Is there a time traveler watching a bridge reopen in this photo? Is this a very well crafted Photoshop? Or is it just a guy, ahead of his time, photgraphed and now being overanalyzed? The picture, on the virtual Bralorne-Pioneer Museum was featured on Kottke today. Click here to see the full size image.
“Reopening of the South Fork Bridge after flood in Nov. 1940. 1941 (?)”
Given the source, we would assume the photo is authentic, and correctly dated to c.1940. Indeed, an Error Level Analysis suggests the image was not digitally tampered with, or at least that if it was, the author was smart enough to normalize the error across the whole thing. It’s a good job, if it was a job. And again, given the source, we would assume it was not a job.
So, how do we explain the man out of time?
Below that article, I found a comment that breaks down every aspect of the photo. It’s an amazing analysis.
…Whether or not the time traveler is wearing a contemporary sweater or not, he is totally out of uniform for the social class and culture of the event. His dress may indicate a collegiate look to some, but even that would cause some commotion in a crowd like this. He seems too brash for the times, as does his style of garments. Even his unsubdued expression would have been slightly suspect in a crowd like this. He is simply too out of place for the photo. His whole attitude should have caused suspicion.
…My verdict, finally, is that something is defintely wrong here, but I cannot say exactly what it is. The man, for whatever reasons, does not belong in the photo.
To read the rest of the comment hit
Because this photo has stirred up such a quandary on the net, I thought I would comment about it as I have here about several other historical photos. I stress that I am not a photographic expert. My only expertise is in the analysis of styles and modes peculiar to various times and places in history.
I have read the article where such things as the knitted border sweatshirt are discussed. And I tend to agree with the debunking. Also, it is quite true, as noted here and elsewhere, that the sunglasses were quite available at the time, either as flying or driving glasses.
I cannot comment as to whether the time traveler has been inserted into the photo as others have. Some here at the department do indeed study photos pixel by pixel and two have assured me that this is not a photoshop job. Another one says it is.
What I can do is what I do best: Comment on the authenticity of the captured event and the people in it within the historical context of 1939-40.
The first striking thing about the “time traveler” (if it is true) is that he appears to have an unkempt or unshaven beard. Maybe this is a shadow, but if it is not, then he is quite out of place for 1940. Being clean shaven was an obsession in the era. Canada was very close to going to war on Britain’s side by this time, and having a five o’clock shadow was just not socially acceptable.
Secondly, the man has unusually long hair for the time. Granted it is combed backwards, but in a style that did not become popular until later, namely a “dry style.” A young man with such long hair in 1940 would have surely used some sort of hair lotion to hold it down. His hair style is totally out of place. Someone accredited this to being a “beatnik” but even the earliest beatniks, say around 1950, would have flattened their hair down better. This dry look is extremely unsual for the era.
Although every man is not bareheaded in the photo, it is indeed unusual that a gentleman of this age would be so. The obsessive wearing of hats became a badge of youth at the time and did not end until the late 1950s. Okay, the old men have hats too, but notice they are slouch-brim type hats and not dented. This is typical for those who would have been in the older generation in 1940. The younger men, like the one to the man’s side, are wearing the uniform of the day. Shorter, styled brim and a top dent. The absence of a hat is always significant in photos of the era in question.
The article mentions that this event is the opening of a bridge in some small town in British Columbia. I wish we could get more information about that. The excitement level of the crowd seems to indicate that there is more going on here than than the opening of a bridge. However, the crowd formation is exactly what one would expect in the 1940s. There is a line of parked cars which seems to hold back the crowd. People were more respectful of law and order in those days, and it is very plausible that they onlookers would stay behind the cars, but again, this indicates a more important reason for the gathering, as does the man’s camera and the other cameras, which are indeed authentic for the time.. I suspect something military is happening, like the unveiling of a tank or a plane. Canada, as I have said, is very close to entering the war. The most important thing that could draw a crowd at this time would have been war related.
There is a very telling absence of cigarettes, cigars and pipes in this photo. A group that large and that happy in 1940 would have included some smokers, both male and female. I can see none. This suggests not that the photo is not authentic but that there is some reason for not smoking. The proximity of the people would not have caused such a smoking abstention. People smoked everywhere in those days, and it does not matter how close they are together.
Another aspect of the picture, as compared to like pictures, of the time is the almost random mixing of men and women. Generally, the men would have clustered more together as would the women. There is something going on here which has caused these people to rush up randomly to the line of pre-parked cars and watch. The event definitely lacks pre-planning. The women would have been quite separate from the men if this had been so.
Whether or not the time traveler is wearing a contemporary sweater or not, he is totally out of uniform for the social class and culture of the event. His dress may indicate a collegiate look to some, but even that would cause some commotion in a crowd like this. He seems too brash for the times, as does his style of garments. Even his unsubdued expression would have been slightly suspect in a crowd like this. He is simply too out of place for the photo. His whole attitude should have caused suspicion.
The coats, collars, ties, tie knots, women’s hats and everything else seems totally normal. The man himself is the only anomaly, and Canada in the 1940s was no place for anomalies.
In short, I view it as a totally authentic photo with the exception of the man in question. I can see where someone might characterize him as “too modern,” but what is especially modern about his is his sense of brashness as exhibited in his dress and expression and stance. Of course, as I have said, people have clearly rushed up to see this event, and he may have recently arrived and has not yet caused much attention (except from one woman).
My verdict, finally, is that something is defintely wrong here, but I cannot say exactly what it is. The man, for whatever reasons, does not belong in the photo.