The best case of provenance that I have ever seen is the Ramey Memo. We have a picture of Ramey holding the document, we have been able to interview the photographer, and we know the date on which it was taken because we have not only a dated document that was transmitted with the picture, but it appeared in newspapers around the country the next day. The only point of dispute is what the memo actually says. Parts of it are easily read and others are obscured to the point where it is sometimes just a best guess. If the memo could be completely deciphered it might provide a clue about what fell near Roswell and would be some of the best documentation available.
The answer always seemed tantalizing close but just out of reach. The ability of equipment and software to pull information off the photograph just wasn’t good enough to do it in the 1990s. Scans had been made years ago from the original negatives but newer equipment and better software might have changed all that. Martin Dreyer, a researcher living in New Zealand, was interested in the memo and believed that modern equipment might be able to pull something new from the negative. He began to work toward that aim.
For almost two years, he talked to various experts in photography, software and those who had great experience in recovering information hidden in photographic negatives. The consensus seemed to be that it would be possible to extract more and better information from the memo using a variety of these new and modern techniques.
The next step was to learn if the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections would allow the negative to be subjected to another round of scrutiny. Although interested in learning what might be found, they were also concerned with the process. They didn’t want to damage negative any further. The handling of it as well as subjecting it to scans in the past caused it to acquire some scratches and a little dirt but they were assured that this new analysis would be nondestructive.
Brenda S. McClurkin was the contact at UTA and provided a great deal of assistance in getting the permissions to have the negative scanned using a variety of techniques and equipment. She arranged for the use of photographic microscope at UTA that could read the negative.
At the end of April 2015 David Rudiak traveled to the Dallas – Fort Worth area and to the University of Texas at Arlington. Working with those at UTA, as well as some independent experts in photography and forensic analysis, they made dozens of new scans under a variety of conditions hoping to clarify the memo enough that a consensus of the wording could be formed. Some of the letters were lost in the debris on the negative and in the fact that the memo was slightly folded and parts of it were not directly facing the camera. Had J. Bond Johnson, the original photographer, been a foot closer the image might have been easily resolved.
It had been hoped that the new techniques would produce immediate results but that didn’t happen. The photographic process used only cleaned up the memo marginally. There was no new and great revelation. That suggested that the application of software was needed, which, unfortunately could lead to claims that the image had been manipulated to produce specific results.
After the disappointment with the results, and after seeing the results of the Roswell Slides Research Group’s success in reading the placard in front of the image on those slides, it was decided to open the analysis to a wider audience. The original idea had been to release the best results with all the information about the resolution of the image but now that moved into a new arena. With the cooperation of those at UTA, and at their suggestion, the best of the scans will be posted to various locations on the Internet, and as soon as possible to this blog along with the links to those other images.
Again, the work has been less than spectacular. It seems that the image has been cleaned up to a small degree but not to the point where what are considered the critical areas could be read. Work is continuing, but it is painstakingly slow and as mentioned, disappointing. The hope now is that if the images are put up in open source that the same thing that happened with the (Not) Roswell Slides can be accomplished with the Ramey memo. Maybe someone will have the right software or have a new idea about the way to attack this that will allow the memo to be read. At the moment we are not much closer to a solution than we were. It is still just beyond our grasp.