Aisle 2, Row 3, Seat 5, Texas Theatre, 231 West Jefferson Boulevard, Dallas, Texas


Approximately an hour after he fatally shot President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald entered the Texas Theatre around 1:30 p.m. He didn’t pay for a ticket, and sat in the back to watch the second part of a double feature, Cry of Battle/War Is Hell.

It was inside here, seated at , that Oswald was found by the police. When the police arrived, Oswald behaved as a guilty person that he was. As cops approached him, he punched an officer in the face, and drew a revolver from his waistband before being tackled down and cuffed.

When Joel Stenfeld showed up at Texas Theatre in 1993 for his book, On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, Oswald’s seat were long gone. The actual chair was removed that very day by the manager who took it home as a souvenir. Its replacement was confiscated(!) by the FBI the next day for evidence thinking it was the original seat. The book, published in 1996, was a powerful record of fifty locations in America where acts of violence were committed. (Today, the seat has golden words, “Lee Harvey Oswald, November 22, 1963″painted upon it). 


Photography — 2011 in Review

Iconic Photos bid fond farewells to those we lost in 2011.

The big photography news of the year was deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros during a mortar attack in Misrata, but among the Arab Spring’s other unfortunate victims were a few photographers: Lucas Dolega, who died from injuries sustained on day of Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia; Ali Hassan al-Jaber, the Qatari photojournalist who had the dubious honor of being the first foreign journalist to be killed during the Libyan war, and Anton Hammerl, who was abducted and executed by pro-Qaddafi forces.

But those who want some reminding that the world has already been an inhospitable place to journalists and photographers need only to look at the lives of those old masters who died this year. As Rashid Talukder was documenting the birthpangs of Bangladesh, the retreating Pakistani army was massacred thousands of his compatriots. Guy Crowder, that acclaimed chronicler of black LA for five decades, and Shel Hershorn, who captured iconic images of the civil rights movement and retired traumatized after photographing a fatally wounded Lee Harvey Oswald, both lived and knew that era of inequality and segregation.

The Golden Age of black-and-white photography once again flashed in front of our eyes with the depatures of many master lensmen of that era. There was Leo Friedman, who captured many of the iconic images of the golden age of Broadway. There was T. Lux Feininger, the younger brother of the great Andreas Feininger, who documented the artistic avant-garde in interbellum Germany. There was Richard Steinheimer, known as Ansel Adams of railroad photography.

And then there was Goksin Sipahioglu, the Turkish photographer who covered the Cuban missile crisis, the Prague Spring and the Munich Olympics attacks, and who more famously founded the renowned Paris-based photo agency Sipa. Most singularly, Miroslav Tichy, the Czech voyeur who died this year, took surreptitious pictures of women in his hometown of Kyjov, using homemade cameras constructed of cardboard tubes, tin cans and other at-hand materials.

On popculture side, two great music photographers who were known for their bold album covers died: Barry Feinstein, whose close partnership with Bob Dylan produced the singer’s most iconic photos and Robert Whitaker, who shot The Beatles’ butcher album cover. Gunther Sachs, bon vivant, playboy, and photographer, committed suicide.

Also dimmed are lens and flashes of Ken Russell, Deano Risley, Gautam Rajadhyaksha, Jerome Liebling, Lázaro Blanco, Milton Rogovin, Brian Lanker, Pete Carmichael, Steve Gladstone, M. Y. Ghorpade, Heiko Wittenborn and Franke Keating. Michael Abramson, who took photographs of patrons at nightclubs on the south side of Chicago during the mid-seventies and LeRoy Grannis, the godfather of surfphotography, are also no more.


(To be concluded tomorrow, other photography stories of 2011 and my picking of the Best Photojournalism Apps). 


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Oswald Backyard Photos

Never before or since had a series of photograph been this throughly analyzed. From the day they were discovered as the police raided Lee Harvey Oswald’s home, the photos of Oswald posing with a rifle and two communist newspapers were subjected to intense scrutiny and subsequently provided enough fodder for conspiracy theorists.

