Iconic Photos

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Oswald Backyard Photos

with 31 comments

Never before or since had a series of photograph been this throughly analyzed. From the day they were discovered as the police raided Lee Harvey Oswald’s home, the photos of Oswald posing with a rifle and two communist newspapers were subjected to intense scrutiny and subsequently provided enough fodder for conspiracy theorists.

The photos, taken by Oswald’s wife Marina in the spring of 1963, were highly important because the rifle Oswald was holding appeared to be the one used to assassinate President Kennedy. It was made public in late February 1964, when it appeared on the covers of many publications, but the most notably, on the cover of Life magazine. To enhance the image’s quality, the photo had been retouched in several areas — a common practice in the magazine world. Many readers noticed some details of photo differed from publication to publication, and a controversy arose.

In particular, the readers noted that on the cover of Life (top) Oswald’s rifle had a sniper scope, but on the cover of the Detroit Free Press and Newsweek, there was no sniper scope. It later transpired that a copy editor accidentally erased the scope while altering the image’s contrast, but it was too late. On seeing the photo from inside the jail, Oswald insisted he had never seen it before and that someone had superimposed his head onto another body. Skeptics — including those geniuses behind the movie J.F.K. — pointed at the strange line across Oswald’s chin suggesting the head may have been pasted into the photo (This line was later determined to be a water spot).

To reassure the restless public, the C.B.S. asked a professional photographer to reproduce the photos as part of an ambitious four-part CBS documentary called “The Warren Report”. The photographer, Lawrence Schiller recreated the picture at the same address, 214 Neeley Street, on the same date and time in March, using a model, and discovered that a straight nose shadow corresponded with an angular body shadow, just as in the disputed picture. Unsatisfied, the House Select Committee on Assassination commissioned a further panel of photographic experts to study the photo. After a meticulous examination that involved microscopic analysis and photogrammetric comparison of Oswald’s face to other photos of him, the experts answered twenty-two points raised by skeptics, and concluded the photos were genuine.

This drawn-out analysis subjected onto the contents of the photo eclipsed other more important questions: Why was the photo taken? How many versions or copies were made? To whom were they sent and why? What is the meaning behind mysterious and foreboding phrases in various languages scrawled on the backs of some photos?  Answers to these remain inscrutable, but they don’t suggest a vast underlying conspiracy. Yet the speculations that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on the orders of the CIA, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson, the Kremlin, the FBI or the military industrial complex will simply not go away. Tall tales are part of the catharsis process by which many deal with traumatic life events, and the conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination center on the public’s inability to grasp that even the most powerful man on earth could be simply gunned down by a lone gunman.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 16, 2010 at 4:54 am

31 Responses

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  1. “… to grasp that even the most powerful man on earth could be simply gunned down by a lone gunman.”

    I like this blog very much but this sentence just stunned me: shall we still believe the fairy tale of the lonely gunman that manages to shoot the President with a single rifle?

    Shall we still be given the crap of a lonely bullet that hits a whole bunch of people and objects in the presidential car while eventually coming out and hitting a bystander?

    My point is … the whole event is so complex and controversial that cannot be dismissed with a simple sentence like that above.

    Apart from this, your blog just rocks, keep on posting Iconic Photos! =)

    Sincerely, Andrea

    Milan – Italy


    November 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

    • It’s strange that the author points out the fallacy and then you dismiss it and immediately engage in it. My favorite name for this delusion is “The Great Man Theory of History.”

      It’s what human beings do. Our history (and our common myths and religions) are filled with larger than life characters doing grand epic, things. Even stories about ancient battles focus on the speeches, tactics and bravery of individual generals. And while Julius Caesar was impressive, most of his battles were won by a bunch of nobodies from Tuscany stabbing Gauls in the ribs with their short steel swords. But that’s too tedious, and we relate more to romantic individuals.

      You don’t WANT to believe that the most powerful man in the world was mercilessly (and easily) killed by some bipolar communist loser. But he was.

      It’s painful. It’s frightening. And worst of all, it’s just so damned VULGAR. But it did happen. History doesn’t require grand figures, or movements, or narratives to turn drastically. Sometimes shit happens. Get over it.


      November 17, 2010 at 8:31 pm

      • Nathan,
        what you say is far from certain.

        What I expect is to hear “It’s not certain. We do not know how this event happened.”

        In the blog post as well as in your reply I heard and hear certainties: he was shot but a single man.

