Why Albert Einstein is wearing his wife’s coat explained

My posting about memes and the fact that Albert Einstein is wearing his wife’s coat – a jacket that buttons right to left has generated some interest.  As a result I decided to delve into the problem a bit and do some photographic forensics.

Figure 1 - Einstein facing the right way and wearing his own coat.  1947 from the Wikimediacommons and in the public domain.

Figure 1 – Einstein facing the right way and wearing his own coat. 1947 from the Wikimediacommons and in the public domain.

I wanted to put Einstein in what was definitely the correct perspective.  I found two images where the orientation is definitive.  The first, shows Einstein writing on the blackboard, where if we can read the equations, it’s not a mirror image.  The second, shows Einstein shaking hands, a right hand activity, upon receiving his certificate of US citizenship from Judge Phillip Forman.  The important point in these images is to notice the distinctive nature of Einstein’s two eyebrows.  The right eyebrow is darker in the center, while the left is more uniform in coloration.

So then if you return to our original image.  You see that it is the left brow that is smaller.  The image is reversed, mirror flipped.  The Wikimedia site is definitive.  It shows the original image from 1947 and facing right and facing left variants.  Somebody along the way decided that Albert would look better facing to your right, despite the fact that it dressed him in borrowed robes, and was just a bit disconcerting to the dress-code meme-sensitive among us.  So allow me to restore Einstein to his full uncropped and unflipped 1947 glory in Figure 1.  I am certainly glad that we got that straightened out!  Columbo and Monk would be proud.


This entry was posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings.

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  1. […] You will remember the image of Albert Einstein in our discussion of memes and the curious question o….  Is the picture in your mind as Albert Einstein, your meme, in color or in black and white?  We had no problem recognizing this black and white image of Einstein as Einstein.  Similarly we would have no problem recognizing a color picture of Einstein as Einstein.  It is even the case that if we were to Photoshop an Einstein picture with weird, say psychedelic, colors that we would still associate this image with our meme entitled “Albert Einstein.”  So we conclude that the essential information that codes our meme is structural and black and white.  Color is unnecessary and in the case of the weirdly colored image can be a bit distracting, perhaps requiring a few more fractions of a second to gain recognition. […]