Category Archives: image credibility

‘Only a hedge fire’

So interesting when your area of research is image and knowledge credibility and you find yourself questioning the credibility of reports in your own life.

On 24 May this year we and our neighbours called Tuross Head Fire and Rescue to help with a fire at a house a few doors down from us. Later I was amazed to see a post on the Tuross Head Facebook page saying “24/5/20 17:34 p384 called to assist Tuross Rural Fire service at a house fire. Turned out to be only a large hedge alight.” [1]

A hedge? That’s not what it looked like to us!

Firefighter sillhouetted against leaping flames

The following photos were posted: very tame, aren’t they?

The fire was actually from a garden waste and rubbish burnoff – too big and too near the house. The hedge might have caught alight as a result, but it was no small fire; flames were spreading and rising several meters into the air, licking at the edges of the house. It took three hoses to keep it from setting the house on fire long enough for Tuross Fire and Rescue to arrive and put it out. My husband was holding two of the hoses.

Here are a few more photos of the ‘hedge fire’:


All photographs (apart from Facebook post screen capture) taken by Sabrina Caldwell. CC-BY-NC-ND-SA
No alterations of the photos were done.



Tags: , , ,

Kim Jong-un fauxtographs

While I have no comment on the status or otherwise of Kim Jong-un’s health, I was interested in the photos in the media today purporting that Jong-un attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  As I trawled through the internet looking for the photos, I found several photos released by Yonhap News, North Korea of this event and Jong-un’s participation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All of the photos were released under the same caption: N.K. leader reemerges after 20-day absence and with varying blurbs; here’s one:  “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) attends a ceremony to mark the completion of a phosphatic fertilizer factory in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, on May 1, 2020, in this photo released the next day by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency. Kim made his first public appearance after a 20-day absence that sparked rumors about his health.

Because Jong-un’s health is a current public question, with media speculating that he is unwell, perhaps even quite ill or worse, I was interested.  Were these photos real evidence of Jong-un’s present robust good health?

At first glance they look pretty legit.  But there are many significant issues with this portfolio of photographs.

The first thing that got my attention was the riotous colour of the celebratory cheer by a crowd festooned with flags, streamers, balloons and bouquets of flowers, surrounded by military troops of green and brown.


By comparison, the photograph of the assembly in the high elevation photograph is a somber affair of unrelieved black clothing.


Detail of fertilizer factory crowd

Since this is a small part of the photograph it is hard to decide if any of the green and brown military are present, but where are the balloons?  the flowers? the streamers?

It didn’t seem to be a very sunny day, so I couldn’t depend on shadow evidence, so I looked for other clues. Or could I?  I visited [2]  for yesterday’s weather in Pyongyang.  Hmmm, sunny day and a bit warm, ranging between 23 and 27 degrees Celcius most of the day.  And the high elevation photo does illustrate long shadows stretching towards the upper right of the photo.  As I contemplated the perspectives I could see that shadows would be no help as the assemblage seems to be tucked behind a building to the lower left of the crowd.

Now where is that building in the other photos?  Well, no buildings can be seen in the ribbon-cutting photo, so that’s no help. And the background to the photo in which Jong-un is standing and smiling for the camera doesn’t help either. The only other photo that could tell us is the one in which Jong-un is seated during a speech at the dais.


Now hang on, that isn’t the building either.  In fact, where is the building from the high elevation photo at all? It isn’t there!  And what are those red reflections in the windows of this photo?  Oh, they are the reflections of the red streamers from the celebratory photo.  That means that this photo and the celebratory photo (or at least most of it barring the banner and artist’s rendering) were not taken at the factory where the ribbon is being cut.

So I looked a bit closer at the artistic rendition of the factory behind the seated officials including Jong-un in the celebratory photo (quite small but visible) and and the one in the ‘seated’ photo and ‘ribbon cutting photo’.  Turns out that while they are very similar, closer scrutiny shows they are not the same.




And interestingly, note the large trees in the background (circled) that are not in the high elevation photo (below) where they should be.