        I beg to differ, dear sirs: there’s nothing certain here.

        That’s really what not only you but we all have to get over it. But I won’t, I’ll always be open to considering new hypothesis and evidence on this event since we have to dig and dig deep.


        Milan – Italy


        November 20, 2010 at 1:57 am

  2. It wasn’t him. It was Mason, a US black ops soldier who was brainwashed by the Soviets to become a sleeper agent. Memo to self: Stop playing Call of Duty: Black Ops.

    Matthew Rodriguez

    November 16, 2010 at 6:12 pm

  3. +1, Andrea.

    Sad to say, the “lone nut” hypothesis–and that’s all it is, a hypothesis–simply falls to pieces the moment you examine it. The ballistics don’t work; the forensics don’t work. Even the view of Oswald as an antisocial nut isn’t supported by what we now know about his activities, thanks to the flood of government documents released since 1995.

    I was born in 1969; who killed JFK and why impacts my life in only the most tangential way–but I do love history, and want to see it respected. One man acting alone is simply not the most likely conclusion to be drawn based on what we know, and the more evidence that becomes available, the less likely it becomes.

    But of course a lone gunman is the most comforting conclusion; it is the conclusion that does not raise any troubling questions about our government and media, then or now. And so it is no wonder that the government and media blast it out so relentlessly. The motivations of individual citizens can be speculated upon, and you do that con brio; but the self-protective instincts of powerful institutions is not a matter for speculation–it is a fact. Reading history is about weighing opinions, and your scale is off. In this case, you’re assigning too much weight to institutional opinion, because the institutions haven’t shown themselves to be very assiduous or trustworthy. In this case.

    We will likely never know the precise details, for one simple reason: the government bodies tasked to investigate the President’s murder did not act in good faith. Instead they began with one acceptable conclusion, and fashioned the evidence to fit. Once again, government documents show this. It is not mysterious, it is factual.

    It has fallen to individual citizens to do the job our government and media refused to do. This is not optimal, but to dismiss citizen interest in the case as hero-worship or mass hysteria or some peculiar form of immaturity is not only illogical (where are all the McKinley conspiracists?) but also more than a little unpatriotic–not to mention antithetical to the study of history itself.

    If you study history, you might find out things you don’t like. That’s part of the deal, and if that’s too much for you in the case of JFK’s assassination, don’t speak about it.

    Michael Gerber

    November 16, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    • “Sad to say, the “lone nut” hypothesis–and that’s all it is, a hypothesis–simply falls to pieces the moment you examine it. The ballistics don’t work; the forensics don’t work”.

      It really depends on the experts you ask. Reclaiming History is a minutely detailed 1,648 pages +footnotes book that concludes that Oswald acted alone. I suspect there are just as many pro conspiracy than agains supporters, each reading the evidence in a different way. To you it’s obvious the evidence points one way, to many other not so much.

      I don’t think you can either deny or prove a conspiracy in this case, frankly. Too much of the evidence was corrupted from the get go by incompetence and the sheer freakishness of the event.

      I’m on the side that thinks that widespread conspiracies of this size do not stay hidden for almost 5 decades. I also think that it’s a bit far fetched to think Johnson had anything to do with it; read the Robert Caro books, he was a ruthless politician, but not enough to get him to murder somebody.

      P. Lopez

      November 17, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    • “But of course a lone gunman is the most comforting conclusion.”

      A lone, DEAD gunman, Game over, Shirts won. Back to work. Nothing to see here.


      November 18, 2010 at 5:01 pm

  4. If you look at all three images carefully, you’ll notice that Oswald’s face is exactly the same, even though the body is posed differently and each photo was taken from a different perspective. I don’t know how this is possible, unless the same face was used for each image.


    November 16, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    • “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.”


      P. Lopez

      November 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm

      • Yeah, I know about this guy’s “study.” Psycho-babble nonsense, to put it kindly. If you photograph people for a living, you would know how almost impossible it is to achieve the same type of facial matches which appears in the three photographs–even with tools such as Photoshop.


        December 3, 2010 at 1:16 am

  5. Oswald clearly has a Hitler moustache in the photos. Has anyone investigated the obvious Nazi connection? Is it too late to write a book on this and make millions?

    Richard Ball

    November 18, 2010 at 1:26 am

  6. actually, if you look at the shadows- the pics were taken from very similar perspectives, suggesting the photographer perhaps took a step or two backwards or forward depending on the shot. The light and shadows also suggest the photos were taken within a short period of time.

