The Obsessive Image; Scrutinising photos


Photoscrutiny 2 : The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dealey Plaza,Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd 1963.

The ability of images to reconstruct the locale.

From available imagery...
How many shots were fired ?
When were they fired ?
Who fired them ?
From where were they fired ?
Why were they fired ?

Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy US Govt. Printing Office, Washington DC 1964 xii; The FBI carried out more than 25,000 interviews and re-interviews; the Secret Service carried out more than 1500 interviews. Given the extent of the mass media (newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, and the beginning of individuals' own film making, what is permanently available in imagery of any one event ? What other events have occurred and have been so thoroughly documented in visual form ?
Quote 1. "It was 12.30pm., Central Standard time, when the first gunfire burst upon the President's motor procession as it moved slowly down Elm Street, having just turned off Houston street. President Kennedy's hands reached for his neck. The moment marked the start of one of the most intensively studied few moments in history, a tiny span of time, forever frozen by film." Hurt beneath.

Quote 2 . "It was a balmy, sunny noon as we motored through downtown Dallas behind President Kennedy. The procession cleared the centre of the business district and turned into the handsome highway that wound through what appeared to be a park. I was riding in the so-called White House press pool car, a telephone company vehicle equipped with a mobile radio-telephone. I was in the front seat between a driver from the telephone company and Malcolm Kilduff, acting White Hose Press secretary for the President's Texas tour . Three other pool reporters were wedged in the back seat. Suddenly we hears three loud almost painfully loud cracks. The first sounded as if might have been a large firecracker. But the second and third were unmistakable. Gunfire. The President's car, possibly as much as 150 or 200 yards ahead, seemed to falter briefly. We saw a flurry of activity in the Secret Service follow up car behind the Chief Executive's bubbletop limousine. Next in line was the car bearing Vice President Lyndon B.Johnson. Behind that another follow up car bearing agents assigned to the Vice President's protection. We were behind that car.. Our car stood still for probably only a few seconds, but it seemed like a lifetime. One sees history explode before one's eyes and for even the most trained observer, there is a limit to what one can comprehend. From "Four Days" - see beneath

Quote 3. "The most important evidence about what happened in Dealey Plaza is, with little dispute, the famous home movie made by Abraham Zapruder. The film was shot from the President's right, as the limousine moved along Elm Street. It shows almost the entire period of the shooting, with the exception of a few moments a street sign obscures the image of the limousine..... Within the twenty four hours of the assassination, LIFE magazine had acquired the film from Zapruder, eventually paying him $150,000. More than a decade passed before the public was allowed to see the Zapruder film. No one had access to the film other than Life personnel , although the film was made available for all official investigative purposes. The Warren Commission recognised the tremendous value of the film and used it as a time clock in efforts to describe what happened at Dealey Plaza. The commission also published many of the individual frames of the film. ... [that it is clear that the shot came from the right, not as the Commission and LIFE determined, from the left] The Warren Commission handled the matter of the left rearward head-snap by not mentioning it in this report or any of its volumes of evidence. The commission did publish these frames from the Zapruder film but, in one of the most shocking examples of `mistakes', the key frames showing the impact of the head shot were transposed . With the frames so reversed, the certain perception of the front-to-rear shot is removed. The FBI took responsibility for the faulty sequence, and in 1965 Director J.Edgar Hoover called the transposition, ` a printing error' ...." Hurt pp128-9.

Quote 4 "How could the president's death automatically benefit the authors of the murder plot. ? It is clear certainly that they employed Lee Harvey Oswald for the purpose of increasing tension between United States and Cuba, and above all the Soviet Union. This must be regarded as a maximum objective, from which they were willing to be forced back into a prepared position that the murderer was just a solitary madman - though of Marxist leanings." Thomas Buchanan `Who killed Kennedy' 1964 in Davis beneath Quote 5 "It is highly significant that, after Oswald was arrested, you learned the facts. That proves that the Communist Conspiracy's control over the United States is not yet complete. ... It is quite true that the Communist Conspiracy, through the management of great broadcasting systems and news agencies, through the many criminals lodged in the press..... has a control over our channels of communication that seems to us virtually total. As was to be expected, a few months after the shot was fired in Dallas, the vermin, probably in obedience to general or specific orders issued in advance of the event, began to screech out their diseased hatred of the American people... " Revilo P.Oliver, "Marxmanship in Dallas", from Davis beneath.


