Forensic Photography



If you’ve been following the controversy about the recently unearthed 3rd Robert Johnson photo, check out, which is the source for the following (edited):

The areas marked in red – the ticket pocket, the fly opening and the buttons on his jacket, trousers (pants) and shirt – are all on the wrong side for men’s clothing.   (Check your own clothes – for at least a century, US and European men’s clothes have had the buttons on the right hand side while women’s buttons have been on the left.

So – did Johnny Shines wear a suit and shirt tailored for a woman, or (far more likely) has the photograph been reversed?

The evidence of the clothing clearly points to a reversed photo.

But suddenly, “Robert Johnson” has become a left-handed guitarist, and – according to the two confirmed photos of him and the recollections of those who knew him – he was definitely right-handed.

The Robert Johnson Estate commissioned Lois Gibson (a police forensic artist) to authenticate the photo, which she duly did (see Vanity Fair, October 2008). Her research compared the features of the face in the new photo with those on the two other authenticated photos of Robert Johnson.

She was able to superimpose one on top of another and declared the result “an almost perfect fit”. Ms Gibson obviously didn’t notice that the photo had been reversed and since none of the faces in the three photos under analysis is symmetrical, surely her conclusions and her “authentication” of the photo must now be in serious doubt, to put it mildly.

There has been a lot of discussion and argument about this photo and the disputed identification of the subjects.   While stories about a “third Robert Johnson photo” have appeared in many mainstream magazines and newspapers, these have been based on a press release by Getty Images, who control the licensing rights.

However, it seems impossible to find anyone with knowledge/experience in the blues world (like fellow musicians Robert Jr Lockwood and David “Honeyboy” Edwards who actually knew Johnson and Shines or authors, researchers and journalists) to agree with Ms Gibson’s conclusions.

One Response to “Forensic Photography”

  1. Chris Smith Says:

    Here’s a question: I can’t make out the logo on the (Stella?) guitar in the photo–resolution is too low. If that logo is likewise reversed, that would corroborate your reading

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