Testimony of Richard Trask

Hearing of 3/24/95 -- Boston, Massachusetts
Our next witness is Mr. Richard Trask, who is the author of Pictures of the Pain: Photography and the Assassination of President Kennedy. It was published in 1994, an exhaustive study on the history of the photographic record surrounding the assassination.

Mr. Trask, welcome. Thank you for coming.

MR. TRASK: Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank the board for the invitation and the opportunity to address you this morning.

As you are all well aware, yours is an important though difficult task whose scope can become extremely open-ended, and no one from within the research community will recommend that you narrowly define your scope.

Indeed, there is at least one point which unites the diverse research community, composed of historians, lawyers, physicians, authors, and tens of thousands of other interested citizens.

That point is the desire for your pursuit the broadest definition of full and complete disclosure of any and all records relating to the assassination of President Kennedy.

I do not fool myself into believing that the outcome of your efforts will be universally praised as absolutely accomplishing your mandate or that the released records will bring forth a final and conclusive truth to the matter of who killed the President and why.

For generations beyond ours, these released materials will also be the grist for new theories and some wild speculation.

Yet, in spite of all the potential hype, profiteering, misuse, and misinterpretation of this new information, full disclosure should still be aggressively pursued by you and it should, in many cases, lay to rest old controversies and eventually clarify much of the truth.

Most importantly, your board's conscientious pursuit will turn around for the first time in almost 30 years a previously lackadaisical government performance as regards open access.

Past official inquiries into the President's assassination obfuscated and kept hidden large amounts of information.

Government officials, bureaucrats, archivists, and others having a hand in the creation and custody of these records, often due to potential agency embarrassment, incompetence, inertia, prejudice, or possessiveness, kept many of their records out of the public domain.

The research community, many of whom began their quest due to the perception of their government's purposefully withholding vital information, has convinced the majority of the public that this withholding is a sinister and purposeful hiding of a conspiracy to kill a president of the United States.

This belief has been virtually seared into the national psyche.

The only option for rightfully restoring and renewing the public trust in its government is by countermanding a history of political constraints and past prejudices in assassination inquiries through an active and massive declassification of all records relating directly and indirectly to the President's assassination, and the time and opportunity is obviously now.

I have personally become interested in the events of November 22, 1963, since they occurred, being a 16-year-old who was drawn in emotionally to the trauma of the shooting.

For many years, I believed that there was a large and masterful conspiracy that must have been responsible for taking the life of the President.

By the 1970s, I wasn't so sure about an intricate plot and began to feel manipulated by writers and critics, as well as by the government.

There have appeared so many facts, perceived facts, half- truths, innuendos, self-serving statements, and lies to make a pursuit of the truth, especially in light of the nondisclosure of so many government records, almost impossible.

Not wanting to add to the cacophony, yet desiring to contribute something to the historical record, I decided to focus on the previously understudied area of the photography of the event.

Now history is defined through historical photography, as the use of photographic images capable of supporting the study and interpretation of history, photography has limitations for use as historical evidence and may exhibit only partial truths, biases, and distortions of reality. It can never tell the whole story of an event. Yet, for all its potential shortcomings, it is closer to being a trace of reality than any other documentation.

In very broad strokes, let me comment about these photographic materials relating to the assassination and how they may be included within your review of records which should be released or sought.

Following the assassination, the FBI began a process of attempting to gather photographs as potential evidence, though after about a week of this process was less vigorously pursued.

Meanwhile, the news media used their own photographic sources, as well as those they obtained from amateurs who had been on the scene.

During the assassination, a minimum of 19 spectators in Dealey Plaza recorded some of that event, while at least 14 professional photographers took scenes from the motorcade or after exiting their vehicles.

Within a short time of the assassination, over a score more photographers were in the plaza recording all sorts of activity.

Those photographic materials which were collected, utilized, and kept by the FBI and subsequent Warren Commission investigation are quite scanty.

