THE HSCA AND FRAUD IN THE BACKYARD RIFLE PHOTOS:

A CRITIQUE OF THE TESTIMONY OF TWO MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE ON ASSASSINATIONS' PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE PANEL

Michael T. Griffith

2012

@All Rights Reserved

Second Edition

In studying the HSCA testimony of photographic experts Cecil W. Kirk and Calvin S. McCamy on the backyard photos, I have found a number of problems with their defense of the disputed pictures. What follows is my analysis of some of their arguments and claims. Kirk and McCamy's testimony appears in the government publication Hearings Before the Committee on Assassinations of the House Of Representatives, volume 2, pp. 349-371 (commonly cited as 2 HSCA 349-371).

There are three backyard snapshots in evidence. Each picture shows the Oswald figure in a different pose. The photos are labeled 133-A, B, and C. In the spring of 1977, HSCA investigators discovered another backyard print, labeled 133-A, DeMohrenschildt (DeM). This photo is significant because it is markedly clearer than 133-A and was printed full negative (i.e., it was not cropped). Another superior-quality print of 133-A is known as 133-A, Stovall.

Frame Edge Markings and Scratch Marks

Kirk testified that 133-A, DeMohrenschildt, and the 133-B negative both contained frame edge markings unique to the Imperial Reflex (IR) camera that Marina Oswald supposedly used to make the pictures.

However, in his 1990 video, Fake: The Forged Photo that Framed Oswald, graphics expert Jack White discusses two methods by which a forger could have been produced the frame edge markings on the backyard photos. Mr. Brian Mee, a professional photographer and photographic lab technician, has outlined another method by which the frame edge markings could have been made.

Kirk testified that scratch marks unique to the IR camera were discovered on all the prints. It was found that when film was moved over the film plane of the IR camera, the plane made two scratches in the film that were unique to that camera. Repeated tests showed that the scratches occurred in the same location on the film each and every time. However, this does not prove that the backyard photos are genuine, since the scratch marks, like the frame edge markings, could have been duplicated. In moving the film over the film plane in either of the three processes referred to above for recreating the edge markings, the film naturally would have received the two scratch marks as well.

The DeMohrenschildt Photo and CE 133-A

Kirk and McCamy, like their colleagues on the photographic panel, assumed that the DeM photo was a copy of 133-A negative. But the DeM photo shows more background than 133-A, and it is considerably clearer than 133-A. Therefore, how could both photos have been produced from the same negative? It is likely that the DeM photo was not taken with the cheap, inferior IR camera, but with an expensive, high-quality camera.

Why Wasn't the DeM Photo Cropped?

Kirk testified that 133-A, B, and C, were all cropped. When asked why they were cropped, Kirk replied that this was done for aesthetic purposes. He stated this a number of times, accurately observing that people preferred to have their pictures processed in this manner. Fair enough. But then why wasn't the DeM photo also cropped? Where was it developed?

Lines in the Chin Area

McCamy admitted that a line running across the chin was found on 133-A, as well as on 133-A, DeMohrenschildt, and on 133-A, Stovall. This line is shown in Jack White's video Fake. It is a nearly straight line for most of its length. It begins on one side of the neck, crosses the chin, and ends on the other side of the neck.

McCamy declared, without any qualification, that this line was caused by a water spot. However, Mr. Mee and other professional photographers with whom I consulted told me it would be unusual for the edge of a water spot to form a nearly straight line. Mr. Mee noted other problems with McCamy's explanation of the tell-tale line.

Duplicating the Nose Shadow?

McCamy displayed a photograph, labeled JFK F-271, of a model that was supposed to demonstrate "just how it can happen that the head can be tilted and the shadow tilt with it." McCamy was trying to explain the fact that in the backyard photos, the shadow under Oswald's nose remains the same even though the head is tilted at different angles.

