Explained: Boris Johnson Photo With Confusing Reflection of Phone Cord

DavidB66

Active Member
In the UK today many newspapers carry photographs of Boris Johnson in his office speaking on the telephone to President Biden.
2021-01-25_14-12-39.jpg
Various people on social media, including a normally sane, if over-excitable, TV commentator called Robert Peston, have noticed that in the photographs the spiral cord of the telephone is visible, but the reflected image in a nearby mirror does not show the cord. For some people, this is enough to launch a theory that the photographs are faked or manipulated in some way. Either the telephone cord has been photoshopped out of the reflected image (why?) or into the direct image (again, why?) Or perhaps the entire event is faked, or took place somewhere else and the scene in Johnson's office was staged later for public effect. As usual, no plausible motive is suggested for the manipulation. The photographs were all taken by the official photographer at 10 Downing Street, and no outside journalists were apparently present. so there is no independent check on the veracity of the image, but for the same reason there would be no need to photoshop the image: the official photographer could simply photograph the staged event in the office. I have not seen, and cannot imagine, any explanation of why the telephone cable should be either inserted into or removed from the photograph, or why anyone would take the trouble of doing so and not think to do it in both the direct and reflected images.

Several relevant photographs, taken from various angles, are included in this news article:

Boris Johnson speaks to President Joe Biden in first phone call - with hopes of 'deepening longstanding alliance' with US | Politics News | Sky News

Some commentators responding to the 'fake' claims have argued that the cable would not be visible in the mirror from the camera's point of view, but I do not think this is correct. At least part of the cable ought to be in shot. I am not a photographic expert, but I think the most likely explanation is simply that the camera is focussed on the direct scene, while the virtual image 'behind' the mirror is further away and somewhat out of focus. It is noticeably blurred by comparison with the direct image.

Incidentally, some people have also claimed that the telephone handset is simultaneously in Johnson's hand and on its desk stand, which is impossible. But it is fairly clear that there is at least one other telephone stand on the desk.
 
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Trailspotter

Senior Member.
Some commentators responding to the 'fake' claims have argued that the cable would not be visible in the mirror from the camera's point of view, but I do not think this is correct. At least part of the cable ought to be in shot. I am not a photographic expert, but I think the most likely explanation is simply that the camera is focussed on the direct scene, while the virtual image 'behind' the mirror is further away and somewhat out of focus. It is noticeably blurred by comparison with the direct image.
In the reflection, the phone cable appears going down vertically and slightly out of focus, but there it is.
skynews-boris-johnson-biden_5248323.jpg
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
This type of thing comes up because people have a subconscious assumption that the image in the mirror will just be a flipped version of the non-mirrored image, like:

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Which just isn't correct.

It's perhaps helpful to think about a reflection as being a window into an inverted world, rather than a flat inverted image.

The cord, as noted, is there, exactly where it should be, and it's very easy to replicate the photo.

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And of course, the shallow depth of field in the original has blurred the reflection, hiding the cord
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DavidB66

Active Member
In the reflection, the phone cable appears going down vertically and slightly out of focus, but there it is.
skynews-boris-johnson-biden_5248323.jpg
Thanks! Yes, that must be it. I had assumed that the dark vertical line was just the shadowed edge of the part of his shirt with the button holes in it, which no doubt has some technical name. But on a closer look it appears to extend below the edge of the shirt, so it can't be part of the shirt. The telephone cable is the only other obvious candidate. It does look odd, but mirror images can be deceptive, as I recall from previous thread about a 'ghost' photograph. In the present case the reflection of the desk lamp is also quite odd. In the direct image it seems to be facing Johnson squarely, but in the mirror it appears to be facing somewhere to his right (i.e. somewhere under his raised arm).

Added: I've just seen Mick West's reconstruction, which seems conclusive.
 

Rory

Senior Member.
Various people on social media, including a normally sane, if over-excitable, TV commentator called Robert Peston, have noticed that in the photographs the spiral cord of the telephone is visible, but the reflected image in a nearby mirror does not show the cord.

How bizarre: the phone cord is there, plain as day. I saw it immediately, without effort, as clearly as I could see Boris.

Surely it's not a "dress" or Laurel/Yanny thing?
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
How bizarre: the phone cord is there, plain as day. I saw it immediately, without effort, as clearly as I could see Boris.

Surely it's not a "dress" or Laurel/Yanny thing?
People just assume the cord in the reflection would be at a 45° angle. They can see that dark line, but it's not at a 45° angle, and it IS at the same vertical angle as his shirt, so they (perhaps almost subconsciously) think it's the button seam/opening (the "placket")
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
People just assume the cord in the reflection would be at a 45° angle. They can see that dark line, but it's not at a 45° angle, and it IS at the same vertical angle as his shirt, so they (perhaps almost subconsciously) think it's the button seam/opening (the "placket")

I will confess to first looking for hints of a blurred-beyond-distinction line pointing to the *bottom right* of the picture! There was a light in the background and I wondered if that had bled over the blur and possibly left nothing. Your hypothetical bogomirror mockup, with its coil heading to the bottom right looked hilariously weird. Once you've seen the vertical line, and you know where the phone body is, it indeed does look like the natural angle.

Of course, the conspiracist would have to explain why boris's shirt buttons magically disappeared. And why his elevated hand had turned into a flipper with no fingers, and why all kinds of other features with the same dimensions as a cord had also been annihilated. Or they could learn about depth of field and say "nice glass - beautiful bokeh!"
 

Rory

Senior Member.
People just assume the cord in the reflection would be at a 45° angle. They can see that dark line, but it's not at a 45° angle.

Yep, true. I later realised this after I looked at the Twitter source. The wording in the OP made it sound like something slightly different was going on.

I showed the picture to my girlfriend - with no clues - and she only thought there was something weird about the computer (and guessed at some other things, after I said it wasn't that, but never noticed the cord).

Nice to see on Peston's Twitter that the vast majority of people were explaining why the image was perfectly fine or telling him off for helping spread bunk.
 

DavidB66

Active Member
People just assume the cord in the reflection would be at a 45° angle. They can see that dark line, but it's not at a 45° angle, and it IS at the same vertical angle as his shirt, so they (perhaps almost subconsciously) think it's the button seam/opening (the "placket")

That's what I did think when I saw the photo. Thanks for the word "placket"!

In my original comment, which I posted in the thread on President Biden's 'blank' executive orders, I may have been primed to favour a similar explanation for the missing phone cord - i.e. that it disappeared due to blurring of the image - and as a result overlooked the correct one. In my defence, I didn't just assume that the reflected image of the cord would be at the same angle as in the direct image, but I did expect it to go more in the direction of the green desk lamp than it does in reality. It is a difficult photograph to interpret, partly because the mirror is higher than the desk, and does not show the layout of the desk itself.
 

Trailblazer

Moderator
Staff member
How bizarre: the phone cord is there, plain as day. I saw it immediately, without effort, as clearly as I could see Boris.

Surely it's not a "dress" or Laurel/Yanny thing?
Yes, I thought the same thing. I looked at the image before reading the text and thought, "Are people confused that the phone cord looks straight rather than curly? It's clearly just blurred." I had no idea people hadn't even noticed it was there!
 
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