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Testimony of Richard Trask

Before the ARRB, 4/2/97

14             JUDGE TUNHEIM:  Next we will hear from 

15   Richard Trask who is a photgraphic expert on the 

16   photography of the assassination and has written a book 

17   entitled "Pictures of the pain.  And we welcome your 

18   presence here today, Mr. Trask.  Good to see you again. 

19             MR. TRASK:  I have some prepared remarks 

20   which I am going to cut down a bit for the sake of 

21   time.

22             It is both a pleasure and an honor to be 


 1   before the board again.  After I spoke with you in 

 2   March 1995 during your hearings to obtain public input 

 3   on the scope of your work, I was most pleased that you 

 4   actively included photographic records within your 

 5   purview.  I believe the diverse assassination research 

 6   community and the broader community of American 

 7   historians universally applaud your efforts and 

 8   tenacity to locate and make available any and all 

 9   records relating directly and indirectly to the 

10   assassination President Kennedy.  I also want to tell 

11   you how impressed I have been by the professionalism, 

12   objectiveness and commitment of David Marwell, and the 

13   staff with whom I have come into contact, particularly 

14   Tom Samoluk with whom I have spoken and worked with on 

15   a number of questions. 

16             I have been asked to comment today on the 

17   significance of the Zapruder film of the President 

18   Kennedy assassination, particularly with regards to how 

19   the film fits into the historical record of the event.  

20   Though I am not a specialist on photographic 

21   technology, I spent over ten years researching the 

22   photographic history of the assassination as to the 


 1   story of the photographers and their experiences, the 

 2   visual images they created and how these images have 

 3   been used and abused by the government, media and 

 4   critic.  My wife and I self-published a book in 1994 

 5   titled "Pictures of the Pain: Photography and the 

 6   Assassination of President Kennedy."

 7             Historical photography is typically defined 

 8   as the use of photographic images to facilitate the 

 9   study and interpretation of history.  Photography has 

10   limitations for use as historical evidence, however, 

11   and may exhibit only partial truths, biases and 

12   distortions of reality.  It can never tell the whole 

13   story of an event, and one must cautiously realize its 

14   limits.  Yet for all the potential shortcomings, 

15   photography comes closer than any other record to being 

16   a true trace of of reality.  

17             While eyewitnesses' accounts of events can be 

18   accurate, their accuracy is skewed by the emotional 

19   impact of the event upon the witness, the location of 

20   the witness to the event, personal bias, the later 

21   opinions of others and recollections over time.  Though 

22   the medium of -- through the medium of photography, 


 1   however, a photographer captures on film in a form 

 2   truly better than any person's eye or memory brief, 

 3   relevant and dramatic slices of the reality of the 

 4   scene, and these created images are able to be examined 

 5   and interpreted as true historical artifacts of the 

 6   incident itself. 

 7             At Dealey Plaza on November 22nd, 1963, about 

 8   three dozen people had cameras.  These incidental 

 9   observers of history recorded in a variety of 

10   photographic formats and with differing equipment and 

11   skills, the last moments in the life of a President of 

12   the United States.  One of the most famous 

13   photographers there was Abraham Zapruder.  

14             Around noontime Zapruder walked a short 

15   distance to the Dealey Plaza park area.  He noticed the 

16   rectangular block some four feet high at the west end 

17   of the decorative concrete pergola area.  This location 

18   would afford him an elevated perch, giving him a good 

19   sweeping view of Elm Street.  The complete Elm Street 

20   motorcade sequence which Zapruder filmed runs about 26 

21   seconds.  

22             The 486 frames, all later subsequently 


 1   assigned individual numbers for investigative 

 2   references, had been exposed through Zapruder's 

 3   telephoto camera lens at 18.3 frames per second.  The 

 4   first 132 frames were shot of the lead motorcycle 

 5   escort and when Zapruder started his camera again for 

 6   an approximately 19-second uninterrupted run, his first 

 7   frame showed the presidential Lincoln already on Elm 

 8   Street.  

 9             To call Zapruder's film remarkable is an 

10   exaggerated understatement.  It is, due to the subject 

11   matter and clear angle of view undoubtedly one of the 

12   most important if not the most historically important 

13   movie film ever made.  Noted researcher Josiah Thompson 

14   correctly described the Zapruder film to you today and 

15   in his 1967 book as "the nearest thing to absolute 

16   truth about the sequence of the events in Dealey 

17   Plaza."  

18             We watch as the President and Governor react 

19   to shots being made through their bodies followed by a 

20   short sequence in which Mrs. Kennedy leans forward and 

21   holds the arm of the President.  The next is a terrible 

22   scene as the President's head explodes.  Like a rag 


 1   doll, he crumbles into his seat while his wife scurries 

 2   out towards the car trunk.  

