi­ets Mas­tered the Art of Eras­ing Peo­ple from Pho­tographs — and His­to­ry Too

Why the Sovi­ets Doc­tored Their Most Icon­ic World War II Vic­to­ry Pho­to, “Rais­ing a Flag Over the Reich­stag”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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