There are copies of some photographs, though most are dramatically cropped and multi-generational.

A number of photos, films, and videotapes possibly part of the original Commission record often do not show up in archival or Freedom of Information search requests.

There is little evidence that this class of source material, with the exception of the Zapruder film, was ever actively examined.

The professionals and their images, such as White House photographers Cecil Stoughton and Thomas Atkins, were virtually ignored, as were many amateurs who had made photos at the plaza.

Though the later House Select Committee on Assassinations was serious in its pursuit of potential photographic sources, when it ceased operations in 1979, with the exception of those photos and documents published within its report and hearings, their materials, contact reports, and subcommittee photographic studies were sealed to public access.

A full disclosure of photos and films, studies of these materials as prepared by the government or subcontractors, and all supporting documentation in the way of FBI and Secret Service field and lab reports should be released.

Also to be sought should be the National Photographic Interpretation Center and CIA records relating to the study of the Zapruder and possible other films and photos, as well as records relating to the Justice Department's pursuit or lack thereof in regards to the Charles Bronson film which the House Select Committee on Assassinations had requested they further study.

All other records relating to photographs and photography acquired or generated by the Warren Commission, Rockefeller Commission, Church Committee, and House Select Committee should be obtained.

Also to be searched out should be any and all records and photos relating to several persons whose films or photos are not now available or for which information about them is quite incomplete.

This includes the so-called babushka lady, Norman Similas, James Hankin, Gary Field, Jack Weaver, and James Powell. In Powell's case, files from the Army Intelligence Corps should be examined relating to his activities in and around the Texas School Book Depository.

I firmly believe that the President Kennedy assassination material should not only be sought for the object of a partial restoration in trust in regards to government disclosure and for the potential of learning more about the event as a criminal offense but also for gathering a complete record and preserving these materials for the sake of history.

With that in mind, I would urge as full a collection of photographic materials of the events of November 22nd as possible.

The study of this type of photo evidence by myself and others has shown it to be of some assistance in the explanation of previous points of controversy.

For example, a man believed by some to be Jack Ruby is seen in one photo which is taken near the book depository entrance shortly after the assassination. I uncovered a separate photo taken by someone else at about the same time in which it is clear that that man is obviously not Ruby.

The John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson libraries contain important November 22nd photographic resources created by the official White House photographers, as well as through photo and film gifts of individuals and organizations.

The maintenance of these visual materials is carried out in a highly professional manner, with fine conservation storage areas but with budget constraints on processing new material for public access.

This visual material should, if not specifically copied for inclusion in the National Archives assassination collection, be noted in any master listing of assassination-related materials available to the public.

Likewise, important photographic documentation is in the possession of the State of Texas, the Western New England College Archives of Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Dallas Municipal Archives and Records Center, particularly the original Dallas police department photo negatives made of the book depository building.

Through cooperative arrangement, possibly first-generation prints far better than those within the Warren Commission files could be made available to the National Archives collection.

The bulk of the important photographic sources, however, are still in private hands.

Although the board obviously cannot compel this material to be given to the national archives, it might be possible to come to an arrangement with these photographers or their families whereby the materials could be made a part of the permanent assassination collections.

Some important photographic sources have never been viewed by the government or the public.

Former presidential assistant David Powers is known to have taken film from aboard the follow-up car in the Dallas motorcade, while former Dallas motorcycle officer W. George Lumpkin at one time had possession of a Polaroid photo taken of him in the motorcade and with the book depository building in the background.

Another large category of original photo materials relating to the assassination are those created by print and television cameramen. An effort to obtain copies and an agreement for use should be attempted.

This material includes collections from the original news-gathering agencies and individual photographers who may possess originals. This category is extremely unrepresented in official government files.

Among these sources are the four television stations active in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 1963, the NBC and CBS television networks, and the Sherman Greenberg Film Library.

CBS also is reputed to have film out-takes of some potentially significant interviews filmed in 1967 in preparation for their documentary series "The Warren Report."