 3             This amateur home movie, almost not made in 

 4   the first place, soon became one of the most well known 

 5   artifacts of the 20th century.  Though this strip of 

 6   film shows us a in excruciating detail the fact that a 

 7   president died, it also opened to immense speculation 

 8   the interpretation of the exact means of his death.  

 9   Had the Zapruder film never been taken, much of the 

10   later debate over the actual sequence of shots, the 

11   timing of the shots and the victims' reactions to the 

12   shots would not have taken place.  

13             It is a dichotomy that much of these later 

14   controversies surrounding the facts of the 

15   assassination found birth in this, the very piece of 

16   evidence that brought us the most truthful visual 

17   record of the assassination itself.  As a result of the 

18   film's existence, various government agencies and a 

19   subculture of investigators have delved into science, 

20   pseudo science, studying physics, ballistics, medicine, 

21   pathology, human reaction to stimuli and photo 

22   interpretation, all to find the truth of the reality.


 1             During the afternoon of November 22nd, 

 2   Zapruder had his film developed and then had three 

 3   first-generation copies made.  Later that day the 

 4   Dallas Secret Service was given custody of two of the 

 5   copies of the film.  These prints were subsequently 

 6   used by the FBI and Secret Service in the government's 

 7   investigation.  The existence and potential 

 8   newsworthiness of this film soon became known to the 

 9   media.  

10             Life Magazine editor Richard Stoley arrived 

11   in Dallas by the end of the day.  Life had the 

12   reputation of being the premier weekly illustrated 

13   magazine, which prided itself in its ability to snag 

14   and illustrate important stories.  Stoley contacted 

15   Zapruder and was able through good timing, Life's deep 

16   money pockets and the magazine's fine reputation as 

17   perceived by Zapruder to require all reproduction 

18   rights and the original film.  

19             Life published a selection of the film frames 

20   in its November 29, 1963 issue.  Its emotional impact 

21   on the American public was immense.  Though additional 

22   frames were reproduced in subsequent issues of Life 


 1   over the next few years, Time-Life's dogged refusal to 

 2   allow this key historical film to be viewed by the 

 3   public in any form save by what Life believed to be 

 4   appropriate was the cause for many legitimate observers 

 5   to condemn their policy.  This possessive and secretive 

 6   attitude would help foster the belief among many 

 7   believers that Life was responsible for preventing 

 8   serious nongovernmental investigation from learning the 

 9   entire truth about the assassination.  

10             The Warren Commission relied heavily on 

11   in-house studies of what the Zapruder film revealed.  

12   The hearings volume made available in November 1964 

13   included reproductions of over 160 frames from the 

14   film.  As a result, for the first time interested 

15   researchers had a chance to examine much of the film 

16   for themselves.  This was followed in 1969 by bootleg 

17   copies of the movie which came into general circulation 

18   as the result of the Garrison investigation, and the 

19   first television broadcast of the film in March 1975. 

20             The film became more and more available and 

21   criticism of Time-Life's repressive policy made the 

22   company so uncomfortable that in April 1975 the films 


 1   ownership was transferred back to the family for $1.  

 2   Numerous theories and books have been produced as a 

 3   result of the study of the Zapruder film.  Various 

 4   government agencies, major corporations and 

 5   institutions of higher learning have been caught up in 

 6   the interpretation of this film's meaning while scores 

 7   of objective and subjective amateur sleuths have 

 8   attempted to exact from it elusive truths.  

 9             And what is the actual significance of this 

10   film to the understanding of the events of the 

11   assassination?  How does it compare with other 

12   surviving documentary materials?  Comparing it to the 

13   14 other known amateur and professional 8 and 16 

14   millimeter films made in Dealey Plaza during the 

15   assassination and the immediate aftermath, it is my 

16   considered opinion that the Zapruder camera optics, the 

17   film stock used, the film technique of the operator, 

18   and clarity of the subject make it far superior to any 

19   other films made.  It is also the only film to show the 

20   assassination in its entirety and from a location which 

21   graphically displays the horror of the event and full 

22   movements of the victims and others in the presidential 


 1   limousine.  