But as McCamy explained how the reenactment exhibit was produced, it became apparent, even to the obliging Select Committee, that the angle and tilting for F-271 were based on a highly improbable set of assumptions. In fact, when Congressman Fithian pointed this out, McCamy admitted that "there would be a number of assumptions necessary . . . to interpret the Oswald photograph from this demonstration of this effect." McCamy then said that this was not the way the interpretation was done, and that the interpretation was done "by a vanishing point analysis."

In other words, McCamy, in the most discreet manner possible, admitted that his alleged duplication of the variant shadow under Oswald's nose was done with a model that was tilted and angled on the basis of highly improbable assumptions. Moreover, Mr. Mee stated that a vanishing point analysis could not explain any of the conflicting shadows in the backyard pictures, and that such an analysis was no substitute for a direct study of the shadow angles themselves.

But this is not all. In the reenactment cited by McCamy, when the model's head was tilted and rotated, the subject was "no longer looking at the camera" (emphasis added). With the head in this irrelevant position, the only way the reenactment technicians could get the shadow to fall straight down in F-271 was to cause an "ever so slight" shift in the camera's position to "bring the image back to looking about, as it did at first."

In short, in order to allegedly duplicate the variant nose shadow, not only was the model's head tilted and rotated at the same time to precise points, which made it so that the subject was no longer looking at the camera, but the camera itself was then shifted just to reacquire a frontal view of the face. Even Congressman Fithian noted that "the probability would be that those three things . . . would not come together at the same place, at the same time." It was at this point that McCamy conceded that "a number of assumptions" would be necessary to "interpret the Oswald photograph" from the demonstration depicted in F-271.

There are even more pronounced problems with McCamy's alleged recreation of Oswald's variant nose shadow. For one thing, and this is a very important point, the lighting used for F-271 was above and directly in front of the model. Yet, the backyard photos were supposedly taken between 4:00 and 4:30 in the afternoon, according to McCamy and the other members of the photographic evidence panel.

Furthermore, if one reads McCamy's testimony carefully, it will be seen that the reenactment he cited actually confirmed the impossibility of the shadow tilting with the head. Here is what McCamy said:

Here [in the first reenactment photo] we see the head vertical with the overhead lighting casting a shadow of the nose directly toward the center of the lips. Here [in the next reenactment photo] the head has been tilted. . . . once it is tilted, the sun casts the shadow slightly to the right.

This is exactly what we would see in the backyard photos if they were genuine. When Oswald's head is tilted slightly to his left, as it is in 133-B, the shadow of his nose should no longer fall straight down over his lips, but this is not the case.

As for the position of the lighting in the reenactment cited by McCamy, the light source was overhead and had to be directly in front of the model in order to cause the shadow of the nose to fall "directly toward the center of the lips." However, as mentioned, according to Kirk and McCamy, the backyard photos were taken between 4:00 and 4:30 in the afternoon, causing the body shadows in 133-A and C to fall in a ten o'clock position. I repeat this discrepancy because it is a key contradiction in McCamy's arguments. He appealed to a reenactment in which the light source was in a different position than where he himself insisted the sun was in the backyard photos.

Explaining the Conflicting Chins

Now we come to the crucial issue of the chin seen in the backyard photos. As is well known, Oswald had a sharply pointed, cleft chin. This can be seen in any of the undisputed pictures of him (see, for example, Robert Groden, The Killing of a President, pp. 102, 107, 108, 130, 141, 165, 171; hereafter cited as TKOAP; see also the preceding linked text and Framing of the Patsy). But the chin of the figure in the backyard photos has a square, flat chin. (I might add that in the TKOAP pictures, Oswald's chin is pointed and cleft even when his mouth is in varying positions.)

Mr. McCamy claimed that in some photos of Oswald in his younger years, his chin was "more rounded and didn't seem to show this cleft as much." First of all, the appearance of Oswald's chin as a youth is irrelevant, since the backyard photos supposedly show him as an adult. Putting that fact aside, and just for the record, however, I dispute McCamy's assertion. I would direct the reader's attention to pp. 188 and 190 of British scholar Matthew Smith's book JFK: The Second Plot. Page 188 shows a picture of Oswald in the Civil Air Patrol, i.e., when he was about 15 years old. In this photo his chin is just as pointed and cleft as it is in later pictures of him. (This same snapshot can be seen on page 130 of TKOAP, although it is much larger in Smith's book.) Page 190 of Smith's book shows a picture of Oswald when he was in school, either junior high or high school. Here, too, his chin is clearly pointed and cleft.

