"Photography lost its innocence many years ago."
August 30, 2008 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Photo Tampering Through History. A regularly-updated collection, from 1860 to present, of examples of photo manipulation. Sometimes the changes are made for historical revisionism, sometimes for political maneuvering, and sometimes it's just a "wtf?" The page is part of a larger body of work by Dartmouth's Hany Farid, who has some other interesting goodies online. [Warning for the Pepsi Blue detectives: In some of his pages, he's shilling for his consulting services]
posted by amyms (29 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
In the last year I've done a fair amount of reading of late 1800's - early 1900's magazines on the ol' Google Books, and for just the average pictures they accompany stories with - especially portraits - it's amazing by today's standards, they just didn't care at all.

The photo quality was generally so bad, it'd often be completely blurry. And if they wanted a portrait of someone, but all the had was a photo of him in a crowd - well they just blacked out the crowd and zoomed in on his face, so you got a crappy low-resolution picture with black blotches intruding on the edge of the face.

I kind of get the impression that at that point in time photography was more a means of just helping someone to draw or paint faster. Some of the portraits, I'd swear that they're just a photo that came out poor, so someone painted a picture on top of it.
posted by XMLicious at 1:43 AM on August 30, 2008

It's all about the captions.
posted by DreamerFi at 2:33 AM on August 30, 2008

It remains unclear why exactly Goebbels fell out of favor with Hitler.

Goebbels fell out of favour because he was having an affair with a Czechoslovakian actress- and Hitler had a soft spot for Goebbels' wife Magda.
posted by mattoxic at 2:58 AM on August 30, 2008

circa 1930: Stalin routinely air-brushed his enemies out of photographs. In this photograph a commissar was removed from the original photograph after falling out of favor with Stalin.

September 2007: Mikhail Delyagin was (mostly) digitally removed from a video after he made remarks critical of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The more things change...

Interesting stuff, though the full-sized images are loading really slowly for me right now. And some of the images are hilariously awful, particularly the Elizabeth Vargas picture, and the University of Wisconsin one (though more for the explanation: University officials said that they spent the summer looking for pictures that would show the school's diversity -- but had no luck.).
posted by kosher_jenny at 3:21 AM on August 30, 2008

The more things change...

I was more struck by the fact that the famous Stalin photographic un-personing was done many decades before the idea of Photoshop was even conceivable, and the untrained eye could never tell the photos were altered. The 2007 example, on the other hand, just lazily cropped the left side and left part of him visible. At least Stalin's censors were craftsmen.

sometimes for political maneuvering

Wow, what a surprise: Republican, Republican, Republican campaign ad, State Republican party, Republican, Repub-diddly-ublican...
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:49 AM on August 30, 2008

Wonderful post amyms.
posted by nickyskye at 3:56 AM on August 30, 2008

Tom Kennedy, who became the director of photography at National Geographic after the cover was manipulated, stated that "We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn't repeat that mistake today".

That may be, though I am sceptical, but it is quite a challenge to find non-manipulated photographs in any typical newspaper or magazine. All portraits are retouched for vanity (or in rare cases for hilarity), people and objects are moved apart or together, graphical effects are added and so on and so on.
posted by cx at 4:56 AM on August 30, 2008

Also. 'On 9 April 2003, the front page of the London Evening Standard (circulation: 400,000) contained a blurry image supposedly showing a throng of Iraqis in Baghdad celebrating the toppling of Saddam Hussein. What we are really looking at is an incredibly ham-fisted attempt at photo manipulation. '
posted by plep at 5:02 AM on August 30, 2008

Tremendous post, amyms.

Thank you so much - I am actually soon going to be looking for someone with expertise in early photo manipulation techniques from around 1924 - so this is just about the cat's pajamas!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:32 AM on August 30, 2008

Scientology also practices Stalinist-style photographic unpersoning.

the untrained eye could never tell the photos were altered

Reading more about Soviet photo manipulation after this post sparked my interest, it appears that the manipulation was actually considered "crude" and that the intended audience knew when a photo had been edited, and it's theorized that they were hamfisted on purpose in order to send a warning. In later years they didn't even bother with airbrushing and simply cut people out of photographs, and called upon average citizens to scratch out Trotsky's face when they found an errant photo of him in old books, etc. Maybe it's because I've only seen low-res digital reproductions and/or I don't have an eye for or interest in photography, but the Soviet censorship always seemed pretty skillful to me considering the tools they had available. The example in the FPP of the ex-water commissar replaced by a canal (heh) seems especially good.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:35 AM on August 30, 2008

I'm not surprised that photo-doctoring has been going on for so long,
however the amount of examples here alone I find disturbing.
posted by Chocomog at 5:41 AM on August 30, 2008

The Adnan Hajj 'smoke' picture has to be some of the worse photoshop ever... I'm still amazed he got away with it as long as he did, and that Reuters actually accepted it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:57 AM on August 30, 2008

Wow, the fence post at Kent State. You can see why they rubbed that out, it makes the composition very strange.