The ‘seated’ photo was uploaded again to Yonhap News while I was writing this post.  It was captioned: “People watch a news broadcast on a television at Seoul Railway Station in downtown Seoul on May 2, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared in public for the first time in 20 days, despite a wave of speculation that he might be gravely sick or even dead.”  Fake news for the masses.


And one more little thing to point out before I stop – Jong-un’s sister’s hair seems to have grown quite a bit in one day!

Conclusion – these photographs are montages of pieces of photos taken at 2 different events at a minimum.  As evidence of Jong-un’s public appearance on Friday 1 May 2020?  Fail.



[1] Yonhap News 2 May 2020. Accessed 2 May 2020

[2] Accessed 2 May 2020

All original photos downloaded from Yonhap News and used in accordance with Fair Use provisions of copyright law. All derivative photos are licensed CC:BY:NC.






Shedding light on a bike accident photo


Every March I have the pleasure of speaking to students studying web development and design at ANU about images and image credibility.  One of these students sent me this photograph, a tragi-comic image that makes one wince and laugh at the same time.

As an image credibilitist, I was intrigued.  Was it real?  It’s not hard to imagine a photographer with the good fortune to be photographing someone doing a bike trick that went horribly wrong right in front of the camera. 

I examined it closely.  Everything seemed to look correct from the shadows on the ground to lines that resembled impact waves on the man’s face.  Further, it put me in mind of a similar accident that happened to one of my brothers – the loss of a front wheel off the bike fork leading to a complete wipe-out.

Despite this, I was yet to be convinced.  Was the scene a bit too ‘lined up’?  Was the escaping wheel too conveniently positioned square to the camera?

As a stared at the photo and the quite distinctive shadows on the concrete, I thought about the famous Australian photographer Frank Hurley and a particular Antarctic photograph I  wrote about in some previous research.  


‘Ocean Camp, Weddell Sea’  Frank Hurley, 1915 [1]

Hurley took this extraordinary photo during the Shackleton Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition  (1914-1917), recording the harsh conditions of the Weddell Sea ice shelf.  At the same time it also wonderfully records the beautiful oddity of penguins and the indomitability of life in the face of severe adversity.

However, it is a composite image. It is easy to see if we look to the shadows.  The dark sled dogs and sled in the mid-ground cast long shadow leading right and down, indicating that light source (the sun) was behind and to the left.  Simultaneously, the foreground penguins cast no shadow, in fact they seemingly lit from the front.  Since it would defy the laws of physics for both of these things to be true at the same moment, the image has to be composited. [2]

Remembering that, and having recently read an article in which a leader in my field, Professor Hany Farid at Dartmouth College, commented about the importance of shadows as a key to ascertaining the veracity of an image [3], I looked more closely at the shadows in the bike accident photo.  Well, they looked as they should.  So that wouldn’t tell me anything.  Hmmm, or would it? 

I imported the image into Powerpoint and superimposed lines connecting features of the main objects in the image to their shadow points on the pavement. In short order, I had my answer.  I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. My assessment of the Falling Bike Guy is that it was not only composited, but staged as well.  The photograph is not a photograph, it is photoART.


The lines in this image show the directionality of the light source.  Clearly the escaping wheel was lit by sunlight coming from the top right, and the falling guy is lit by sunlight coming from the top left.  This indicates that the sun was in a different position at the time of each photograph.  The middle element is more confusing.  At the moment, I have tentatively suggested that the light source for the upended Schwinn comes from two slightly different positions of the sun (perhaps from being held up from first one side then the other?), but I may explore this further.  At the very least, the average light source position is different from both the escaping wheel and the falling guy.

Logically, if the three main elements of the image were taken at different times, then the falling man is not involved in an accident, but instead is staging himself to appear as though he was. With either the assistance of a friend, or with a camera on a tripod with a remote trigger, timed shutter, or bracket photography (or a combination thereof), our man collected several photographs, then composited them in Photoshop or a similar photo editor.

In fact, if one visits ‘Gratisography’ [4], the site from which this image was sourced by my student, it is a simple matter to discover that the man in this image is in fact Ryan Mcguire himself, the founder of Gratisography.

So next time you find yourself wondering whether a photograph is real, take a closer look.  You may find your answer lurking in the shadows.


