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Category Archives: image credibility

Shedding light on a bike accident photo

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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.  

Hurley

‘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.

McGuire_bike_accident_lines_Caldwell

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.

 

References
[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, http://www.gratisography.com .

 

 

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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. 

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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

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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.

References
[1] Caldwell, Sabrina.  Evidence for a previously unknown photograph of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  December 2017.
[2] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/signal-to-noise_ratio. 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. http://www.ebay.pl/itm/Cabinet-Card-Photographer-O-L-Dowe-New-Mexico-Brothers-Sister-ID-holding-Doll-/152020382678  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!
 

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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

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Brian Mida Bleecker with Dowe photograph (© BMBC)


A Legacy in the Details

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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.  

Clarification

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.

Untitled

 

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

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!

References
—————-
[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

 


 

 

 

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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 3 of 5)

Part  1  2  3  4  5

As an academic, the onus is on me to not stray too far from the facts. When I make an assertion, it needs to be substantiated in the literature or as an outcome of my research. If not, I have to qualify the statement with ‘may be’ or similar. In this professional blog I have a bit more leeway, which I enjoy, but I never lose sight of how my writing affects my reputation as an authoritative voice.

My guest blogger, Brian Mida Bleecker, has more freedom than I do to opine, draw conclusions and speculate. Therefore, while I stand behind all of my own statements on the Dowe photo, most significantly my conclusions that it depicts Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Brian’s comments expressed below (unexpurgated) are by him and him alone.

Brian is 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.

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

Guest Blogger Brian Mida Bleecker

Brian_with_photo_IMG_6169_v2_small

Brian Mida Bleecker with Dowe photograph (© BMBC)

Singular Authority

There is only one historian on Earth claiming that The New Evidence is Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid – that is me. Hundreds of Wild West experts, reporters, publishers, and academicians have been officially notified. Three different versions of The New Evidence have been tossed onto the internet. The Scar on Butch Cassidy’s face has been matched! Yet, there is nothing but silence from a world afraid to think for itself.

It is strange to be all alone with history, gazing at these high-resolution images, into the eyes of men who would one day be so revered by those who cannot manage to recognize them. Dr Caldwell also knows this twilight zone. She has emailed many of her fellow  researchers, declaring her stunning confirmation, only to receive a hail of deafening silence. It is hard to know whether they think they can disprove us or merely languish in deep denial.

Old to Young Regression

It is quite difficult to surmise the appearance of young 19th-century celebrities, before their fame, from just a photo or two taken during their heyday. Hair and clothing styles changed constantly, just like now, and photography itself was an evolving affair. Furthermore, the ability to identify thirty-somethings in their early twenties is demonstrably rare among the uninitiated, and virtually absent amongst the predisposed. Such is certainly the case with The New Evidence. Most people have formed their extended concept of the Wild Bunch from the Fort Worth Five photo, taken in 1900. And, let’s face it, for most purposes (chat rooms, drinking bets, theme parties, etc.) that is sufficient.

Now, tell folks they must pull Butch & Sundance from the Texas saloon, strip them of their fancy derbies, unbreak their noses, and send them sailing backwards in time eleven years, dressed as young mineral investors, to a travelling photography tent in Southwest Colorado. Well now, that is going to require some imagination, intelligence, and maybe even some independent thought. Heck, during all that thinking, one might even discover things about these famed outlaws that do not fit one’s pre-conceptions. Ooh, that could get real messy.

Let’s cut to the chase, instead. People cannot see that which they have already chosen not to see.

Mysterious Fourth Man

The digital age excels at casting light on new discoveries and this one is particularly consequential. My studies indicate that The New Evidence dates to June of 1889, and that it reveals volumes about the early association of these two famous outlaws. Now would not be a good time for turning blind eyes to such an important development in Wild West research. The following is a perfect example.