The photos, taken by Oswald’s wife Marina in the spring of 1963, were highly important because the rifle Oswald was holding appeared to be the one used to assassinate President Kennedy. It was made public in late February 1964, when it appeared on the covers of many publications, but the most notably, on the cover of Life magazine. To enhance the image’s quality, the photo had been retouched in several areas — a common practice in the magazine world. Many readers noticed some details of photo differed from publication to publication, and a controversy arose.

In particular, the readers noted that on the cover of Life (top) Oswald’s rifle had a sniper scope, but on the cover of the Detroit Free Press and Newsweek, there was no sniper scope. It later transpired that a copy editor accidentally erased the scope while altering the image’s contrast, but it was too late. On seeing the photo from inside the jail, Oswald insisted he had never seen it before and that someone had superimposed his head onto another body. Skeptics — including those geniuses behind the movie J.F.K. — pointed at the strange line across Oswald’s chin suggesting the head may have been pasted into the photo (This line was later determined to be a water spot).

To reassure the restless public, the C.B.S. asked a professional photographer to reproduce the photos as part of an ambitious four-part CBS documentary called “The Warren Report”. The photographer, Lawrence Schiller recreated the picture at the same address, 214 Neeley Street, on the same date and time in March, using a model, and discovered that a straight nose shadow corresponded with an angular body shadow, just as in the disputed picture. Unsatisfied, the House Select Committee on Assassination commissioned a further panel of photographic experts to study the photo. After a meticulous examination that involved microscopic analysis and photogrammetric comparison of Oswald’s face to other photos of him, the experts answered twenty-two points raised by skeptics, and concluded the photos were genuine.

This drawn-out analysis subjected onto the contents of the photo eclipsed other more important questions: Why was the photo taken? How many versions or copies were made? To whom were they sent and why? What is the meaning behind mysterious and foreboding phrases in various languages scrawled on the backs of some photos?  Answers to these remain inscrutable, but they don’t suggest a vast underlying conspiracy. Yet the speculations that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on the orders of the CIA, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson, the Kremlin, the FBI or the military industrial complex will simply not go away. Tall tales are part of the catharsis process by which many deal with traumatic life events, and the conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination center on the public’s inability to grasp that even the most powerful man on earth could be simply gunned down by a lone gunman.

Lee Harvey Oswald shot


On November 24, 1963, two days after Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he was about to be transfered police headquarters to the nearby county jail. Oswald was handcuffed to Dallas detective Jim Leavelle. At 11:21 am, stepping out from a crowd of reporters and photographers, a nightclub owner Jack Ruby fired a Colt Cobra .38 into Oswald’s abdomen on a nationally televised live broadcast.

His motives for killing Oswald were not clear. There is some evidence it was on a whim, for Ruby left his dog, Sheba, in the car. He told that he helped the city of Dallas “redeem” itself in the eyes of the public, that Oswald’s death would spare Jackie Kennedy the ordeal of appearing at Oswald’s trial and that he avenged Kennedy. Ruby was convicted of Oswald’s murder and died in prison.

Although hundreds of cameras and news reels captured the moment, the most famous image of Ruby’s killing was made by the Dallas Times-Herald reporter, Robert H. Jackson. He won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for Photography for the above photo, which showed “the hunched determination of the assassin, the painful gasp of the handcuffed victim, and the shock of helplessness on the face of a policeman”. 

Bob Jackson had missed the President’s assassination earlier; he had been riding with Kennedy’s motorcars, but he was changing film and giving it to his editor when shots rang out. He had the dubious honor of being the only photographer in the press corps to miss the assassination. Two days later he went to the Dallas police headquarters. He remembers the fateful day:

“I walked right in. There was no security to speak of. Nobody checked my press pass.

I had seen Ruby once. He came up to the photo department at the paper and brought one of his strippers. That day there was a feeling in the air that something could happen. When Oswald came out the door, I raised my camera to my eye. I was ready. We stood in a semicircle about eleven feet in front of the door which formed a little clearing.

People yelled out, ‘Here he comes.’ As I looked through the camera, Oswald took eight or ten steps, and I saw a body moving into my line of sight. I leaned over the car to the left, Ruby moved three quick steps and bang. When he shot, I shot.”

Jackson’s contact sheets were displayed about ten years ago at  artandphotographs gallery in London; I couldn’t get hold of their digital copies. If you can, please let me know. @aalholmes