[1] Hurley, Frank (2015) Ocean Camp, Weddell Sea. In the collection of the National Library of Australia Ref: NLA.pic.an24039566-v
[2] Hurley later admitted to the compositing, and explained that  he couldn’t portray the entire feel of the experience without bringing different things together into one image. I believe I learned this in a book by Helen Ennis of ANU on Hurley’s Antarctic photography.   (quote/reference to be added soon)
[3] Eric Kee, James O’Brien, and Hany Farid. Exposing Photo Manipulation with Inconsistent Shadows. ACM Transactions on Graphics, 32(4):28:1–12, 2013.
[4] Gratisography, Ryan Mcguire, .




Tags: , , , , , , ,

Raucous jeers, faint cheers, and deafening silence: the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid cabinet card (by O.S. Dowe) in 2017, with guest blogger Brian Mida Bleecker and a nod to Billy the Kid (Part 5 of 5)

Part  1  2  3  4  5

Before we continue to the end of this reflection on the path the New Evidence travelled in 2017, I want to say a few words about my experiences being involved in this project. As much as it has extended my knowledge frontiers, it has fortified my academic boldness even more so. Authenticating and publicising this image has required a great deal of inner conviction, and faith in myself and my work. 


Academic poster Dowe cabinet card of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid – Sabrina Caldwell [1]

I told my peers, people I respect and admire, that I did something that could be seen as extraordinary.  In doing so, I had to accept the risk that, despite all the care I took, and the number of times I repeated my analyses, I might have made a mistake somewhere, and ultimately look a fool. It took a certain amount of courage just to hang my academic poster on this subject on the wall outside my office on December 21st.

That personal and professional evolution aside, this has been a very intriguing project. While the Dowe photograph interests me greatly in the way it illuminates the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid legend, I am especially fascinated by the cabinet card photo itself and the glimpses it affords into historic photographic technology, the social place of photographers in the late 19th century, and the photographer himself, Oscar Dowe, as a great practitioner of the art.

Doing this authentication has sparked in me a passion for historic photography and authenticating something I now call sparse historic photographs: photographs of people, places and events in history where there are very few contemporary photographs to represent them.

Raising a signal in a noisy world

The ‘signal to noise’ ratio is a descriptive phrase used especially in radio to describe how many decibels of the desired signal there are within a transmission, in comparison with background noise and other interference. The Oxford dictionary also defines this as being “a measure of how much useful information there is in a system, such as the Internet, as a proportion of the entire content.” [2]  I have been using this phrase for years as a useful way of describing our modern socially connected world in which our attention is being overworked by the messages coming at us from all directions without filters or verification.

The messages we care about (things that interest us, things that impact upon our lives, messages from family and friends) can get smothered in the onslaught of opinions, advertising and hashtag this and that. We are often bewildered and confused and don’t know what we should care about, or even what’s true.

The world of information is like an online version of the Wild West at its wildest.

Trying to raise a signal in this noisy world is very difficult. But somehow, we need to find robust ways to recognise and accept new truths in this confused socially connected world. This is something I and many of my colleagues are working on.  But that’s a conversation for another day. Right now, let’s find out more about Oscar!

Oscar Dowe


Cabinet card by Oscar Dowe [4]

According to the genealogical record [3] Oscar was born in Illinois in 1856, and he lived a wonderfully long life for his times and for his chemically challenging profession, dying at the age of 77 in 1932. Oscar was a descendant of the Dow/Dowe lineage of Americans founded when Henry and Joanne Dow arrived in New England from England in 1637. He was known to be a travelling photographer working in a wide geographical area taking in several Western American states.

Dowe was clearly an excellent photographer.  His images, as seen in the New Evidence photo and others of his photos such as the two depicted at right, are crisp, well composed, creative, carefully attentive to detail, and capture something of the essence of his subjects.

He was an artisan who took pride in his work, continually improved his studio amenities and kept up with advances in photographic technologies. That so many of Dowe’s photographs survive to this day is testament to how their recipients and descendents valued them.

It is extraordinary that he was able to do all of this while travelling around the Western United States via horse and wagon – the only mode of travel at the time that afforded him the mobility to visit all the cities he is known to have worked.