Some of the November 22nd coverage, including film by Dan Cook of KTTV and Tom Alyea of WFAA, is also possibly available, having been saved by the cameramen or possibly in other private hands.

Newspaper coverage included large numbers of negatives being generated by the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Times-Herald, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Some of the Dallas Times-Herald collection is now on deposit at the Dallas Public Library.

Various photographers or their families may also possess original materials not now represented within the newspaper libraries.

The Sixth-Floor Museum archives also has some important photos and negatives, including many made by William Allen and several others.

Time-Warner, Inc., has in its photo archives original coverage by staff photographer Art Rickerby, as well as collected film and prints made by several amateurs.

The wire services were likewise represented by their own photo staff and through the procuring of spot news photos and films.

United Press International was represented by staff photographers Frank Cancellare and William Allen, while UPI news film division originally purchased amateur films by Nix and Muchmore. UPI Betman News Photo now has possession of some of these resources.

Associated Press coverage included photos by James Altgens and Henry Burroughs, AP Wide World now possessing some of these important original negatives, particularly those made by Jim Altgens.

Multi-generation copies of photos not now extant elsewhere are also possibly among collections of assassination researchers.

To indicate its determination for an inclusive collection of photographic resources, the Assassination Record Review Board or National Archives itself should publicly request and actively seek out still unknown photographic resources which have thus far not come to light.

Though possibly beyond the original scope of your board, the active solicitation of these known and unknown visual prime resources to history are so important to collect and preserve, being among the most important and useful documents of what really occurred on November 22, 1963.

The sticking point is obviously how many of these privately and corporately owned artifacts can be acquired and made available to the public if the owners are reluctant to give up their originals or right to use of copies of the originals.

I, for one, believe that if an institution such as the National Archives is firmly committed and able to properly store and conserve these materials, that with effort an amicable agreement may be worked out for the deposit, purchase, or gift of significant amounts of these materials which will benefit the potential donors, the public interest, and especially the historic record.

Though they did not know it would be the case at the time, those photographers who were recording a presidential visit to Dallas some 32 years ago incidentally recorded one of the most significant watershed events of the 20th century.

The importance of their documentation of that event transcends monetary or personal considerations. These images must be preserved as part of the collection as being significant, more so than any past government record. We owe it to history.

Thank you.


Any questions for Mr. Trask?

DR. HALL: Yes.

Mr. Trask, thank you very much. I found your statement very interesting and very revealing, and you certainly have captured an important part of this particular piece of assassination history. We really don't have this kind of evidence for other events.

I'd like to ask you, though, a series of questions that really have to do with the question -- to do with the issue of forgeries of photographic records.

Do you think the board has any responsibility with regard to determining whether any photographs or films are forgeries?

MR. TRASK: Yes. I would like the board to be able to push the envelope for as much responsibility as possible in looking into the primary sources.

As you are probably aware, there has been much in the critical literature in the past year or two concerning the Zapruder film, what happened to the copies that were sent to Washington, what happened with their being examined through the CIA laboratory, and many people have suggested that, within a very short period of time, that film was tampered with.

I, myself, do not believe that to be the case, but I think it's important, because this factor is coming up in the literature so much, that it would, I believe, be relatively simple to find out if the original Zapruder film and the three first-generation prints were, in fact, tampered with.

DR. HALL: Do you have any other suggestions for us in this regard, beyond the Zapruder film? Do you personally know of any photographs or films that may be suspect as forgeries?

MR. TRASK: Well, one area in which I'm not very conversant are the Oswald outdoor photographs, and there has been much controversy about that for many, many years.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations photograph panel looked into those photographs, and I, for one, believe they very much decided that they were, in fact, not forgeries.

When we're speaking of those photos that were taken or films that were taken in the Dealey Plaza area at the time of the assassination, I think one of the reasons for trying to obtain the original copies of films or first-generation prints is to make sure -- as well as negatives -- is to make sure that no tampering has taken place.