The pictures McCamy displayed of the younger Oswald which supposedly showed a more rounded chin with less cleft were so unconvincing that Congressman Fithian said, "I did not visually at least identify any other chin that was even approximately as square as the one in the backyard photograph—from all of the pictures that you put up."

Mr. McCamy's only remaining argument was that the point of the chin in the backyard photos allegedly disappeared in the shadow of the chin. "It just disappears in the shadow," he said. McCamy's "best evidence" to support this claim was a police photograph of Oswald showing a profile view, i.e., a picture that was taken of him from the side. McCamy admitted, grudgingly and obliquely, that none of the frontal shots of Oswald's head supported his theory. But, said McCamy, in the police profile shot,

. . . there is apparently a rather wide, broad, flat area here. If this were illuminated from above, you can see that the shadow might very well be cast, even as high as this. It could be cast fairly high. If it were, then the apparent point that one sees in his earlier photographs would not show up. (emphasis added)

Putting aside the speculative nature of this claim, what did McCamy mean by "his earlier photographs"? Was he referring to the pictures of Oswald in his younger years? This seems to be the case. If so, what relevance do these photos have given the fact that the backyard snapshots supposedly show Oswald as an adult?

Frankly, I find it hard to take McCamy's waffling and theorizing seriously. Instead of credibly dealing with the numerous photos which show Oswald with a pointed, cleft chin, McCamy appealed to a lone profile picture and then offered an unlikely theory based on speculative assumptions. The plain, undeniable fact of the matter is that in every frontal picture of Oswald's face, his chin is clearly pointed and cleft.

Further confusing matters, McCamy cited the eye shadows to support his vanishing-chin-point theory. He said,

The eyes, for example, hardly show up on the backyard photographs because of this overhead illumination. But the eye shadows in the backyard photos surely were caused by sun light at around noon because they fall straight down into the eye sockets.

I think McCamy realized this difficulty, for he continued as follows:

Of course, the nose shadow is produced by that [i.e., the overhead illumination that caused the eye shadows], but the chin form is not delineated well on that picture at all because there is little or no light coming from the front.

First of all, McCamy certainly had not proven that there was "little or no light coming from the front" in terms of the light hitting the face. There was plenty of light striking the face from the front, which is why the nose and eye shadows are readily visible and fall straight down in a twelve o'clock position. Second, the statement that "the chin form is not delineated well" was merely McCamy's opinion. McCamy had no choice but to deny that the chin form was fully visible in the backyard photos, otherwise he would have had to admit that the chin in those pictures was not Oswald's.

It seems to me that the chin form is definitely visible in the DeM photo, and it is still square and flat, as it is in the other backyard pictures. Furthermore, in a reenactment photograph shown in Jack White's video Fake, the chin form of the man is also visible. The man is standing in Oswald's backyard; he is striking a pose almost identical to that of the figure in the backyard snapshots; and the sun is at about a four o'clock position in relation to his body, thus causing the body shadows to fall at a ten o'clock slant, as in 133-A. Yet, the man's chin form is visible.

Mr. Mee disputed McCamy's assertion that the chin form disappeared in shadow, pointing out that the sun was not in the necessary position to cause this alleged effect.

Variant Shadows: A Valid Criterion After All?

After going to great--and I would say convoluted--lengths to dismiss the variant shadows in the backyard photos as evidence of fakery, McCamy explained how he spotted fakery in a picture that a fellow panel member had sent him:

He [the fellow panel member] spent 40 hours with an assistant preparing a fake photograph of a man standing in a backyard. When he presented the photograph, he mailed it to me, I pulled it out of the envelope, and as I pulled it out of the envelope I said it is a fake. I was rather surprised that it was that easy. As it turned out, what he had done was to make a photograph, a 6-foot photograph of a 6-foot man, and this was placed in the backyard, and it was photographed.

