An Analysis of Judyth Baker’s “Pixillation Study”

By Zach Jendro and Trish Fleming

altgens6.jpg

Within the contentious realm of Kennedy assassination research, numerous theories endure. Most are challenged immediately by veteran researchers, their debunking skills hardened by years of confronting implausible “flights of fancy.”  Some of the more plausible may continue to take on new life, and, indeed, new supporters with each public proclamation, despite efforts of skeptical investigators to sort the gold from the fools’ gold. One such theory concerns the identification of a man who appears in a famous photograph taken by Robert Altgens, known as Altgens 6 (above). The focal point of the image was the presidential limousine and was snapped as the President was grasping his throat injury, which preceded the fatal shot to his head.  That visual information, alone, is extremely valuable. However, and, for good reason, much attention has been paid to the bystanders and scenery in the background. An area within the background of the photograph that has received a significant amount of focus is the doorway of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, for it shows a man that, to some, looks like the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. This figure has commonly been referred to as “Doorman.” To those who consider that Oswald was innocent, this is a “Rosetta Stone,” for if Oswald was, indeed, standing in that doorway during the shooting, his guilt would be absolved.  Among those who believe this to be the case are members of an organization, known as the Oswald Innocence Campaign (OIC).  Indeed, this assertion concerning the Altgens photo seems to form the crux of the OIC’s argument, when one examines their website.[1] However, investigators, including the Warren Commission, came to the conclusion that this figure in the photograph was Oswald’s coworker, Billy Lovelady. [2]

In July of 2014, Judyth Vary Baker, an artist and author who has claimed to have been Oswald’s girlfriend during the period preceding the assassination, released a study that she and others stated was both scientific and conclusive. She asserted that she was able to prove, once and for all, that this figure was most certainly Oswald based upon her research involving a technique she referred to as “pixelation.”  She stated that, as a “living witness” and a “trained scientist” that this was the “most important argument that (she) has ever posted.”[3] Clearly, such a bold statement concerning this crucial piece of evidence deserved some further analysis. After reading her study carefully, some enormous flaws were quickly made apparent. Using the scientific method to hold an experiment such as Baker’s up to scientific scrutiny allows other researchers to challenge or verify such proposed findings.  Science, itself, demands that such procedures take place, for science is a never-ending quest for answers to challenges, not an open and shut investigation. It is important to state that this study is not an attack on Baker, herself, or her other claims.

 

The Scientific Method

                A basic understanding of the scientific method, which is the core of experimentation and scientific discovery, is vital to this discussion. For the purpose of this paper, an elementary explanation of this topic will be used, for many of the finer points of scientific experimentation are far outside the scope of this study. Indeed, the experiment in question is very basic; therefore, such conversation would only serve to stray from the topic at hand. The scientific method is a basic set of steps that an experiment is built around.  A simple framework using the five main steps of the scientific method will be used to clarify this experiment’s scientific merit. These steps are:

  1. State your problem or observation.
  2. Make a hypothesis. Make a basic prediction around which you would like to build an experiment.
  3. Predict possible outcomes.
  4. Perform the experiment. Carefully record your data.
  5. Analyze the data and come to a conclusion.

This paper will attempt to directly quote Baker’s experiment[4] as much as possible to retain her original meaning.  All direct quotes, unless noted, are taken from her experiment.  Additional information regarding this experiment was derived from online conversations with Baker after her experiment was shared publicly.

Judyth Baker’s “Pixelation Experiment”

