The Assassination Photo


Powerline has a post out today about that photo taken in Iraq recently that depicted the assassination of some election workers. Scott over at Powerline has been in a contact with a prominent photographer D. Gorton who analyzed the photo and submitted his conclusions on it:


The Photo shows a street scene, identified in the press as Haifa Rd., where three armed men are moving around two men who are respectively kneeling or lying prone on the ground. The men on the ground are both wearing kerchefs of red and white, perhaps an identification of some sort.

The armed men are moving with some energy, note the foot off the ground of the figure on the left as well as the twisting body language of the other two men.


The event appears to have been unfolding for some time, since the kneeling man and prone man are still and have assumed positions that I presume they were ordered to take. The traffic back up, however, does not appear to have been collecting for a great deal of time, and I understand that Haifa Rd. is a “busy” street. Perhaps they were dragged into the middle of the street from curbside.


The photographer is elevated. Though there appears to be some curving away of the road in the background, the drop in elevation towards the foreground does not appear to account for the placement of the camera. If the photographer were at “eye level”, that is on the same plane as the subjects, then the terrorist figures would appear to be much higher in relation to the autos in the background. I note that the stopped cars and trucks in the background appear to have people standing in some of the truck beds, though there are no pedestrians.

I assume that a similar scene unfolded behind the camera, meaning that witnesses could observe the scene from other trucks and vehicles. So, I would guess that the elevation is from the back of a truck. Its also possible that there were other small structures such as berms that one could stand on.


Lenses on cameras not only focus the image but they may magnify or diminish the apparent size of a scene. A “normal lens” is one whose focal length is equivalent to the diagonal of the film used in the camera. For instance a 50mm focal length lens on a “35mm film” camera is roughly “normal” since the diagonal of the film stock is 43.27mm. When you increase the focal length of the lens (or decrease the film size) an apparent “compression” of the image occurs.

This is always a little hard to understand at first. If I take a “normal” scene of a crowd with my 50mm lens on a 35mm camera and make a “normal” enlargement then the scene appears much as I saw it with the naked eye.

But, if I rack up the enlarger to the ceiling and “blow up” a tiny portion of the scene, then that portion appears “compressed.” People’s heads are sticking out behind each other and the “head sizes” are all very similar even though they are further away in reality. That’s roughly what a telephoto lens does.


We do not have the original photo to make a judgment about. It is difficult to tell if the image has been enlarged, or if it has degraded through numerous duplications. However, assuming that this is the original dimension of the finished photo, I would estimate that the lens is the rough equivalent of a 180mm lens on a 35mm format. I would estimate the distance between 15 and 25 meters. The distance would be the same if the lens were “normal” but an enlargement of the print had occurred. This may be a “blow up,”
in other words.


Leaving aside the ethical specifics of this situation, if I knew that an event was about to occur that included possible violence, I would do exactly what it appears the photographer did in making this picture:
(1) I would choose an elevated mobile platform where I had an unobstructed view of the scene, and where I had maneuverability to observe as well as rapid exit…such as a pick up truck

(2) I would be at enough distance to be somewhat protected and inconspicuous

(3) I would choose a medium telephoto lens that could be hand held in a moving vehicle, yet give me large enough images to be clearly recognizable.

So, the assassination picture has all the earmarks of a planned image, indicating that the photographer had taken most of the considerations that I have written about above.

It’s also possible that a passing Iraqi, riding in the back of a pick-up truck, carrying a Nikon with a 180mm lens happened onto the scene, made a few snaps and dropped them off at the AP office in the Green Zone of Baghdad.

“So, the assassination picture has all the earmarks of a planned image”

Plus he disputes the AP’s assertion that the photographer was 300 meters away:

Ultimately we get to the facts as opposed to the suppositions. The
proximity of the photographer on Haifa Street becomes a contested fact, one that you say that Power Line got “wildly wrong.” The idea is that “closeness” to the action implies a collusion (or familiarity) on the part of the photographer. In the main, that is correct. So the distance from the scene is crucial.

I have run a series of calculations that indicate that the photographer was within 15-25 meters of the scene. If you like I can let you know what my thinking was in making that assessment. As to the statement that the photographer was 300 meters from the scene, I have to say that is doubtful to the point of impossible. I can run the calculations or you can, I’m sure, by determining the
field of view of lenses on a 35 mm camera. To gain an image like that from almost a 1,000 yards [I think he must mean feet here] would require a telephoto lens of such length, and weight, that it could not be handled in a breaking news event. Indeed, I doubt that the AP even owns a lens that would accomplish that feat, much less entrust it in a volatile zone like Haifa St…

My views, of course, stand to be corrected. If you find someone who is knowledgeable about lens, field of view, and staffing in a war one who has better information, please let me know.

Finally he compares the photo to what was happening in the south during the civil rights period:

There is nothing about this alternate version that would trouble my
initial analysis. It is common in the news photo business to make the image as direct and powerful as possible through enlargement of the original. I believe in my response to you that I pointed out that the picture appeared to be a “blow up.”

I pointed out [to the person who showed him the uncropped photo] that the photo depicts a lynching . Lynchings are always local and specific.

Their purpose is “educational” in that the lynchers want as wide a distribution of the event as possible. In other words, lynchings fail if they do not have the implicit or explicit support of the media. Murder, largely a private and furtive act, and lynching are quite different phenomena. Lynching demands an audience. This, with the distribution of the images through the AP, was a successful

Viewed in this light, I believe that collusion between the terrorists and the news media is quite possible. It certainly happened in the
US. Why would Iraq be different?

The photo appeared to portray an insurgency that “controlled the streets” of Baghdad, where the insurgents could kill with impunity. In a similar vein, many of the Southern lynching photos that we have studied give a similar message. Their purpose, in part, was to dispirit and undermine attempts to ensure equal rights in the US South, along with terrorizing African Americans and their allies. It is profoundly ironic that the lynched men in the AP photo were voter registration/election workers. It recalls to me and my wife our work in the Southern civil rights movement.

Sure looks like collusion to me, plain and simple. The Asshat Propaganda machine still up to its old tricks.

Check out Media Lies, Winds Of Change, & Ed Driscoll for more info.

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