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First published online May 1, 2008

(In)visible evidence: pictorially enhanced disbelief in the Apollo moon landings


When pictures become journalistic, historical, and popular icons, there is a common belief that they also have a single, usable meaning, and media, political, and academic elites typically determine it. Yet, research on how people interpret images suggests that believing is seeing: pre-existing prejudices and experiences affect what meanings we draw from pictures. This is especially so when the viewer seeks out information that confirms strongly held notions, what mainstream audiences might think of in some cases as conspiracy theories. This article examines reaction to one of the most famous sets of images of the past century — photos of the 1969 Apollo moon landing — by proponents of the `moon hoax' theory, those who believe that the landings were faked by NASA. Analysis of moon hoax websites shows that the pictures' visual details are used as evidence that the mainstream interpretation is `visibly' in error.

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1. `Around the same time' must be a flexible term to Overstreet since it was three years later, in 1972, that America withdrew its last combat troops from Indo-China and three years later that the Vietnam War actually ended. But the basic point about a government needing a `wag the dog' distraction from bad news was indeed applicable in 1969.
2. The authors of this article believe that there was a moon landing and that the moon-hoax conspiracy theorists — or, as they would prefer it, the moon- landing debunkers — are plain wrong. However, at the suggestion of a reviewer, we have endeavoured not to cast the moon hoaxers as crackpots. Rather, we focus on how they contend to have uncovered visible evidence in the moon-landing photos that indisputably offers proof of their theory. As we found, that evidence is — on the surface — quite superficially compelling, especially to the non-scientist.


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Published In

Article first published online: May 1, 2008
Issue published: May 2008


  1. conspiracy
  2. hoax
  3. icons
  4. photography
  5. photojournalism
  6. photostyle
  7. phototruth
  8. science

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Published online: May 1, 2008
Issue published: May 2008



David D. Perlmutter
Nicole Smith Dahmen
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA, [email protected]

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