Category Archives: Photo credibility

The most important category for my blog and core concept I’m researching.

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!

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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


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





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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 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…



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

[1]  According to Historical Currency Conversions (Alan Eliason), $20,000 dollars in 1889 had the same buying power as $525,051 current dollars. Accessed 28 Dec. 2017
Pueblo Daily Chieftain. Wednesday Morning, June 26, 1889. p.1 Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.–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.


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?


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.


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

[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 Accessed 20 December 2017
[3] 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 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. Accessed 20 December 2017 and ] Accessed 20 Dec 2017
[6] Bleecker, Brian (2016) Butch & Sundance: The New Evidence.
[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.


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.’


[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 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 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 Accessed 10 December 2017
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.;article=23604;;pagemark=50  Accessed 20 December 2017.
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.;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  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 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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2017 AIPP APPAs: The reality pendulum swings – but in what direction? (Part 2 of 2: Reality Rules)

2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography
Australian Professional Photography Awards

(Also see Part 1: Category Changes .)

In 2016 current APPA Chairman Rocco Ancora emphasised that the requirements for competition entries to be ‘real’ or illustrative vary between award categories, and that this reflects different types of professional photography common in the real world. This is apparently a two-way street, because the 2016 dissension in the professional photography community over Lisa Saad’s highly photoartistic winning portfolio prompted the APPA committee to undertake a broad review of the rules for 2017, to see how faithful a real world reflection the award categories really were.  

The resulting changes, being as they were prompted by a refreshing dissatisfaction with the infiltration of photoart into photography, were an irresistible draw for my inquisitorial eye for preserving the photographical perspective in a world overrun by fantasy and fiction.

Overall, there are some positive changes for those of us who value the representative nature of photography, but the rule changes have introduced some issues as well.


The verdict: award organisers are beginning to say “Less digital art and more photography, please.”

In many ways the reshaped rules implemented for 2017 is part real change and part ‘awareness raising’ encouraging photographers to be more like photographers and less like digital artists.  Some of the more significant changes such as attribution requirements, and identifying the postproduction team are as much about the entrants as the entries.

However, requirements for protographic proofs to be available for all elements in all categories is a very strong message indeed.  Further, the overall effect of the new rules on the degree of illustrative freedom across all the categories is noticeable.  In the chart below you can see that the degree of illustrative freedom has been pulled back in almost every subcategory this year with the new rules, and the two newly introduced subcategories expect significant restraint.


In most cases, there is more photographic rigour in the APPAs this year

Why is this good? It is good for two important reasons. 

First and most importantly, it influences the Australian photographic community to value the ‘real’ in their photograph, which means the photographic record is more indicative of our real world.  Don’t forget that people form opinions and take decisions based on the information in images they see; if that information is faulty, then their opinions and decisions might be too. 

Secondly, and important for the continuance of photography, it halts the helter-skelter rush towards turning this special science-based method into little more than another digital art form.

The highlights

More dual categories distinguish between the real and the faux

In my 2016 review I noted that the ‘photojournalistic’ and ‘open’ Wedding category was a good idea and could be rolled out to more categories.  I am very pleased to see that this distinction has been applied to two more categories: Portrait and Landscape.  Hopefully this trend will continue. Having photoart and photographs represented separately within a category makes it clear whether the photo reflects the real moments of the event, or an artistic impression of it.

Category recombinations recognise real vs faux

The categories themselves are expressing ideas of real vs faux. Combining Commercial, Advertising and Fashion into an overall Commercial category consolidates the more photoartistic work of Australia’s professional photographers; combining Documentary, Birth and Sport into an overall Documentary category consolidates the notion of the photograph as representing reality.

Cleaner, stricter categories

A lot of rule confusion has been sorted out. The new approach is based on a core set of rules that are consistent across the categories, augmented with specific rules and exceptions for each category.  This is much easier to understand and maintain.

Happily, this also creates a more rigourous photographic base upon which all of the awards rest: images must be 100% photographic in origin, 100% created by the photographer, photographic proofs must be available, and purchasable photos, backgrounds, skies, borders and textures are prohibited.

Casting a wider net in recognising art contributions

Entrants are now called upon to acknowledge the larger creative context of their images: they “MUST acknowledge the printer, retoucher and/or other creative contributors.” [1] This will further tease out how post-production expertise plays a part in the entry.
Furthermore, any decorative elements like borders and textures must be photos, not digital art.

The lowlights

Conventional photography demoted and misaligned

For me, the one misstep in the rule revisions is combining Illustrative and Analog and Historical Process together into an Illustrative category.  Analog and Historical Process photography is unique amongst the APPA Awards and deserving of its own place.  These types of photographic processes are steeped in chemical and light science, and backed by centuries of tradition. They are vitally connected with the objects they represent in a completely different way to digital imaging and simply do not belong in a category with digital images.