Roy Gilmore Williams and James Christie Williams_small

Cabinet card by Oscar Dowe [5]  Thanks to Martha Kelley for her years of custodianship!

Brian and I have had a fascinating journey investigating Oscar Dowe and look forward to doing more in 2018. Speaking of 2018…

Looking forward to 2018

It seems possible there will likely to be significant developments in 2018.  I will be continuing to investigate the data in and arising from the cabinet card, and taking advantage of opportunities to present this information. And as we have heard, Brian has decided to personally present The New Evidence to the public in 2018.   I look forward to seeing how all of these various activities develop and watching the dawning public realisation that this photograph offers real evidence to followers of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid legend that they were friends long before commonly assumed.

While we struggle to boost the signal of this  discovery above the noise and resistance of our complicated online/offline world, in the court of public opinion, interest grows.  As of this writing in December 2017, the video we published in February 2017 has received over 4,200 views* and counting, most of which occurred in only the past three months as attention to this remarkable photograph accelerates.

*As of 10 March 2018 this number is 13,720.

A short but critical window to be part of this legend!

If you feel like you’d like to help there is so much you can do that would matter now.  You could view the video and comment on it.  You could comment on this post.  You could share the news with your friends. You could mention it on any relevant community discussion boards in which you participate. If you do, let us know!

If you are a bit of an activist, you could even write to your local news outlet or favourite online news source and ask them if they’ve heard about this.  After all, some news source will eventually pick up the story, and if your prompt starts the ball rolling, we’d be happy to include your name in our ongoing chronicle of how this photo achieves its rightful place in the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid legend.

Post Script

If you’ve read my Light series, you’ll know I’m enthralled by photographs as a physical record of past light reflected by past objects. Photography is the only way we as humans can preserve real visual evidence of light that played upon the faces of people and places from long ago.

When I look at the Dowe photo, I marvel at the idea that photons of light streamed off the surface of the sun, bounced off of Parker and Longabaugh’s actual faces, then oxidised silver granules on a glass plate in Dowe’s camera from which a chemical imprint was created onto a piece of paper. That piece of paper became the photograph I have held in my hands, and that must have been held in the hands of Oscar Dowe, and then – by  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

I don’t know if Parker and Longabaugh imagined this photograph would carry forward aspects of their legacy this far into the future, but I’d like to think they’d be pleased.

[1] Caldwell, Sabrina.  Evidence for a previously unknown photograph of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  December 2017.
[2] Accessed 24 December 2017.
[3] Dow, Robert Piercy. (1929) The Book of Dow The Tuttle Company p435; the US Census 1870

[4] Dowe, O.L. [sic] Ebay auction.  Sold 28 March 2016. Note that the photograph no longer presents on the page, however I had downloaded it before the photo was taken down. Sold 28 March 2016.
[5] This photograph has a great story behind it which I look forward to sharing with you.  In the meantime, thank you Martha!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Raucous jeers, faint cheers, and deafening silence: the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid cabinet card (by O.S. Dowe) in 2017, with guest blogger Brian Mida Bleecker and a nod to Billy the Kid (Part 4 of 5)

Part  1  2  3  4  5

If you missed Part 3 of this 5-part series, let me introduce you to my guest blogger for this series: Mr Brian Mida Bleecker, an Old West art/artifacts trader and an archival/conservationist framer. Brian is a collector by profession and inclination, and for many years had a shop in Old Town Temecula California, a historic Old West town that was once a stop on the Butterfield Stage route. For the past two years he has been researching the known histories of Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh as part of the background to the Dowe photo, particularly the early days of their outlaw careers as they gained their reputation as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  He has also been investigating the work and travels of the photographer of the Dowe photograph, Oscar S. Dowe. [1]

Here Brian continues his talk about his perspectives on the many barriers to popularizing newly-proven Wild West artifacts on the world stage.