I'm not aware of much in the way of controversy that has arisen concerning the Dealey Plaza photographs and possible fooling around with those.

DR. HALL: Recognizing it's a world of scarce resources and short time, if you were giving us a set of priorities to pursue, what would be at the top of your list, photographically, for this board to do?

MR. TRASK: I would be very interested to find out more about James Powell, who was a special agent for the Army Intelligence Corps who, when the assassination was over, was interviewed by both the FBI and the Secret Service and came up with two different versions of what he saw and what happened at the assassination scene.

He was, within a very short period of time, on the corner facing the southeast corner of the school book depository and took one photograph of it. I want to know why there's only one photograph, where he was.

He claims in one of the statements that he was a half-block away. Why did he have a camera, did he take more pictures, and so forth. He was also active, apparently, in the searching of the building itself.

It could be that there is simply a very easy answer to that, but it was a red flag that stuck up at me when I was looking at the information about the Dealey Plaza photographers.

DR. HALL: Thank you very much.

DR. NELSON: Mr. Trask, I wonder if you can give us some clues about finding people who have these photographs. You mentioned that is something we should do, but is there a central source? Is there some organization? How would you suggest we go about that?

MR. TRASK: That's one of the problems with photographic materials, is that the bulk of the materials that were generated photographically during the assassination were in private hands, and with the exception of some material that got into the official record, which are always bad copies and not very well framed and so forth, you really don't have an awful lot of material within the public record.

That's why -- I think your board is the first board that has looked into the resources of the assassination which doesn't have some kind of a linkage to the government which would be able to -- because of your built-up good integrity right now -- would be able to request of many of these individuals, many of these businesses which have this film and photographic material, to please allow them to be released.

DR. NELSON: So, basically, you're saying that we'd have to go to each individual person who might have been there.

MR. TRASK: I can follow up my written materials with more specific information about where they are available. When I was putting my book together, I kind of had to find out those sources. It's amazing how much material is still out there.

The local newspapers have literally hundreds of negatives, many of which have never even been printed before, which might relate in one way or another to Dealey Plaza, to events that happened shortly after the assassination, and I would think that a business such as a newspaper or some of the TV coverage in Dallas would be willing, within limitations, to make this available to the board and, hopefully, to the American public.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Mr. Trask, there have been allegations that this board has heard that the FBI seized photographs or film at the time of the assassination. Do you believe that, or do you have any opinions on that subject?

MR. TRASK: Unfortunately, I believe the FBI was not as at-speed as was the media. The media was there in force, and most of the materials that were acquired were acquired by the media.

As a matter of fact, it's a sad commentary that, in many cases, materials that came to the attention of the Warren Commission had to be requested through the FBI to contact the individual media which first came up with these.

The FBI did make an attempt sometime probably beginning Saturday morning to acquire any kinds of materials that would have been processed through the local processing houses, Kodak, and so forth, but this was a bit late and not very dramatically done.

Once Oswald was shot, my impression is that the investigators were not interested in photographic materials anymore.

MR. MARWELL: I was intrigued in your written statement and your remarks earlier that former presidential assistant David Powers had a movie camera in the follow-up car and that this film has never been seen, apparently. Do you know anything about it? Do you know whether it covered the critical period of the motorcade?

MR. TRASK: I do not believe it covered the critical period of the Dealey Plaza area.

My remarks are talking to the historic record as a whole, and I believe that something as significant as a film being done even of the vehicle prior to its entering Dealey Plaza would be of benefit to researchers.

One very minor item of controversy has always been whether or not a bullet, in fact, hit -- or a fragment of a bullet hit the area around the windshield and made a dent in the chrome. We have not been able to find, at this point, any evidence for or against this dent having occurred.

The Secret Service had indicated that this dent had occurred prior to November 22nd. Pictures taken prior to Dealey Plaza would help find out if that, in fact, were true.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you very much. We appreciate your sharing your expertise with us today.

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