Moreover, choosing to merge this category with the Illustrative category fuses some of the most authentic photographic forms available to photographers with one of the most inauthentic.  The APPA committee should really rethink this move, which will muddy photographic waters, and dishearten the photographers struggling to keep these important techniques alive in a digital world.  The problems with this change are further exacerbated by the fact that the Analog and Historical Process photography is hidden under the single word category title “Illustrative”; alternative and historical process photographers could be forgiven for assuming there is no category for them at all.

Core rules specification

The new core rules are a great step in streamlining the rule structure, but new ambiguities have been introduced.  For example, it was less clear whether borders, textures and backgrounds were generally acceptable or not.  The idea of 3D image techniques seems to have completely exited the rules so it is unknown whether they are allowed or not (though to be honest I couldn’t figure out what that meant anyway given these awards are about static images).   There are also still some duplications of rule profiles that could be solved in the core rules.

In conclusion…

I believe the awards committee is doing a tremendous job.  From what I can see they are experienced, thoughtful, and earnest.  They are introducing change gently and in a considered way, with lots of consultation along the way.

Hopefully this discourse is not at an end.  Tony Hewitt commented in his advice regarding category changes that “It’s important that you understand that while we consider all ideas, not everything is going to be taken on board and implemented straight away.” [2]  So perhaps the changes we see now are simply the first step in steering the Australian photographic community away from the ‘photography as massive digital art productions’ precipice.  We’ll see.

I can think of a range of improvements the committee might decide to implement in future, but if I were to name only one on my wish list it would be that the Alternative and Historical Process category is urgently extracted from the Illustrative category and returned to its rightful place as a unique and to-be-encouraged aspect of Australia’s vibrant photographic community.  

I will watch with great interest how the 2017 changes impact on this year’s APPA entries and outcomes, and how the awards committee and Australian photographers embrace this opportunity to cement the relationship between the photographic craft and the real world, and build solidarity within the photographic community.  Because, as I will explore in future posts, big challenges are on the horizon for photographers, against which the notions of reality, representation and truth will be our biggest strength.



2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography
Australian Professional Photography Awards

Entries open: 10 July 2017
Entries Close: 10 August 2017
Judging event dates: 25-27 August 2017
Venue: Melbourne Olympic Park Function Centre

[1] 2017 Entry Rules & Information: The 41st AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards.  p.3
[2] A message from Tony Hewitt APPA Chair and Awards Team Manager Accessed 31/3/17.



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Must include an actual animal: AIPP’s APPA (Second of 2 parts)

Lisa Saad – The 2016 AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year


Lisa Saad’s stunning images are the heart of a controversy about ‘real’ photography recently addressed by Rocco Ancora and Peter Eastway.[1]

APPA category rules as a reflection of real world professional photography

In discussing the role of illustration and reality in the Australian Professional Photographers Awards, current APPA Chairman Rocco Ancora emphasised to past APPA Chairman Peter Eastway that the requirements for photograph entries to be ‘real’ or illustrative varied between the categories, and that the categories were meant to reflect different types of professional photography common in the real world. 

Based on this assertion, the types and the rules associated with the 18 APPA awards might be considered to provide a multi-faceted looking glass, reflecting the state of professional photography today.  To that end I analysed all 18 categories against the various elements of manipulation allowed or not allowed in the categories. 

19 measures in the rules that can be said to impact upon the nature of images

I was quite surprised to find so many different measures that came into play across the categories; my list of 19 measures is as follows:

  • explanatory caption required/not required
  • single capture required/not required
  • combining elements from different image captures allowed/not allowed
  • explicit statement “It has to be real!”
  • proof files may be requested/ will not be requested
  • 100% photographic in origin required/not required
  • non-photographic elements allowed/not allowed
  • staging allowed/not allowed
  • adjustments allowed/not allowed
  • dodging/burning allowed/not allowed
  • cropping allowed/not allowed
  • retouching allowed/not allowed
  • cloning allowed/not allowed
  • erasing allowed/not allowed
  • textures/texture layers allowed/not allowed
  • borders allowed/not allowed
  • backgrounds allowed/not allowed
  • converting to b&w allowed/not allowed
  • 3D allowed/not allowed

I gave these measures different scores depending on how much I felt that they impacted on the illustrative vs representative nature of the final image.

APPA category profile on the reality / art continnuum

These 19 possible measures for 18 different categories required 342 separate assessments, and I was left with a lot of data (Excel file provided below) and some question as to how to see into it.  At length it occurred to me that, much like wines have flavour profiles, each category had its own representation/art profile.  I settled on presenting the category profiles in a similar fashion, with measures and intents substituting for flavours and aromas.

In the graphs presented in the gallery below, each of the 19 representative vs illustrative measures have been converted so that they express the illustrative freedom allowed in each of the 18 categories.  This means that a category with a reality/art profile covering a small area and closely adhering to the center of the graph is one where the role of representational photography is more greatly valued.  By contrast, where the area of a profile is large and approaches the outer edges of the graph, the illustrative values of photographs in this category are more highly prized.

