A digital forensics expert has concluded that the iconic image of Lee Harvey Oswald holding a rifle in one hand and Marxist newspapers in the other was not, as Oswald claimed, a fake.
Dartmouth computer scientist Hany Farid has analyzed the photo with modern-day forensic tools, and says it is almost certainly genuine.
“If we had found evidence of photo tampering, then it would have suggested a broader plot to kill JFK,” said Farid, who is also the director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth. “Those who believe that there was a broader conspiracy can no longer point to this photo as possible evidence.”
Farid added that federal officials long ago said that this image had not been tampered with, but a surprising number of skeptics still assert that there was a conspiracy.
The tools and research used by Farid and his team are often used by law enforcement officials and in legal proceedings. The tools can measure statistical inconsistencies in the underlying image pixels, improbable lighting and shadow, physically impossible perspective distortion, and other artifacts introduced by photo manipulators.
The play of light and shadow was fundamental in the Oswald photo analysis.
At a casual glance, the lighting and shadows in the Oswald photo appear to many to be incongruous with the outdoor lighting. To determine if this was the case, Farid constructed a 3-D model of Oswald’s head and portions of the backyard scene, from which he was able to determine that a single light source, the sun, could explain all of the shadows in the photo.
“The human brain, while remarkable in many aspects, also has its weaknesses,” says Farid. “The visual system can be quite inept at making judgments regarding 3-D geometry, lighting, and shadows.”
“It is highly improbable that anyone could have created such a perfect forgery with the technology available in 1963,” said Farid.
The study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Perception.