  1. State your problem or observation. “…it seemed to me that a pixel analysis of Doorman’s shirt compared with Oswald and Lovelady’s just might resolve the matter (of whether it was Oswald or Lovelady in the doorway.)” That is, Baker devised an experiment to determine who Doorman was.
  2. Make a hypothesis. Baker’s hypothesis seems to be, based on her description of her experiment, that Oswald was standing in the doorway, not Lovelady. An analysis of the clothing worn by Doorman in Altgens 6 might determine identity.
  3. Predict possible outcomes. Based upon analysis, Doorman could be Oswald. Doorman could also be Lovelady. Doorman could be an unknown individual. (Although, this third possible outcome was not discussed by Baker.)
  4. Perform the experiment. This is where it gets confusing. An important part of science is providing all of the details of an experiment so others may attempt to reproduce your findings. This is not optional; it is crucial, for a scientific study must pass a rigorous testing phase, performed by other scientists who have no agenda, or it is generally not accepted by the scientific community. In order to do this, each step must be explained thoroughly, with an explanation of the equipment and materials used (in this case, computer hardware or software, a citation for the source photographs, a demonstration of the exact portion of the photograph studied) and measurements (resolution of the images). Also, the process of the experiment must be explained carefully, each step must be described so that others who are interested in reproducing the findings will be able to know exactly what the original experimenter did. None of this is present in Baker’s study. Reading her study gives us no idea of what she did, other than vague descriptions and explanations, some of which are technically unsound.  Here is a description of her methodology taken from the study which compared a small portion of Altgens 6 (Figure 2) to a photograph of Oswald taken after his arrest (Figure 3):

“Method: The original Doorway Figure is a tiny part of a much larger photograph, originally developed as a film composed not of pixels, as photos today are usually created, but of photosensitive chemicals that were then processed in a fluid subjected to a degree of Brownian motion, which distorted some of the pattern seen in the Doorway Figure’s shirt.

 Nevertheless, a consensus of observers agree that there are more features in the Doorway Figure’s face that correspond to Oswald’s face than to Lovelady’s. With these considerations in mind, it seemed logical to look closer at the shirt. A large portion of the shirtsleeve can be seen in the Altgens6 photo. It seemed reasonable to compare sections of Lovelady’s and Oswald’s shirtsleeves with the shirtsleeve in Altgens6. To do so, photos of such sections would have to be degenerated to the same degree as the Altgens6 shirtsleeve. On the Internet, the Altgens6 photo is pixelated, as are the FBI photos of Lovelady’s and Oswald’s shirts.

Pixelation: in computer graphics and digital photography, to cause (an image) to break up into pixels, as by over-enlarging the image.

Over-enlarging sections of pixelated photos of Lovelady’s and Oswald’s shirtsleeve would cause them to break up into new pixels. This would create a degeneration of the images similar to that seen in the Altgens6 photo of the Doorway Figure’s shirt sleeve. Similar sections of the degenerated images of Lovelady’s and of Oswald’s shirtsleeves could then be compared to the (similarly degenerated) Altgens6 shirtsleeve section.”

Evidently, what Baker attempted to do, was to zoom in on a bitmap (a digitized image), using image software, to the point where she could observe the rasterized elements of a small portion of the bitmap. Rasterization is a computer’s way of breaking down of an image into pixels for use in a digital format. Images can become rasterized at many different resolutions depending upon the size of the data file, that is, one image may be enlarged to 200% to see these “pixel squares”, another image may be enlarged to 1000% before these pixels are visible. Baker did not explain at what levels she enlarged the photographs to get to her particular rasterized image, nor did she give us the resolution of the image she started with. Therefore, it is not possible to duplicate her experiment. When asked which software she used to perform the experiment, Baker would not provide an answer.[5] Also, the precise portion of the Altgens image that she analyzed (it is only identified as the sleeve) had become enlarged to the point that it was no longer recognizable (Figure 4). When asked to point out which specific area of the image was used, she did not respond.[6] Therefore, without knowing which tools and initial measurements she used, as well as what she was measuring, there is no possible way to reproduce her study. It must also be noted that the effect of Brownian motion (random movement of particles suspended in a gas or fluid) on photography is, evidently, a new discovery by Baker, for no other reference to this could be found.[7]

