Several of my forensic art colleagues recently have created quite a stir by confirming different photographs as being “newly found” images of Billy the Kid. Billy the Kid, born William Henry McCarty, Jr., was a colorful western outlaw of the 1800’s. There are several books and movies about his life as well as biographical information available on the Internet, so I’ll not dwell on the history of this figure. Why this iconic figure came to the attention of forensic artists is that there is only one known, authentic ferrotype of him. This ferrotype (tintype) was sold at auction for 2.3 million dollars, making it one of the most expensive photographs ever sold at auction.
Needless to say, that a lot of money, which means a previously undiscovered image would command big bucks.
The first artist started out comparing these two images (below) and concluded that he was convinced it was the same person. Hmmm. The problem was that the ferrotype that he used for comparison was reversed, as ferrotypes often were. The location of the pistol, buttons, and belt buckle show that the artist was working off a mirror image. Once you look at the corrected image, the ears don’t match. Then there’s the matter of the eyebrows, which go from black and thick on the genuine image to thin and light on the photo. And where did the pronounced bulges under the eyes on the questioned photo go on the genuine photo? The angle of the eyes? Nostril shape? The head shape is similar, as is the small mouth and narrow nose, but the rest of it doesn’t match.
The second artist did an impressive display with comparison images, and was paid for her time. In this case, the artist compared both correct and mirror images of Billy the Kid, depending on which one made her point. For example, on the face she used the correct ferrotype, but when she compared the pinky ring, she used the reversed image. In fact, she goes on to say, “And if you look at the two photographs they're almost identical except that one he's got a cowboy outfit, the other one he has a suit." Um, no. It only works on the reversed, mirror image. On the facial comparison, she ignored the ears and eyebrows, as the previous artist did, and decided the eye shape was due to having“some booze, partied with some saloon girls and just got wild.”
It’s not unusual for a forensic artist to be approached on photographic comparisons. I’ve been promised vast fame should I confirm a previously unknown Abraham Lincoln photo, or Amelia Earhart. Such claims should always be approached with caution so as to not be caught up in the hype of a “new discovery.”
Reversed Billy the Kid ferrotype
Comparison photo. What happened to the eyebrows? Where did those bags under the eye come from? And the ears match because the image above is reversed.
Amazing. They're standing the same...as long as you use the reversed image of Billy the Kid. Check out the button location.