Eye-witness accounts from 1889 implicate four riders in the June 24th robbery of the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colorado. This has become known as Butch Cassidy’s first major heist, although at that time he was known by his birth name, Robert Parker. Newspapers of the day, including the Pueblo Daily Chieftain (below), spread the word about this brazen daylight crime, which netted the perpetrators over $20,000. [1]

1889 Pueblo Daily Chieftain News:      A Bank Robbery at Telluride.

Special to Denver Times- Silverton, Colo., June 25.— Sheriff May, of San Juan county, was notified yesterday that three men had robbed the San Miguel Valley bank of Telluride of its loose cash and escaped with their plunder, going in the direction of the Ute reservation. The report stated that they entered the bank soon after it opened for business, while the cashier was out making collections and the bookkeeper was alone. The latter was overpowered and compelled to do their bidding on peril of his life. A fourth man held their horses while they were in the bank, and the four rode away before the bookkeeper could give the alarm. The last heard of the robbers was at Trout lake between Rico and Telluride, evidently intending to convey the belief that they were heading for Arizona; but as they are believed to be familiar with the country in and around the Sierra La Salle mountains it is believed by all that they will endeavor to reach Utah. Strong posses are in hot pursuit from Telluride, and the authorities at Durango, Rico and Grand river have been notified to organize and head them off if possible. The amount stolen is about: $20,750. The depositors will suffer no loss, as the officers and stockholders are wealthy. [2]

Yet, the dossier on this event has always been incomplete. Events during the posse chase and subsequent investigation identified three of the bandits: Robert Parker, Matt Warner, and Tom McCarty. However, the fourth bandit was not named by detectives or by later personal accounts. Living descendants of Harry Longabaugh insist to this day that their ancestor, the Sundance Kid, was that fourth man. [3] Until now, there has been no solid indication of Longabaugh’s participation, although many authors have speculated. While it may not be outright proof of Harry’s involvement, The New Evidence strongly implicates him as the unknown Telluride bandit.

And there is so much more to learn…

 

Tomorrow

You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to read the rest of Brian’s comments!

References
[1]  According to Historical Currency Conversions (Alan Eliason), $20,000 dollars in 1889 had the same buying power as $525,051 current dollars.  https://futureboy.us/fsp/dollar.fsp Accessed 28 Dec. 2017
[2]
Pueblo Daily Chieftain. Wednesday Morning, June 26, 1889. p.1 Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/cgi-bin/colorado?a=d&d=CFT18890626-01.2.10&e=–1888—1889–en-20–21–txt-txIN-Telluride——-0- Accessed 10 December 2017
[3] Patterson, Richard, Butch Cassidy: A Biography; 1998, University of Nebraska Press, pages 21-31

 

© BMBC means Copyright Brian Mida Bleecker Collection

 


 

 

 

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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 2 of 5)

Part  1  2  3  4  5

During 2017, two photographs were highlighted in the news of Old West characters: the Sanpete Railroad photograph – proposed as a possible depiction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – and the even more recent news of a new photograph believed to be Billy the Kid. Today, I will be briefly discussing these photographs and the facial alignment elimination stage of identifying what I call ‘sparse historic photos.’

Applying an alignment elimination stage

The act of assessing the identity of a person in a historic photograph is more difficult and less glamorous than those of us who attempt it might wish. As a scientist, one may have an intuition, but then one must substantiate it to a very high standard indeed. My authentication of the Dowe photo of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid took several hundreds of hours of work over two years and I continue to find new ways to refine my methodologies. [1]

A very good first step to reduce the risk that this intensive research may end in failure is to do an ‘elimination’ step, in which the photograph either passes and is therefore worthy of further research, or does not pass, in which case no further investigation is required. (For anyone wishing to do this type of alignment analysis, I heartily recommend Joelle Steele’s “Face-to-Face” epublication [2] as a great place to start.)

Let’s consider this elimination step as it does or does not apply in three recent examples of sparse historic photographs: the ‘Sanpete Railroad’ photograph [3] considered to possibly be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the ‘Billy the Kid croquet’ [4] and the ‘Billy the Kid Flea Market’ [5] photographs, and lastly the Dowe photograph of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I authenticated in 2016. [6]

Sanpete Railroad photograph

There was a stir in March this year about a photograph possibly including the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy working on a railroad. The photo was discovered by Utah social studies teacher Chris Vorhees while doing research in the Brigham Young University archives.  Mr Vorhees came across the photograph in a large collection of photographs taken by George Edward Anderson, a travelling photographer who worked in the American West in the late 1800s / early 1900s. The character suspected of being Harry Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid) was presented with the known photographs using a form of horizontal alignment elimination. [3]

I’m sorry to say this, because I have no doubt that the person who did this analysis was well-meaning, but the depiction of the alignment elimination step published for the Sanpete Railroad photo is so rife with mistakes as to make it completely invalid as a whole. The following explanation is not meant to criticise, but to explain and hopefully to offer useful guidelines to anyone attempting these types of comparisons in future.

