Testimony of Richard Trask

Before the Assassination Records Review Board -- 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 Semelak 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. Live 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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