Guest Blogger Brian Mida Bleecker


Brian Mida Bleecker with Dowe photograph (© BMBC)

A Legacy in the Details


The New Evidence  [2]

Let us consider what The New Evidence is, and what it reveals. The photograph is a large albumen print, mounted on an oversized “imperial mount” cabinet card, newly popular in the late 1880’s. Robert Leroy Parker, shown seated in a wicker chair and staring towards the door, is only 23 years old. He is large and in-charge, possibly holding cash from the recent robbery of Denver’s First National Bank. Once a lowly ore hauler for the wealthy mine owners of Telluride, Parker has returned [3], perhaps posing as a successful mineral investor. His presumed assayer, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, is just 21 or 22 years old of age, and stands behind with his left hand holding the chair back. Longabaugh appears less dapper, and might even be wearing the same jacket he had when leaving the Sundance jail four months earlier.

All over them are the tell-tale signs of cowboy lives. Although keenly athletic, they already bear the marks of hard work and violent encounters. Longabaugh, a bronco buster by trade, has a right hand with bulging veins and diagonal scarring across his knuckles. And higher resolution reveals a long wavy scar across Parker’s left cheek. Few experts today will discuss this obvious blemish, visible on his 1894 Laramie mugshot. The New Evidence both confirms this healed-over injury and even suggests its cause as a hoof kick, perhaps suffered as a teenage ranch hand. Significantly, neither man has a broken nose yet, but that will change in the tumultuous decade ahead.

Guarding the Reputation

With so much still to be learned about this image, it is surprising that more inquiry is not forthcoming, particularly since technology has provided instant global access to The New Evidence in both e-book and video form. Perhaps the subject matter is more sensitive than we realize. Personal beliefs and professional reputations certainly get entangled in such a contentious issue. Then there is the peer pressure. What might happen if one chooses to endorse a controversial find that some co-workers, friends, or countrymen reject? Is historical discovery worth all the trouble?

Well, for as long as our fascination with the Wild West remains, I say yes, definitely. With proper exposure, people will eventually ignore these obligatory naysayers, many of whom are deeply invested in their own opposing outlaw theories. Long-time researchers, who have spent decades gleaning dusty volumes in search of Old West reality, want the gritty truth – not a negative tweet. Which brings us to the obvious white elephant currently mucking up the informational landscape.

Fake News

Unfortunately, I launched The New Evidence at the same time as Donald Trump took the White House. Since then, his non-stop public attacks and twittering of untruths have paralyzed intellectual norms across America. Under his example, falsehoods and fabrications receive attention equal to properly researched information on any media, and propaganda streams pop up overnight.

The net effect is that most new ideas are resisted, and all non-static issues become suspect. People begin clinging ever more to familiar imagery and long-accepted concepts. In such an environment, the actual verification stage of a new idea never truly arrives. I once thought I would get hit by a swarm of questions from historians and professors, wanting proof or data corroborating their own research. But when obvious lies are continually passed as truth, many forms of societal curiosity are stifled. So, I will be seeking better responses from a more direct and illuminating exposition of the new image.  


I have decided to personally present The New Evidence in 2018. Dates are currently being discussed with media outlets and Western groups for engagements in the U.S. and abroad. Organizations wishing to be considered for this tour should contact me directly.

The show will be entertaining in classic Wild West tradition, while scientifically thorough enough to address the many issues raised by this amazing discovery. The New Evidence presentation will prove, with historical analyses and rigorous forensics, that the association between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was established long before their years with the famous Wild Bunch.



Well, you heard it here first, everyone.  Brian will be presenting The New Evidence in person in the coming year! 

Thank you Brian for your frank and forthright perspectives yesterday and today on the many barriers to popularizing The New Evidence in our current ‘post-truth’ world.


Tomorrow I will be wrapping up this series, and telling you a bit more about the work of the photographer who, almost 130 years ago, took the awesome photograph we’ve been discussing. And, now that we’ve looked back on 2017 events, I’ll be looking forward to what we might expect in 2018!

[1] Please remember that all views expressed by my guests are not necessarily the same as my views.
[2] Cover of The New Evidence including Dowe photograph by Brian Mida Bleecker © BMBC
[3] Patterson, Richard, Butch Cassidy: A Biography, 1998, University of Nebraska Press, pages 12-20

© BMBC means Copyright Brian Mida Bleecker Collection





Tags: , , , , , , , ,