SanpeteLabelled_v3

In the first instance, the preparation of the images for comparison is faulty in that there has been no attempt to align each face horizontally with the necessary precision, and it seems likely they have not been scaled to eye width match though this is a bit difficult to discern given the small facial sizes (which should fill the frames) in the images.

Lines 1, 2, and 7 are invalid as they do not use actual physical features as markers; hats interfere with lines 1 and 2, and line 7 has no physical reference at all. The remaining 4 lines – 3, 4, 5 and 6 – do not appear to align well [7] but it is difficult to judge due to the blurriness of the lines.  It is possible to see a lack of alignment in lines 3 and 5 for the Sundance Ft Worth photo.

Also, no vertical alignment analysis was found, which is important, as it is part of the rigour of this elimination step; if this exists I would be glad to see it.

Suspected Billy the Kid photographs: at play at croquet and in a gang of Regulators

Two photographs suspected of being of Billy the Kid that have been in the news lately are a) the ‘BTK croquet’ photo owned by Randy Guijarro and his wife, having bought it in a Fresno memorabilia shop, and b) the ‘BTK flea market’ photo purchased in 2011 by North Carolina lawyer named Frank Abrams and hitting the news last month.  I thought I’d try doing an elimination alignment on these photographs, comparing it to the only authenticated photograph so far (bought by William Koch for 2.3M in 2011). However, very quickly I found that it couldn’t be done.

I don’t have access to high resolution photographs of the unauthenticated croquet photograph. However, it is unlikely that even the highest resolution scan will be sufficient to even complete a credible elimination stage for the ‘croquet’ photo, let alone an authentication, since the print is only 4” x 5” and the area of the photograph containing the face of the proposed Billy the Kid figure is only 0.022% of that photograph. [8] You can easily see the problem in the figure below: once the face of the person in question is zoomed large enough to see in comparison with the authenticated face, little detail can be seen, and such as it is, it is very difficult to see any detail at all in the bottom half of the face, as though the person was moving his mouth while the photo was taken – perhaps talking?

BTK_faces

From left: Known Billy the Kid photograph,  ‘BTK croquet’ and ‘BTK flea market’ photos. Lack of resolution and image problems make it impossible to do an alignment elimination stage

The photograph announced this year is almost as problematic, though in a different way. In the new photograph it seems possible that the person moved their head sideways as the photograph was taken. This is suggested by the area between the eyes, the nose, and the philtrum below the nose, as well as the Adams apple, which all seem to have a slight shadow exposure causing the face to appear unnaturally wide. If this is the case, it means that any authentication would have to first attempt to reassemble the face, a process that would corrupt the pixel data of the image. I am unclear on the origin of the pink cheek colouring (I assume that this was painted in, perhaps by the photographer’s studio) but obviously this was not an enhancement to the appearance of the photograph, and probably obscured detail in the original image.

I would not venture to state that these proposed Billy the Kid images are or are not Billy the Kid because there is simply not enough image data (size, crispness and detail) to even complete an elimination stage assessment. Unless the ‘BTK croquet’ photo original contains more information than the versions commonly available online, which would in any case be complicated by the structural issues described above, I question if it can be authenticated. [9] The issues with the ‘BTK flea market’ photo seem highly confounding, but the original image / higher resolution scan may offer more scope for investigation.

Butch Cassidy Sundance photograph by O.S. Dowe

The alignment elimination stage images that I released in Brian’s Butch & Sundance: The New Evidence epublication were largely inspired by Steele’s groundwork in this area. 

The intent of this first step was to determine if the suspected identities of the subjects in the Dowe photograph must be discredited immediately due to basic lack of facial similarity to the known photographs. This is the first of 4 steps I undertook in authenticating the identities of the men in the Dowe photograph. For each subject, the face portion of the Dowe and reference photos were placed together in a single comparison window. Each face was rotated as needed to bring it into horizontal alignment. To reveal any obvious differences in the composition of each face, each face image was scaled (size adjusted) so that the eye widths were as similar as possible between all images. The proportions of the face were then compared visually by overlaying guides at key points of the face. [10]

You can see the individual alignments in the video, however, today I thought it would be interesting to offer the two alignments (horizontal and vertical) placed one on top of the other. This also demonstrates how the two alignments cross-validate each other.

