Known for Famous Photos, Not All of Them His

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Joe O’Donnell’s glowing legacy outlived him by less than a week. The man recalled by some as “The Presidential Photographer” with a knack for having a camera to his eye at just the right moment, became instead someone described as a fraud who hijacked some of the 20th century’s most famous images and claimed them as his own.

Mr. O’Donnell, a retired government photographer, died on Aug. 9 in Nashville at age 85. Obituaries published nationwide, including one in The New York Times on Aug. 14, praised his body of work over several presidential administrations, most of them singling out one famous picture: little John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his slain father’s passing coffin on Nov. 25, 1963. That picture was later determined to have been taken by someone else, and a closer examination of photos that Mr. O’Donnell claimed as his own has turned up other pictures taken by other photographers.

Retired news photographers all over the country, some into their 80s, reacted at the claims in the obituaries with shock and outrage as the only rights most of them have to their own pictures — bragging rights — were quietly taken by a man they never heard of.

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