Robert Johnson - a third photo?

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Moleskin
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Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Moleskin » 13 Nov 2017, 13:28

Article

Image

Is that Johnson on the left of the pic?

Here are the acknowledged photos for comparison:


Image

Image
Last edited by Moleskin on 13 Nov 2017, 13:38, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Rayge » 13 Nov 2017, 13:33

looks a hell of a lot like the other pics - hands and dress sense as well as face.
Any idea who the guy in the zoot suit is, or the provenance of the image?
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Moleskin » 13 Nov 2017, 13:35

Zeke Schein came to a crossroads, too, when he bought an old photo that he believes is only the third known image of Johnson. Johnson’s family, a prominent forensic expert and musicians who’ve been transformed by the bluesman’s recordings agreed with Mr. Schein. But skeptics questioned the likeness, the date — even Mr. Schein’s motives.

Intent on defending himself and the image, Mr. Schein began a journey to learn more about the sharp-dressed men in the sepia print. He chronicles his search in “Portrait of a Phantom: The Story of Robert Johnson’s Lost Photograph,” a book he co-wrote with Poppy Z. Brite, recently published by Pelican.

He talked about the book at another crossroads, Matt Umanov Guitars, a Greenwich Village landmark where he has worked since 1989. He wrote that the store is such a magnet that “if you sit at the front counter of Matt Umanov Guitars, the world comes to you.” Since we began this conversation Matt decided to close the store after 53 years. Zeke put on his walking shoes, and moved on to Rudy’s, his next crossroads.

Mr. Schein discovered the photo while searching for old guitars on eBay. The 3-inch-by-4-inch print from sheet film wasn’t in great shape – “The photo looked haunted, like it had been to hell and back,” he wrote. But when Mr. Schein saw it, he immediately believed that the man holding the guitar was Johnson.

With help from Tom Crandall, a friend in the store’s repair shop, Mr. Schein won the auction in 2005. Mr. Schein was familiar with vintage and vernacular photography. He makes photographs as well as plays music, with a deep appreciation of the tools of each form, since before selling guitars, he’d sold cameras and worked in a lab. He immediately thought the image was a contact print from sheet film, likely done with a Speed Graphic, because of the sharpness.

“Looking at the paper,” Mr. Schein said, “I could tell it was that cheaper, crumbly paper that you would see in old photo albums, photos of maybe my grandparents and even early photos of my father would be on that type of paper.” He dated it to the 1930s. Johnson died in 1938.

“And then if you look at the print, if you see it online, you’ll see that the edges are black,” Mr. Schein said. “It’s not masked. So you’re not seeing white edging on there — you’re seeing what looks like a negative which was laid down flat.” (A negative’s clear edge comes out black on a contact-sheet print.)

Mr. Schein also guessed that the man in the lighter suit in the photo was Johnny Shines, another blues legend who died in 1992. Mr. Schein later learned of a documentary about Johnson, “Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl?” in which Shines said that there was a photo of him and Johnson taken in 1937 by a photographer named Johnnie Mae Crowder in Hughes, Ark., and that it ran in a local newspaper. If the two were posing for a newspaper photographer, she might very well have used a Speed Graphic, which was standard equipment then.

After showing the photo to friends and musicians who, like Mr. Schein, knew intimately the details of the two authenticated photos of Johnson, many agreed that he’d discovered a third image. Trouble was, when he showed the photo to two old Delta bluesmen, David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Robert Lockwood Jr., who’d both known Johnson, neither of them recognized the man holding the guitar.

Skeptics questioned whether the photo was from the 1930s, since it looked as if the man on the right wore a zoot suit, a 1940s fashion fad featuring wide lapels and shoulders and high-waisted baggy pants. But the style was based on the “drape suit” worn by African-Americans a decade earlier; in the 1933 film “International House,” Cab Calloway’s band wore similar suits.

Some also have suggested that the photo was reversed, since the man in the light suit wore his watch on his right wrist and the man in the dark suit has a pocket square on the right side of his jacket, rather than the left. If the photo is flipped, this meant Johnson is holding the guitar as a left-handed player, not a righty. But since the guitar is stringless, it could have been a studio prop, so it wouldn’t matter how Johnson held it.

More people joined the search. Frank DiGiacomo, who wrote about Mr. Schein’s photo for Vanity Fair in 2008, showed a copy to Claud Johnson, Robert’s son, who agreed that it was his father.