SK_crossref_lines_diagram_final_croppedBC_crossref_lines_diagram_final_cropped

You can see how each image is slightly rotated – this is to (as much as possible) position the faces aligned horizontally with one another.  Another thing to note is how the eyes are (again, as much as possible) all of similar size; the cropped images were carefully scaled to achieve this outcome so that the size and proportions of the faces relative to each other could be assessed.

Both subjects passed this alignment elimination stage.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow we will hear from my guest blogger, the man who discovered the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid cabinet card: my brother, Brian Mida Bleecker.  

References
[1] Modern facial recognition that is so much in the news is based on the existence of many photographs of the same individual. Sparse historic photographs do not fit in this mold, and have to be approached with an intensive, ‘hands-on’ approach.
[2] Steele, Joelle. (2014) Face to Face: Analysis and Comparison of Facial Features to Authenticate Identities of People in Photographs http://www.facecomparisons.com/press-face-to-face.html Accessed 20 December 2017
[3] http://sanpetemessenger.com/2017/03/30/were-butch-and-sundance-among-sanpete-railroad-roustabouts/ Accessed 20 December 2017
[4] Little, Becky. (15 Oct. 2015) Does this photo really show Billy the Kid? It’s a $5 Million question. National Geographic  https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/151015-billy-the-kid-photo-outlaw-photography-history/ Accessed 27 December 2017
[5] Fortin, Jacey (Nov. 16, 2017) A Photo of Billy the Kid Bought for $10 at a Flea Market May Be Worth Millions. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/16/us/billy-the-kid-photo.html Accessed 20 December 2017 and ] http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-billy-the-kid Accessed 20 Dec 2017
[6] Bleecker, Brian (2016) Butch & Sundance: The New Evidence. mazon.com/dp/B01N3NQRRW
[7] Keep in mind that the original images are not prepared well, so alignment or lack thereof will likely be different with better prepared images.
[8] Full image released publicly is 1000 x 600 pixels and the area of pixels of the face in in question in this photo is 11×12 pixels approximately. This means that the face occupies (11×12) / (1000×600) pixels, or 132/600,000 pixels. This is equivalent to 0.022% of the area of the photograph.
[9] My consideration of these two photos was limited to the alignment elimination stage only.  In considering them further, other factors must be considered alongside the forensics questions.  For example, it is purported that close associates of BTK are depicted alongside the figure in question. Should these cases be proven it obviously lends support to the claims.
[10] Horizontal: pupil line, subnasale (point of bottom median attachment of the nose), stomion (labial fissure), supramentale (chin furrow), and pogonion (chin boss). Vertical: Exocanthions (outer eye corners), endocantions (inner eye corners) and median line. Note that in the case of Subject B (Butch Cassidy) the pronasale (tip of nose) is out of median align due to the aspect of his facial pose (looking to his right instead of facing forward like his comparator photos).

Copyright BMBC = Copyright Brian Mida Bleecker Collection

 

 

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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 1 of 5)

Part  2  3  4  5

This year I told you about a 19th century cabinet card I authenticated of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Over the next five days, I will be telling you more about how the story of the cabinet card has unfolded so far.

Deafening silence punctuated with raucous jeers

For several months after releasing the video on YouTube, the reaction could best be characterised as “suddenly, nothing happened.” [2]

Dowe photograph depicted on cover of Butch & Sundance: The New Evidence (2016) [1]

 

My brother, Brian Mida Bleecker, who discovered the photograph, emailed over 90 media outlets as well as National Geographic, the Library of Congress, and the Telluride Museum to whom this photograph is likely the most relevant of all.  No interest.

I personally emailed over 200 academics in the Western History and US History disciplines. From this cohort, I received 3 responses in total. These came from academics who were very nice, and from whom I was very happy to hear, but whose messages were basically ‘sounds interesting’ and left at that.