Analyzing small portions of large photographs, as in the case of Altgens and Doorman, can be problematic. Even with high resolution scans, an image, when enlarged many times, loses much clarity and details can become muddled. This is most certainly the case with Doorman. When the authors of this paper initially examined the area of Altgens that contains the mysterious figure, it was assumed that the area that Baker identifies as his sleeve, was in fact, Doorman’s sleeve. However, appearances can be deceiving, especially when a three dimensional area in space is captured in a two dimensional photograph. There are several people standing between the camera and Doorman, each taking up a different location in physical space, but, through a loss of accurate perspective, objects in a photograph which can appear to be right on top of each other are actually separated by distance . What, in fact, appears to be Doorman’s sleeve is not actually his sleeve, it is the extended, waving arm of an unknown man standing several feet in front of Doorman (Figure 5). This becomes quite evident upon close examination.  A second unknown African American man is standing a step or two below Doorman, his face visible in profile in front of Doorman’s abdomen. The fact that this is more than likely not  Doorman’s arm can be proven by comparing lighting and shadows of the man’s face  at Doorman’s abdomen to the lighting on the sleeve. Simply put, the arm is in front of the face (Figure 6). The only way this positioning could be possible was if Doorman were hugging this African American man around the neck and casually standing there, watching the President drive by in this tender embrace. The discovery of whose arm actually appears in the area in question was made in the 1960s by Richard Sprague, who backed his evidence up with multiple photographs and motion picture stills.[8] The motion picture image of a figure standing in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository in that position waving or shielding his face is clearly seen in the Hughes Film.[9]  In fact, no portion of Doorman’s sleeve is identifiable in the photograph. The sleeve portion of the photograph that Baker did identify as being part of her study did not actually belong to Doorman. This makes her clothing comparison analysis completely irrelevant in any identification of Doorman or Oswald.

  1. “The Lovelady shirt retains its distinctive pattern even under severe degeneration, whereas Oswald’s shirt forms surprising boxes and lines similar to what can be seen in the Altgens6 shirtsleeve, when the pattern is magnified, which degenerates the pixelation. Therefore, the shirt seen in the Doorway Figure cannot be the shirt allegedly worn by Billy Lovelady. Further, the pattern of Lee Oswald’s shirt resembles the pattern of the shirt worn by the Doorway Figure when both shirts are subjected to a similar degree of pixelation degeneration.”

 

Her conclusion is invalidated based upon her misidentification of the examined portion of the Altgens photograph. However, it is based upon her observations and opinions concerning shapes. Observation does play an important role in an experiment; however, using an opinion that something “looks like” or “resembles” something else is not conclusive science due to it is subjectivity. Observation is partial due to personal opinion. Once an observer realizes that what appears to be Doorman’s sleeve could not be his sleeve, the resulting visible area of clothing is so degraded and shadowy that an accurate comparison of Doorman’s clothing to any other subject’s, Oswald’s or Lovelady’s, is inconclusive. The lack of detail in the facial features of the figure makes a facial comparison almost impossible. Even under the best of conditions, dissimilarities of lighting and the subject’s pose can make an individual look like a different person in other photographs. Elements that are vital to identifying a person’s identity beyond a reasonable doubt (facial measurements, ear structure, teeth of a smiling person) are not distinct within this portion of the photograph. Unless the analyst is an expert in anatomy, such an attempt at identification is foolhardy at best and should not be considered without serious evidence to buttress the claims.  Therefore, trying to determine who Doorman was, using Altgens 6 alone, is not a responsible experiment because of the lack of solid evidence in that one photograph to make a reasonable identification.  The flaws of Judyth Baker’s experiment demonstrate why:  loss of necessary details and it the difficulty in gauging the exact position of three dimensional objects that appear in two dimensional photographs. A clear, high resolution photograph and a detailed understanding of the surroundings is necessary. Until a clear image of the doorway area can be found, it is impossible to prove who is standing there. Therefore, such an identification is a historical red herring.

 

Special thanks to Joseph Backes, Lancelot Upperton, and Gayle Nix Jackson.

[1] http://www.oswald-innocent.com/overview.html

[2] Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, P.149.

[3] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1X2eD2Wl3xSmRHTuE02ntfYkb3ES2Kuo8wl3HHzzAlD8/edit

[4] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1X2eD2Wl3xSmRHTuE02ntfYkb3ES2Kuo8wl3HHzzAlD8/pub

[5] Judyth Baker, personal communication, August 5, 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=Effects+of+Brownian+Motion+on+photography

[8]Richard Sprague to Beverly Brunson, April 22, 1968. Harold Weisberg Collection.

[9] http://www.jfkassassinationgallery.com/displayimage.php?pid=5877&fullsize=1

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