A lawyer for the Johnson estate sent a copy of the photo to Lois Gibson, a forensic specialist who had identified the sailor in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II. She said that the man holding the guitar in Mr. Schein’s photo appeared to be Johnson.

The Vanity Fair piece seemed only to spur attacks on the photo and criticism of Mr. Schein, with some accusing him of pushing it for financial gain, even though he’d assigned the copyright to the Johnson estate.

“We do all share a love of that music and we all play it, including writers and historians who decided to attack what I was doing and also question the integrity — my integrity — in what I was doing and that of the Johnson family,” Mr. Schein said. “They were accusing us of only being in it for money, which was never the goal for either of us. I needed to at least explain my position, why I cared so much about trying to put out a musician’s image who affected me.”

Despite years of investigations, more needs to be done. Mr. Schein has been unable to look for other photos taken by Johnnie Mae Crowder. “I stumbled on this one,“ he said. “I don’t have the skill set to go further than I did.”

But maybe you do.

“In a wild-hopes situation — wildest hopes — I hope someone reads my story and has the knowledge and experience to take my research and what I’ve been able to do a step further.”
Last edited by Moleskin on 13 Nov 2017, 13:41, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Moleskin » 13 Nov 2017, 13:37

Rayge wrote:looks a hell of a lot like the other pics - hands and dress sense as well as face.
Any idea who the guy in the zoot suit is, or the provenance of the image?


Suggested in the article that it may be Johnny Shines, who referred to a photo of him and RJ taken in 1937 in a documentary about Johnson.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Rayge » 13 Nov 2017, 13:41

Moleskin wrote:
Rayge wrote:looks a hell of a lot like the other pics - hands and dress sense as well as face.
Any idea who the guy in the zoot suit is, or the provenance of the image?


Suggested in the article that it may be Johnny Shines, who referred to a photo of him and RJ taken in 1937 in a documentary about Johnson.


Yeah, I read the article now. I'm pretty well convinced.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Moleskin » 13 Nov 2017, 13:46

"Restored version"

Image

I went looking to see if i could confirm that the other fellow was Shines but haven't found an old enough shot (yet)
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Moleskin » 13 Nov 2017, 13:56

Rayge wrote:
Moleskin wrote:
Rayge wrote:looks a hell of a lot like the other pics - hands and dress sense as well as face.
Any idea who the guy in the zoot suit is, or the provenance of the image?


Suggested in the article that it may be Johnny Shines, who referred to a photo of him and RJ taken in 1937 in a documentary about Johnson.


Yeah, I read the article now. I'm pretty well convinced.


Me too.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Thang-y » 13 Nov 2017, 14:30

Something just doesn't look right to me. Call me cynical, bit it all looks a bit too pristine under the photo damage.

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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby The Modernist » 13 Nov 2017, 14:58

I think the provenance provided by Shines nails it I'd be surprised if it's not authentic.

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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Diamond Dog » 13 Nov 2017, 15:12

Didn't we do this before on here? I saw the photo and was immediately reminded of a long debate... may have been on Facebook, I suppose.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Thang-y » 13 Nov 2017, 15:19

The Modernist wrote:I think the provenance provided by Shines nails it I'd be surprised if it's not authentic.


Yeah .. I wasn't taking that into account, there's just a quality to the picture that seems too off to me. I could be wrong, but I don't think it's old.

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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Diamond Dog » 13 Nov 2017, 15:26

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/ ... xperts-say

http://www.thecountryblues.com/op-ed/an ... -debunked/


Trawl through the internet...there's loads of similar articles.

FAKE NEWS! :lol:
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Moleskin » 13 Nov 2017, 15:32

Schein is still looking for proof. Thus the article of 10th I guess.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby T. Berry Shuffle » 13 Nov 2017, 15:45

As DD said, I think this photo has circulated and been debunked.

But if not - I'm thinking it's not RJ; if for nothing more than one simple reason that should have been glaringly obvious to self professed guitar experts, sellers, whole world comes to your door types, etc.

That guitar is a prop. It doesn't even have tuning machines on the headstock and isn't/can't be strung. Robert Johnson wouldn't have that thing for a canoe paddle let alone a viable instrument. Those were much different days than today, he couldn't hop on the internet and just buy new tuning machines. So a guitar in that state would have been junk. And he's not holding it much like a guitar player. In the other two photos he's fretting the guitar.