    A disturbed man shot a president. It is time to get over it. No conspiracies just a lone whacko. It happens.


    November 19, 2010 at 12:59 am

  7. The left just cannot accept that a communist murdered an anti-communist for ideological reasons that really aren’t hard to understand, at all. While one can always propose a situation that can’t be disproved, it has been conclusively proven that Oswald could have easily done this alone and in all probably did. Anything else is UFO lore.


    November 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm

  8. oops.


    November 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm

  9. probability.


    November 19, 2010 at 4:41 pm

  10. I’m not saying there wasn’t a conspiracy, but what was the motive? Certainly, LBJ was no more or less a cold warrior than JFK, so who would benefit?

    Unless, perhaps Castro might have wanted to get JFK back, but he’s been around so long that I would think that Castro was more real politic than wanting mere revenge.


    November 21, 2010 at 6:05 pm

  11. The motive was to get Lyndon to initiate a first stike against the Soviet union. The joint chiefs had calculated that unless they started the – in their view – inevitable nuclear war before the spring of 1964 they could not be sure to win it.
    Read “JFK and the unspekable”, it’s quite excellent.

    G. Bush

    November 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm

  12. What I find amusing, really, is the certainty of the blog’s author-and some of the commenters’-that of course, it was just one man, and how ridiculous to even wonder otherwise. While I hardly have the answers, there is a significant amount of hard evidence suggesting, at the very least, that there was more than one explanation for what happened that day-and later. To dismiss those possibilities as foolish, well, clearly we live in a world now where to doubt or to question-is frowned upon.
    A great book to start with about the JFK assassination is Conspiracy, by Mark Baker-he’s not a crazy, he’s mainstream and just explores the various theories.
    Iconic Photos, aside from this entry-is a wonderful blog. Excellent work!

    Why not read?

    December 3, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    • What I find amusing is the lack of hard evidence that ANYONE else did it. Read all the conspiracy books you want. For the love of God,give me ONE FREAKIN’ PIECE of hard evidence that implicates ANYONE but Oswald. Just freakin’ ONE! ONE!

      kevin draiss

      December 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm

      • ONE!

        kevin draiss

        December 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm

  13. Wake up to the fact that there are certain forces at work that made and continue to support the ‘lone nut’ theory. These same forces were around in 1963 and they’re still around today.

    We may never have conclusive evidence of the actual gunmen in Dallas that day, but its very easy to find evidence of a conspiracy at work.

    If you still believe after all this time and compiled evidence to say that it was the job of a ‘lone-nut’, well… whatever makes you sleep at night.


    January 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm

  14. CurtJester

    September 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm

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    December 10, 2012 at 4:28 am

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    May 3, 2013 at 10:30 am

  17. […] found this story fascinating. Oswald Backyard Photos | Iconic Photos […]

  18. Typical of ‘conspiracy theorists’ (as a character trait, not the isolated contemplation of a theory of a possible conspiracy), Andrea knows so much more than all the experts who were privy to all the information, photos, and everything that she wasn’t. What’s more, Andrea knows she knows it.

    Holly Louise

    August 28, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    • I wish I could delete my comment above. I regret writing it! To be honest, I really don’t know what I was referring to and it appears I may have misread some of the comments. In general, it is true that I have antenna for illogical conspiracism, but despite the whole Warren Commission report, I think there is much that could be questioned, and had we today’s forensic abilities, we might come to some different conclusions. To anyone who may have been offended by my post, please accept apology for my carelessness in that post.

      Holly Louise

      November 11, 2015 at 3:37 pm

  19. I resent the armchair Psychologists, who project some kind of personal deficiency onto skeptics like me. None of you could possibly know me well enough to psycho-analyze me into an insecurity corner. I would be just as happy with or without a lone-nut conclusion.

    Oswald shooting Tippet is the Rosetta stone of the assassination. Ruby killing Oswald is the Rosetta stone of the conspiracy.

    Michael A. Banak

    November 11, 2015 at 11:13 am

    • Michael Banak, if you were referring to my post, thank you for speaking up. Please see my comment under my original one. As a skeptic myself, I’m embarrassed by what I wrote and can only say I misunderstood some things in this thread. My apologies, sir.

      Holly Louise

      November 11, 2015 at 3:39 pm

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