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Reality / Illustrative ‘profile’ of each category of the APPAs

As you can see there are some reality/art profiles that are common to more than one category.  The profiles for Advertising, Commercial, Album and Photography Book are identical, and Landscape varies from them in only one aspect (must be 100% photographic in origin rather than simply substantially photographic in origin). Another profile is repeated across the Newborn, Family and Pet/Animal categories.  Portrait and Illustrative share the same profile. The remaining 8 categories have unique profiles, usually stricter. [4]


How free are photographers to ‘play’ with photos in the 2016 AIPP APPA categories?

The chart above shows the different levels of freedom to ‘tinker’ with original images based on their total score in my assessment data.  It makes it clear that post-processing is a highly desirable addition in most of the categories.  At the same time, there is a smaller subset in which post-processing is unwelcome. 

Explicit permissions that I find particularly notable are that ‘head swaps’ are permitted for the newborns and family categories. Also, the rules for the Landscape category state that “Photographs must depict the natural or human/urban environment, but may be interpretative (in other words, they need not be literal images of a scene) [2]. This means that APPA winners could be photos of a newborn with swapped heads, or landscape photos of places that don’t exist. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that it seemed necessary to comment in the Pet/Animal category rules that the photograph “must include an actual animal.”[3]

However, to be honest, I’m rather proud that Australia’s Professional Photography Awards are tackling this problem, even if it isn’t obvious, and even if there is a need for more rigour in the methodology. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s have a look at the way the current and previous APPA Chairpersons and organisers have corralled different types of professional photography.


Current state of ‘photojournalism’ vs ‘open’ nature of APPA categories

In a landscape such as this, the overall winner for the year will more often than not come from the pool of highly post-processed images just by dint of proportions: there are almost double the number of illustrative categories. Lisa Saad’s win is consistent with this strategy.

Despite this emphasis on interpretative/illustrative photography, the categories as they currently stand demonstrate a lot of sincere and experienced thinking across the realm of professional photographic process.

Yet, one thing really struck me as I looked at the rules: the two sub-categories for Wedding. I think this is an important variation of perspective in the APPAs.  For the Wedding category, though there can be only one overall category winner, AIPP has made a distinction between representative and illustrative Wedding professional photography. For me, this is a hint as to a sensible way to distinguish between representative photography and photo art. 

Representative photography can co-exist in harmony with illustrative photographic art

There are categories which will almost always be illustrative photographic art (advertising and commercial), and ones which will almost always be representative photographs (documentary and science), but there are many categories in which both approaches are valid for different purposes.  Perhaps a good way to conceptualise the solution to the controversy around photography as science (representation of the real world) vs art (evocative of the emotion and ideals of a moment in time), is to look at the awards as a set of categories aligned with photoart, photojournalism or both.  Something like this perhaps:


What about making room for both types of photography in more categories?

In addition to being more balanced and providing new opportunities and greater clarity for participants and the general public as to the nature of competition submissions and winners, it rationalises the no-doubt difficult to maintain sets of disparate rules.  In this methodology, illustrative categories could be all assigned to the one ‘open’ profile, and representational categories could all be assigned to one ‘photojournalistic’  category, with both types available to the categories where both types make sense.  The representative / illustrative profiles could thus be rationalised to only a few, which would remove confusion and doubt.  Any remaining exceptions that truly represented a distinct difference could then be included.

What do you think?

Now, you may have a different point of view on the reality/art aspects I defined based on the various APPA category rules provided, or perhaps you feel that the measures I assigned are too fine-grained or not fine-grained enough.  Or you may disagree with my assessments.  Or you may feel the categories are just fine as they are, thank you. Or you may be one of the people who wonders how we retain our sense of photography as representative of the real world, when post-processing is seriously softening the idea of reality in photography.  However you feel, your opinion is valid and valued.  Please let me know what you think, because this is very much an open question and the more we can discuss it, the closer we can come to thoroughly describing the landscape of photo credibility within the larger framework of photography as a versatile science and artform that serves many purposes in society.

Thank you Anthony Brown for bringing the Rocco Ancora / Peter Eastway interview to my attention.  It has been an enlightening journey to consider their words and the rules of the categories and how all this rich information sits within the framework of my research.  Much obliged.

Assessment data (comments welcome) appa_2016_category_illustrative_freedom_assessments_sabrina_caldwell

[1] These images are thumbnail illustrations of Lisa Saad’s much larger images available at the APPA website located at They are used in keeping with ‘fair use’ provisions of copyright for research. Request for permission to use larger versions of the images is pending.
[2] Accessed 23/12/2016
[3] Accessed 23/12/2016
[4] Accessed 23/12/2016.  Note that the Science sub category requirements, particularly the astrophotography sub-clause are not represented at present in the worksheet or graphs pending working out the complicated nuances of these rules.

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