And any photo purchased on the immediate conclusion of it being "the third known photo of Robert Johnson" is instantly questionable to me. There have been a few such photographs in the last couple years. Any anonymous random slender black man in an undated black & white photo risks becoming Robert Johnson.

Besides, he was too busy running from the devil/hellhounds on his trail to bother with having his 'pitcher took'. He said so himself. So, the sharp-eyed archivist says NO.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Moleskin » 13 Nov 2017, 15:48

T. Berry Shuffle wrote:As DD said, I think this photo has circulated and been debunked.

But if not - I'm thinking it's not RJ; if for nothing more than one simple reason that should have been glaringly obvious to self professed guitar experts, sellers, whole world comes to your door types, etc.

That guitar is a prop. It doesn't even have tuning machines on the headstock and isn't/can't be strung. Robert Johnson wouldn't have that thing for a canoe paddle let alone a viable instrument. Those were much different days than today, he couldn't hop on the internet and just buy new tuning machines. So a guitar in that state would have been junk. And he's not holding it much like a guitar player. In the other two photos he's fretting the guitar.

And any photo purchased on the immediate conclusion of it being "the third known photo of Robert Johnson" is instantly questionable to me. There have been a few such photographs in the last couple years. Any anonymous random slender black man in an undated black & white photo risks becoming Robert Johnson.

Besides, he was too busy running from the devil/hellhounds on his trail to bother with having his 'pitcher took'. He said so himself. So, the sharp-eyed archivist says NO.


Unless it was a studio prop, not his own guitar. The suit button thing and the fact the photo's been flipped is more of a concern for me. Was it done deliberately to make the shot look more like RJ?
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby T. Berry Shuffle » 13 Nov 2017, 16:01

Perhaps not. Some older types of photographic equipment took reversed images. It may have happened on accident in the processing. It's hard to know. I do doubt that it is Johnson. And if Honeyboy and Lockwood said they didn't recognize the man it very likely isn't Johnson.
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Charlie O. » 13 Nov 2017, 16:30


The Vanity Fair Debacle

The first photo supposedly of Robert Johnson and Johnny Shines to be thoroughly debunked was the so-called Vanity Fair photo, which is now merely a subject of ridicule. ... the “third” photo, was then catapulted to international prominence, and certainly notoriety, when an article appeared in the November 2008 issue of Vanity Fair carrying forth this hypothesis. Lively debate ensued in the blues community, with no shortage of opinions that ranged from vehement, even vitriolic rejection, to lambasting compound curse words. ... The subjective opinions of blues aficionados and Robert Johnson fans was trumped by seemingly objective authentication by high-profile and renowned forensic artist Lois Gibson, who touts an impressive résumé, including her work with the Houston Police Department. Lois Gibson provided the needed “proof” and sanctified the photo by saying, “…it appears the individual is Robert Johnson. All the features are consistent, if not identical…” No other corroboration of Gibson’s findings was published.

However, in May of 2015, the photo was debunked in a report that Bruce co-authored...

Nice objective reportage there.

The Gibson forensics report that they dismiss with a minimum of quotation and a maximum of sarcasm was actually quite detailed. I remember reading it at the time and being impressed - though, not knowing a lot about forensics, it wouldn't necessarily take a lot to impress me.

As for the prop guitar... it's a prop guitar. These guys showed up at the photo studio, the photographer said "hey, you're musicians, shouldn't at least one of you be holding an instrument?" and they had this stringless prop there. Then he says "Robert, hold it pointing the other way, it'll look better in the picture..."

This obviously is idle conjecture on my part. It seems to me that this whole controversy is built on idle or not-so-idle conjecture on everyone's part. I'm not saying I believe it's Johnson; I don't have a horse in this race. But just as there doesn't seem to be any hard proof that it is Johnson, there also doesn't seem to be any hard proof that it isn't.

Oh, and Hi, T-Berry!
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Diamond Dog » 13 Nov 2017, 16:35

The odds are about 1 in 9.8 million....
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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby Charlie O. » 13 Nov 2017, 16:39

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Re: Robert Johnson - a third photo?

Postby NMB » 13 Nov 2017, 17:01

If you reverse the picture, which as well as moving "Shines"' watch onto his left wrist also moves his jacket buttons onto the right flap which seems more likely, it looks a lot less like the other photos of Johnson.
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