 2             Thus, this is the most important artifact 

 3   existing which actually displays in visual record the 

 4   entire assassination and one of the best, if not the 

 5   best in terms of clarity.  So too, I would venture to 

 6   say that given the drama and content of the film, this 

 7   is undoubtedly the most important film ever made of an 

 8   historic event.  There are certainly other dramatic 

 9   films which have been made but none compared to the 

10   historic nature of this event.  I have been unable to 

11   think of another comparable example of such a 

12   monumental historic event captured on film so 

13   completely.  

14             Given the importance of the film when 

15   compared to other photos and films made that day, how 

16   then does this document compare with other singular 

17   documentary materials relating to the assassination?  

18   As explained earlier, this record is indeed unique and 

19   a cornerstone to any examination and investigation into 

20   the incident.  A simple examination of how this film 

21   has been so heavily used in the government 

22   investigation and that of so many other investigators 


 1   easily bears this out.  Put simply, this film is in my 

 2   opinion the most important surviving document of the 

 3   President Kennedy assassination.  

 4             And what of the significance of the original 

 5   film versus a good first-generation copy of it?  The 

 6   original Zapruder film is a true artifact in that it 

 7   was the actual record made during the assassination.  

 8   The one and the same film exposed at the time of the 

 9   shooting.  A physical examination of it without the 

10   necessity of electronics or other interpretive devices 

11   save light and enlargement, takes us to the time of the 

12   event itself, and is clearer than any multi-generation 

13   copy can be.  

14             Though not a technician, I can tell you that 

15   an examination of both the original and any copy made 

16   from the original, barring any external manipulation, 

17   will clearly show the original superior in clarity to 

18   any copy.  

19             Should the original be within the collection 

20   of the National Archives as the representative 

21   historical repository of the nation?  I believe beyond 

22   a doubt that it belongs within the collection owned by 


 1   the United States.  It is my opinion that given the 

 2   importance of this artifact, both in its historical and 

 3   potential evidentiary nature, such an artifact should 

 4   not remain in private or corporate hands and should be 

 5   in the representative hands of the American people.  

 6             I am, however, somewhat uncomfortable with 

 7   the idea of direct taking of private property by the 

 8   government, even when compensated value given.  Perhaps 

 9   I am too much of an optimist, but I would hope that 

10   such an artifact as this which has generated quite a 

11   bit of revenue over the years might be considered by 

12   its current owners to be at a point in its history to 

13   be appropriately given over to the American people.  It 

14   would be preserved and should be available under 

15   correct conservation standards for appropriate 

16   potential future study.  

17             Technologies will undoubtedly continue to 

18   evolve allowing for potentially new study of the far 

19   superior original film.  Availability of the original 

20   film may also lay to rest the present opinion of some 

21   buffs that the film was manipulated to get rid of 

22   proofs of conspiracy.  Possible commercial licensing of 


 1   the images might possibly be kept by the owners, but 

 2   the original film artifact itself is too important to 

 3   be eventually made into a trophy by others for private 

 4   or personal gain or notoriety.  

 5             This film was created by a combination of 

 6   amateur talent and surendipity.  Its place in American 

 7   history is well established and hopefully the present 

 8   owners will acknowledge the importance of this film to 

 9   the American people as a whole by appropriate and 

10   generous action.  

11             JUDGE TUNHEIM:  Thank you, Mr. Trask. 

12             Questions?  

13             MR. HALL:  I defer to my colleague.  

14             MR. GRAFF:  I regret I do not know your book.  

15   Have you personally examined the original?  

16             MR. TRASK:  I have never seen the original.  

17   I have seen the Archive copies and a number of other 

18   copies.

19             MR. GRAFF:  How then do you know there is 

20   greater clarity there?  

21             MR. TRASK:  Only because that is a fact of 

22   nature, when you are talking about an original 


 1   photograph, as originally taken, and compare it with 

 2   any copy, superiorly made as possible, the copy always, 

 3   through photographic artifact, through other 

 4   manipulations, just is not as crisp and clear as an 

 5   original.  