But there was a thing that caught my eye instantly; that is, that there were shadows that were cast by parts of a dark suit. There were shadows that were cast by parts of a railing immediately behind the man. When the suit was in full sunlight, it exactly matched the railing. But the shadows on the suit didn't match the shadows on the railing.

I find it rather odd that this was the same man who had just denied that the variant shadows in the backyard pictures were evidence of fakery. McCamy declared the panel member's photo fake because the shadows on the suit didn't match the shadows on the railing. Yet, he ignored similar, if not more serious, shadow conflicts in the backyard photos.

Conflicting Shadows

In the backyard photos, the nose and eye shadows fall straight down. In fact, the nose shadow forms a nearly perfect V-shape as it falls straight down. The position of the nose and eye shadows indicates that the sun was directly above and slightly in front of the head. In other words, the nose and eye shadows were caused by the sun at around noon time. Yet, the body shadows in 133-A and C fall at a ten o'clock angle, indicating that the body in these pictures was photographed much later in the day, at around 4:00 or 4:30.

Furthermore, the nose shadow remains the same in all the snapshots, even though the head is tilted in different directions. This is a photographic impossibility. Additionally, since the nose and eye shadows fall straight down and hence indicate a sun directly above, both sides of the neck should be in the same amount of shadow. However, although the right side of neck is almost totally in shadow, only about half of the left side of the neck is in shadow.

McCamy's answer to all these problems was the photographic panel's vanishing point analysis. It should be understood that the panel never actually explained how the nose and eye shadows could fall in a different direction than the body shadows. Nor did the panel explain how the nose shadow could have remained the same even when the head was tilted at different angles. Instead, McCamy and his colleagues appealed to a vanishing point analysis which they said proved that all the shadows in the backyard snapshots were true shadows.

As mentioned, Mr. Mee disputed this assertion, and said that a vanishing point analysis was no substitute for a direct study of the shadow angles themselves.

I spoke with several other professional photographers about this issue. I asked them about a hypothetical picture showing a doll outdoors in a yard. I told them the doll's nose and eye shadows fell straight down but that the body shadow fell off to the right at around a ten o'clock angle. I then asked them if a vanishing point analysis could explain these conflicting shadow angles. Each of them replied that the described shadows would be impossible without two different light sources, and not one of them took the position that a vanishing point analysis could explain the variant shadows.

Unanswered Questions

In my mind, Kirk and McCamy left a number of questions unanswered. Here are some of them:

* Why are the body shadows in 133-A and C at a ten o'clock position, while the body shadows in 133-B are closer to a twelve o'clock position, when these photos were supposedly taken within seconds of each other?

* In the panel's own photogrammetical analysis of the distances between objects in the backgrounds of the photos, only "very small" variations were found. How could this be if the pictures were taken the way Marina said they were taken? What are the chances that the camera would have remained in almost the exact same position, to within a tiny fraction of an inch for each snapshot, given the manner in which these photos were reportedly made? (Mr. Mee said the variations in the background distances should have been much larger since the pictures were taken with a handheld camera after the camera had been handed back and forth to advance the film. Mr. Mee, in agreement with Jack White, observed that the minute differences between background objects could easily have been produced by a technique know as "keystoning.")

* Why was the shirt shown on the figure in the backyard photos never found among Oswald's possessions?

* How could the photos be three different pictures when various shadows and patches of light in the background remain in the same position and/or retain the same form?

* Is it true, as Jack White asserts, that there are no printed edge markings of roll film on the DeMohrenschildt photo and on the 133-B negative? The absence of roll-film edge markings would indicate these pictures were taken with sheet film, but the IR camera could not use sheet film.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.  He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.  He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.  He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.  He is also the author of a book on the JFK assassination titled Compelling Evidence (JFK Lancer, 1996).