What little reaction came, came from a small group of naysayers. It is said that there is no such thing as bad press, but I don’t know about that. There is a prominent historian, a Mr Dan Buck, who seems to have some influence in the Wild West world, especially among a group called the ‘Old West Rogues’ [3], and he flung a wet blanket over us early on in November 2016 – refuting any possibility that the photograph was of the famous outlaw pair without proffering any evidence or critique of my findings. [4]

There was a great deal of suspicion from this group that Brian’s authentication expert was me, his sister. [5] To a certain extent I can understand their skepticism, but there was no attempt on their part to keep an open mind and accept the possibility that this was simply an interesting case of serendipity – a brother who collects and sells Western art and artifacts, with a sister whose core area of research is image and photograph credibility. It would almost be more surprising if there wasn’t a project arising from such a combination. Of course, who could have anticipated such an exciting project!

Another person who seems to be associated with the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid legend, and an associate of Mr Buck, Mr Michael Bell, posted an entertaining comment on the Amazon page for our book that said “I have two cats. They look more like Butch and Sundance than this Laurel and Hardy pair.” [6]

I would have expected a more reasoned response, but let’s see if this statement holds up.

Of course I can’t know what Mr Bell’s cats look like, so I tried to find cats that look as similar as possible to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I searched for a bushy-furred cat for The Sundance Kid (to match his ever-present bushy moustache), and a short-haired, full-bodied cat to match Butch Cassidy’s stocky but sleek appearance. And then I applied a black and white filter to match the desaturated colour tone of the Ft Worth Five images. I think I did pretty well for that brief. [7]

Try as I might however, I really can’t see the resemblance. What do you think?

Cat, Sundance Kid, Butch Cassidy, Cat

Response to Michael Bell’s comment that “I have two cats. They look more like Butch and Sundance than this Laurel and Hardy pair.” [6,7]

Faint Cheers

Starting in October, Brian began emailing members of the Westerners International society. Happily, this group is more responsive, with the UK Westerners about to release a review of The New Evidence eBook in their long-running and respected newsletter Tally Sheet. Domestically, the Westerners in the USA have expressed interest in Brian Allen speaking on his discovery at some of their meetings.

But I find it extraordinary that we could contact literally hundreds of people to whom this new evidence should be of great relevance, and going on 100 media outlets, to whom this should be like catnip to a cat, and memory institutions who should care, and instead of curiosity (intellectual, professional or otherwise) we get a collective cold shoulder, with just a few voices of faint interest echoing in otherwise cavernous depths of disinterest.

Tomorrow

During 2017, two photographs were highlighted in the news of Old West characters: the Sanpete Railroad photograph – proposed as a possible depiction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – and the even more recent news of a new photograph believed to be Billy the Kid. Tomorrow, I will be briefly discussing these photographs and the facial alignment elimination stage of identifying what I call ‘sparse historic photos.’

 

References
——————
[1] Cover of The New Evidence including Dowe photograph by Brian Mida Bleecker
[2] Paraphrased line from Monty Python skit “The Adventures of Ralph Mellish“
[3]Old West Rogues and Other Frontier Folk Historical Discussion Board http://disc.yourwebapps.com/Indices/239395.html Accessed 20 December 2017
[4] Daniel Buck review of The New Evidence on Amazon: “Neither person in the photograph look remotely like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Nor is there any evidence — provenance — connecting the photo to the outlaw pair. The book is an exercise in self-delusion.” At https://www.amazon.com/Butch-Sundance-New-Evidence-ebook/dp/B01N3NQRRW#customerReviews Accessed 10 December 2017.
[5]  From P.H. Schroeder  – “Your sister is the one doing the Photo id. Gee funny how that works out.” Comment in review of The New Evidence on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Butch-Sundance-New-Evidence-ebook/dp/B01N3NQRRW#customerReviews Accessed 10 December 2017
also
From Bob Goodwin 20 October 2017) Old Rogues, “Brian you are definitely smoking the wrong stuff. Your post makes no sense at all. I have seen the photos, read your evidence. You are wrong on so many things it is impossible to list them all. All I can say if [sic] faux history. You don’t even exhibit good research skills. And, your photo exert [sic] is your sister??? Give me break.http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?disc=239395;article=23604;;pagemark=50  Accessed 20 December 2017.
also
From Mark Mszanski (31 October 2017) “Why do you believe your photo is authentic? – Authentic for the period ?? Your sister’s analysis? … I guess your [sic] the only one ( and your sister ) who see it.http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?disc=239395;article=23708;;pagemark=50 Accessed 20 December 2017
and recently
From ‘Charlotte’ (3 January 2018) “His sister is his “forensic expert”….enough said. The book should have been titled “Butch and Sundance – No Evidence.”  At https://www.amazon.com/Butch-Sundance-New-Evidence-ebook/dp/B01N3NQRRW#customerReviews  Accessed 21 January 2018. (I did notice that Dan Buck’s spouse is named Charlotte, but this could be just a coincidence.)
[6] Quote from Michael Bell review of The New Evidence on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Butch-Sundance-New-Evidence-ebook/dp/B01N3NQRRW#customerReviews Accessed 10 December 2017.
[7] Images of cats from Wikimedia Creative Commons Share Alike by Kurre92 and Superflo under CC_BY-SA licence; images of The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy from John Swartz Ft Worth Five photograph 1900.
 