A The Function of Photography

1. reportage ; newspapers; magazines; television; newsreels.
2. autopsy
3. mug shot
4. forensic etc
5. tangential

B Who Sees ?

1. Eye Witness testimony

First hand accounts ; There were 178 people interviewed who had been in Dealey Plaza itself ; with onlookers on the overpass, county court cells, office windows and most crowded along Houston.
Secondary testimony , relatives and friends, posthumously published accounts.
Witnesses recorded by Zapruder include;
On the Triangle, Charles Brehm and son; John and Mary Chism; Mary Woodward and friends journalists ;
William and Gayle Newman; Jean Newman; Jean Pain and Mary Moorman
On the knoll; Emmett Hudson, gardener; Gordon Arnold soldier on leave , Abraham Zapruder, garment manufacturer and Marilyn Sitzman (his secretary)
In the railway yards - Lee Bowers

2. The Single Image (the photograph)

James Altgens - prof. photographer UPI on Elm front of TBD
Mary Moorman - amateur green triangle Polaroid of point of shot
Hugh Betzner - amateur, old camera Houston/Elm ran up grassy knoll
Philip Wills - amateur, soldier PergPool Elm assassination and TBD
Norman Similas - amateur, Canad. south of Elm negatives lost

3. The Moving Image (the film)

Abe Zapruder - 8mm Bell & Howell at the wall of pergola - 22secs of film, bt LIFE Magazine. 8mm with telephoto N of Elm first seen publically in 1975.
Marilyn Sitzman - holding Zapruder/camera steady
Mary Muchmore - amateur green triangle view of grassy knoll from S Elm
Robert Hughes amateur - 8mm film Main/Houston view of procession to TBD
Charles Bronson ,, - Houston/Elm TBD 6 mins before the event
Beverly Oliver amateur - Super 8 Yashica green 10 feet the shot, film confiscated, not seen
Thomas Atkins - White House official ph. 6 cars behind ; The Last Two Days ( 16mm Arriflex S
Orville Nix amateur - green triangle to the grassy knoll, car departs

4. and there is Computer Simulation

C Photography as an Objective medium
1. Intervention , the photograph enhanced, colorified, seeing the desired image
2. Distortion , a deliberate blurring of the image (Zapruder in Life magazine)
3. Falsification , the montage of images from separate sources, Oswald and the rifle
4. Publication , supplemented by text (caption, headline,quotation etc) , the Zapruder stills printed in reverse order in the Warren report. The cropping of the image, the prominence in the sequence of the publication



Wendell Berry verse, Ben Shahn illust and design, November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three , Braziller New York 1964.;

Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F.Kennedy
,United States Printing Office, Washington USA 1964

Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, Who Killed President Kennedy ? , Gollancz/Fontana London 1980

William Manchester, The Death of a President ,Michael Joseph London 1967

Edward J.Epstein, Legend The Secret Life of Lee Harvey Oswald, McGraw Hill New York 1978

Michael Kurtz, Crime of the Century, The Kennedy Assassination from a Historian's Perspective ,Harvester Press Brighton 1982

Gary Trudeau, Doonesbury ,Guardian November 1993.

United Press International and American Heritage Magazine, FOUR DAYS ,American Heritage New York 1964.

Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, An Investigation into the Assassination of John F.Kennedy , Sidgwick and Jackson London 1986.

David Brion Davis, The Fear of Conspiracy, Images of Un-American Subversion, Cornell Ithaca London 1971,

David Lifton, JFK Best Evidence , Polygram 1990

Nigel Turner, The Men Who Killed Kennedy ,Polygram/Central TV 2 tapes 1989

Oliver Stone dir., JFK 1991

Brian de Palma dir., Blow Out 1981

Brian de Palma dir., Greetings 1968

Alan Pakula dir., The Parallax View ,1976

Chris Plumley, The Day the Dream Died,1983 (Dispatches Channel 4)