 6             MR. HALL:  Let me, if I may, just raise a 

 7   couple of questions.  You used some powerful words in 

 8   your presentation, "truth," "reality," and I raise this 

 9   because I want to put this proposition before you, that 

10   the Zapruder film does not show the assassination of 

11   the President.  The Zapruder film shows the president 

12   being shot.  It does not demonstrate who shot the 

13   President, and indeed, if you compared the Zapruder 

14   film with the video that we have of Jack Ruby shooting 

15   Lee Oswald, on an evidentiary basis that's a far more 

16   powerful piece of film, if you will, than is the 

17   Zapruder film.  

18             Now, again, I am playing a little bit of the 

19   role of the devil's advocate here so you'll have to 

20   excuse me, but doesn't that in essence really mean that 

21   other than the great and tragic circumstance of the 

22   President being murdered in the presence of his wife, 


 1   doesn't that really mean that the Zapruder film on 

 2   balance puts more ambiguity into our understanding of 

 3   the assassination than it brings clarity?  

 4             MR. TRASK:  Simple answer to that is yes.  I 

 5   was trying to point out the dichotomy of the Zapruder 

 6   film is the fact that if the Warren Commission did not 

 7   have the Zapruder, film much of the controversy that 

 8   arose as to number of shots, timing and so forth, just 

 9   wouldn't have been there because the other films don't 

10   show in the clarity that the Zapruder film does this 

11   kind of information.  

12             MR. HALL:  I think this is an important 

13   point, at least it is for Dr. Hall.  We would like to 

14   operate on the theory that as a piece of evidence, it 

15   should be retained because it is conclusory.  But I 

16   would submit that the value of the Zapruder film lies 

17   in its ambiguity.  And it the ambiguity and hence the 

18   inability to come to closure with some of the central 

19   issues related to the assassination, at least given the 

20   present technology, that makes it important as a public 

21   record.  

22             MR. TRASK:  There will always be ambiguity 


 1   with the Zapruder film.  However, in my experience of 

 2   being interested and reading about the assassination 

 3   over a 30-year period, it has been amazing how much 

 4   information has been able to be generated by study of 

 5   the film.  I can't tell in the future what new 

 6   techniques would be devised which will give us a closer 

 7   aspect of the truth.  But, no, you are not going to 

 8   find in the Zapruder film a Rosetta stone of who did 

 9   it.  

10             MR. HALL:  Therefore, how much is it worth to 

11   the American public?  

12             MR. TRASK:  Well, if it were on the open 

13   market, I believe that it would be probably -- 

14             MR. HALL:  It is now a trophy, it is not a 

15   piece of evidence.  

16             MR. TRASK:  Yes and no.  It is evidence, you 

17   certainly can find information about it.  It is also a 

18   matter of the historic record.  It is as important to 

19   keep something like this as it is anything else in 

20   history.  It is, I believe, the most dramatic film that 

21   was ever photographed showing a presidential 

22   assassination.  


 1             MR. HALL:  Thank you.  

 2             MS. NELSON:  But to continue that a little 

 3   bit, LMH clearly has not yet decided -- and they have 

 4   had it a long time -- to give it to the American 

 5   people.  So if you were weighing the value, should we 

 6   weigh the value in a way that would cost what, what is 

 7   the top?

 8             MR. TRASK:  I believe on the open market 

 9   something like that would be in the tens of millions of 

10   dollars.  I do not believe the United States Government 

11   should pay that kind of money for that type of film.  

12   And I am hoping -- you know, I am just a little old 

13   archivist from a small town in Massachusetts, but I 

14   know that people give -- 

15             MR. HALL:  Is this a Sam Ervin talking --

16             [Laughter.]

17             MR. TRASK:  In my experience, several years 

18   ago I had a person who made a lot less money than I 

19   make who came in with a copy of the Declaration of 

20   Independence that was printed in Salem in 1776 and it 

21   had on the back of it "To be read before the clergy in 

22   Danvers" and we had it examined and it was in excess of 


 1   $30,000, and this man did not hesitate, and he could 

 2   have used the money, to give it to our little archives, 

 3   and I would think that if the Zapruder family, 

 4   considering the history of this film -- what a 

 5   marvelous demonstration this would be to donate 

 6   something like this.

 7             MR. HALL:  This is America.  Why don't they 

 8   have a right to make something off their good fortune?  

 9             MR. TRASK:  Well, I think they have.  I think 

10   it is quite evident that money has been made off of it 

11   from day one.  

12             JUDGE TUNHEIM:  Thank you very much, Mr. 

13   Trask.

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