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Theoretical formula for image credibility?

And now … as Monty Python would say … and now for something completely different.

This post is for all my mathematical friends. Recently it took my fancy to consider the credibility of photographs from a mathematical perspective.  I wondered if I could posit a basic theoretical formula to quantify the relationship between the presented image and the original photograph?

Of course it would be quite difficult to establish reliable figures to plug into this calculation.  At present such figures would be as subjective [1] as the opinions of the distributors and consumers of the images themselves. Even so, it may be useful to consider these relationships in a formulaic manner.

Such a theoretical formula would be based on the descriptions of the elements affecting the veracity of images, which I group into three main types:
– local manipulations (airbrushing, cloning, etc),
– global manipulations (colour adjustments, levels, etc.) and
– artifacts (compression blocking effects, etc.)

Using these elements to mathematically describe the ratio of credibility for a presented photograph in comparison with its original (pre-edited) state, could look like this:

Presentation image                       1 – ∑ l,g,a
—————————–          =         ——————-
  Original image                                    1
Where:
l = local manipulations
g = global manipulations
a = artifacts such as compression, display resolution

This formula can be further expanded if we consider the elements of Metadata, Context, and Photographer’s Reputation.  If we assume that the metadata of the image is informative and has not been tampered with, then metadata will always add to the credibility of an image. Context and Photographer’s Reputation are elements that may add or detract from the credibility and authenticity of the image. Thus

Presentation image                   1 – ∑ l,g,a
—————————–      =         ——————–    +  M  ±  C  ±  P
Original image                                1
Where:
M = in camera metadata and user-entered metadata
C = context in which the image is presented
P = photographer’s reputation

M is the metadata of the image provided by technological means (metadata recorded by the camera at the time of the photograph). Metadata, assuming it is untampered itself, will always add to the authenticity of the image by providing a range of important data about the image capture such as date, time, location, camera details etc.  It is also information added by the photographer post image production.

C is a quantity that can be a positive number, thus increasing image credibility, if the context in which an image is presented is supportive of the truth of the image, in which case the value of the Presentation image over the Original image could be considerably higher.  Equally, it could be a negative figure, if the contextual elements within which an image is presented are false or misleading, in which case the value of the Presentation image over the Original image could be a negative figure, indicating that the Presentation image is worth less in representing reality than the Original image.

P  Like Context, a Photographer’s reputation can be additive or subtractive. A photographer with a known reputation for manipulation of images should be considered more likely to manipulate the image under examination, and by the same token an image by a photographer with a reputation for not manipulating images or clearly describing any manipulations can be viewed with more surety of credibility.

Note that the idea of an image being created using staging, like the Cottingley fairies, and thus misrepresenting reality is quite relevant to the credibility of the image, however it is outside the scope of this formula for two reasons.  First, other than through notation in metadata or context, there is no way to incorporate the alterations made to the actual scene being photographed. The baseline for the original photo (and thus the formula) is set at the control point of the image being recorded by the camera sensor. More importantly, one could argue that even though the scene was staged, it is in fact the real scene recorded by the sensor of the camera, staging and all.

This formula also does not take into account the way in which we as humans perceive either the original or the presentation images, which is an important second part of the two way communication of information that is representative photography, but that’s a subject for another day.

So, over to you my math friends, I would love to hear your ideas!

 

References
——————
[1] However there is the possibility that in future my formula can be populated with at least some real numbers; recently such quantification was attempted in respect of image manipulation of models to create a meaningful metric of photo retouching based on geometric and photometric changes:

Kee, E., & Farid, H. (2011). A perceptual metric for photo retouching. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(50), 19907-19912.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2017 in image credibility

 

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