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.
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.