Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Hiding In Plain Sight

A technique found employed in the clandestine world is the insertion into a common newspaper photograph of a coded visual element unrecognizable to the general public, but one communicating a message to others trained to spot and interpret it. The lexicon of information it can carry is brief, but to the point: It seems to say, "we are here and in charge. This is our creation"

One such visual code I've come to see the significance of I call "hiding in plain sight." It consists of the partial view of an anonymous figure seen in the background of a news picture. This presence rises from the otherwise unremarkable, for instance, when a too close alignment seems to occur between the camera taking the picture and the intended subject, who blocks, or obscures the identity of the person initiating the code. It is as if someone has dashed behind an object to hide, but deliberately left the presence of his anonymity behind---which in the case of action news photographs, would have required them to maintain an obscured relationship to the photographer over some time---typically, a number of consecutive shots.

This presupposes, of course, that the news photographer is unwitting to the act--or must be by dint of their being professionally credentialed, which may not be the case. But another technique surely requires the connivance of the picture taker, or editor. In this variation of encoding a photograph, a portion, or sliver of a figure will appear to one edge of a picture, mostly out of the picture frame. This usually results from the cropping of a larger image, since it's much more difficult for the code's initiator to maintain a moving relationship with a lens aperture, than with a lens.

In other cases, stylistic evidence within a news image can help prove the image maker, even the newsworthy subjects themselves, were just as cognizant of the covert effort underway as the encoding presence was. In an Associated Press photograph taken in a police station in Dallas during the aftermath of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy, the encoding presence stands behind Marina Oswald, wife of the alleged assassin, but his visage is obscured by the shorter figure of Marguerite Claverie Oswald, the mother of the accused, who stands centered in the foreground of the composition.

Marguerite Oswald seems paired in the foreground with a male figure her age, likely to be her husband and Lee Harvey Oswald's father, both of them with eyes downcast with concern, while Marina Oswald would seem to be paired with a young cowboy, who leans against a wall in the background. Both of them stare directly, even defiantly, back at the camera.

Whether you believe this to be a spontaneous moment captured in a public space between a family suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, and a news-wire photojournalist, whom they've never encountered before, who somehow gained access to the privileged scene, or, if you believe as I do---that the image represents a finely composed scenario with intentionally derivable meaning, which required the cooperation of everyone involved to construct---we all would admit that a tanned figure with a brush haircut, who is also casting his eyes downward in apparent worry or prayer, is standing much too close to the younger Mrs. Oswald for comfort---his, hers, or ours.

It is the sense of alarm that I personally feel at the looming and intentionally masked figure that makes for the presence's significance. In the same way, I feel no emotional identification at all with Marguerite Oswald, who's appearance to me is left a blank, and like Garbo's face requires us to do all the work of projecting, that I feel she is a witting co-conspirator to the killing of a President (although hiring Mark Lane as an attorney probably has something to do with it.)

Bob Jackson Photo Of Marguerite And Marina Oswald, November 1963

Original Source: Jobs Papa, Defunct,

With his back against a closed elevator door, Bob Jackson took this photo of Marguerite Oswald and Marina Oswald (the mother and wife of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald). The anguish of the moment is readily apparent on the face of Marina.

Marguerite still needs to work on her eye contact, but Marina Oswald is showing such tremendous range, if things had only been just a little bit different---she might have had a real chance at the Tuesday Weld slot.

Bob Jackson must have taken the first shot also, by the same elevator doors---an elevator lobby is really the only way to account for having thrown an attractively sullen young cow poke into the mix. Of course, now Bob and the women and the rest of the guys look rather handled, if you know what I mean.

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