After his arrest for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald claimed that a photograph of him holding a rifle and a Marxist newspaper was fake. Even though the rifle was the same type as the one used to kill Kennedy and the Warren Commission along with the House Select Committee on Assassinations found the photo to be legitimate, conspiracy theorists relented that it had been tampered with.
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Now, researchers at Dartmouth University have used new digital image forensics technique and a 3-D model of Oswald to show that the photo is authentic.
"Our detailed analysis of Oswald's pose, the lighting and shadows and the rifle in his hands refutes the argument of photo tampering," said the study's lead researcher Hany Farid, a professor of computer science. Farid conducted the study with Assistant Professor Emily Whiting and graduate student Srivamshi Pittala.
The conspiracy theories rose from suspicious elements in the photograph. For example, some claimed that the light and shadows appeared inconsistent, that Oswald's expression and features didn't match other photos of him, that the length of the rifle didn't measure up to reality and that Oswald's pose seemed off kilter, as if he were standing off balance.
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To determine whether the photo was authentic or not, the researchers built a 3-D model of Oswald holding the rifle. The man's appropriate body mass, as well as the heft of the rifle and pistol (on his right hip), were added to the model. It was then posed to match Oswald's stance in the photo and light was added.
Analysis showed several details that lend credibility to the photograph's authenticity: First, although Oswald appears to stand off-balance, the computer model shows he is quite stable; secondly, the lighting and shadows are not incongruent; and thirdly, the length of the rifle is consistent with the length of the rifle that was used to kill JFK.
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"Our analysis refutes purported evidence of manipulation in the Oswald photo, but more generally we believe that the type of detailed 3-D modeling performed here can be a powerful forensic tool in reasoning about the physical plausibility of an image," Farid said.
He and his team published their findings in the Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law.