Great find amyms, thanks so much for this excellent post.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:57 AM on August 30, 2008

Goebbels fell out of favour because he was having an affair with a Czechoslovakian actress- and Hitler had a soft spot for Goebbels' wife Magda

Also, Goebbels was a Nazi.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:09 AM on August 30, 2008

The Jacques Steinberg photo altered by Fox is flat-out hilarious.
posted by VicNebulous at 7:34 AM on August 30, 2008

A fascinating collection, but I felt that the site equated photos doctored to propagate lies with photos doctored to make an editorial or political point. While it is a fascinating look at the evolution of both the technology and its use, at some point people need to learn to understand the difference between a clearly artistic/editorial manipulation like Reagan's tear with the egregious use of photo altering like the Kerry-Fonda canard. Equating the two is like saying that a news story and an opinion piece are exactly the same, or worse, that all art is dishonest because it doesn't depict reality exactly. We should be examining who exactly it is who decided that the altered Couric or Faith Hill is more attractive than the real woman (in both cases, the unaltered version is much more attractive, making you wonder how these things get started). We should be looking at photographs in their context-- is the photographer really saying that Reagan cried, or using art to illustrate a case? The point learned should not be that all photographic manipulation is dishonest, but rather, caveat emptor.
posted by nax at 7:40 AM on August 30, 2008

There's also the ever-entertaining Photoshop Disasters.
posted by Brittanie at 8:01 AM on August 30, 2008

Wow, the fence post at Kent State. You can see why they rubbed that out, it makes the composition very strange.

Which brings up a good debate -- was it wrong to remove that fence post? It didn't change the story at all, didn't imply any different even than what was happening in the original, just eliminated a slight problem with composition. I actually feel that the fireman against orange sun image was also not a problem, since there was no story/fact element changed (though I believe that was controversial because it was in a photo contest), nor creating images which are fake, and clearly presented as unrealistic, though you probably shouldn't make sexy images of people who would be offended by having risque images of them (as in Maxim's fantasy edition - there is a reason those women did not want to pose in the first place).

I think the problem with the manipulation of photojournalism are both clearly obvious images where a new story has been created - such as two images to create a new one - as in this case, and also in subtle manipulation to change the feel of a picture -- not just to enhance it, but to create a different feeling or belief about the picture with an intent to change an understanding about the news story (all of the obvious inserting or removing of people fit in here, of course -- you are trying to change the memory of who was there). In neither the Kent state nor the firefighter image was the photographer trying to change the story of the image - just take out a distracting line or enhance the colour.
posted by jb at 8:48 AM on August 30, 2008

The fireman is an interesting case, esp if it's true that it was deliberately shot underexposed to bring up later in editing.

I think there's going to be more borderline cases like this as cameras have more and more computing power built into them and more tweaking can be done as the shot is taken.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:58 AM on August 30, 2008

This is wonderful. Thanks, amyms.

I kinda wish though that they had gone a little nuttier back in the day "Lincoln's head superimposed on the body of a cat! LOL!" *sigh* Still, this is a great find.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:07 AM on August 30, 2008

The fireman is an interesting case, esp if it's true that it was deliberately shot underexposed to bring up later in editing.

But is that a problem? I'm only a mediocre amateur photographer, but I often purposely underespose things (or over-expose) to enhance an image. (actually, more often I do it accidentally, but the effect has sometimes be great).

The questions are: is the fireman a news image? And if so, does the image change your understanding of the reality of the situation? In this case I'm not sure it really is a news image (I feel like the image was more in the way of an illustration or decoration to the story, not contributing facts/situation itself), but even if you say its a news image I don't think the manipulation was story-substantial. They don't link to the original here, but I've seen it, and I really don't think the manipulation of the colours manipulated my understanding of the image, so I don't see it as a problem at all.

It was like his other image - that of two grieving firefighters (police?), on which the background had been taken to black. To be honest, I thought that particular manipulation was a poor choice on an aesthetic level (the original was a better photo than the manipulated one). But the idea/story of the image was not manipulated, and so I didn't think it was a problem.

Eugene Smith, the famous photo-journalist, was known at times to do more than just dial contrast up and down. In one image of a family mourning, he actually changed the direction of two people's eyes -- but that was because two of the mourners looked at him when he took the picture. He put their eyes looking where they had been the second before. Now one could say that he was altering the truth of the situation (the truth was that the mourning was being disturbed by the photographer), but he also did so to create an image which was just as true a minute before. (He also did a hell of a lot of contrast/burning & dodging in all of his work.)

When we talk about manipulation in news images, we need to differentiate image manipulation from "story/fact" manipulation. Does the manipulation change someone's understanding (either factual or, more subtly, emotional) of what was happening, in a way that they are unaware of this manipulation and believe they are seeing something as it would have been seen? The soldier holding out his hand to the Iraqi man with his child is a striking image, but it's unacceptable because it implies a story which isn't true (that the soldiers' hand gesture was directed towards the father and child). Changing the colour of an image just to make it more striking - particulary restoring it to the same contrast as was perceived by the human eye (since cameras don't see what we see) - isn't a problem, but changing the colour of an image to change how attractive/unattractive someone is, that is more serious.

To be honest -- all journalists, whether photographic or textual or video, manipulate their stories. What they choose to talk about/image, what they leave out, how they depict it -- all of these are selective and concious. We can't demand that the photo journalist never improve the contrast of his images while allowing the text journalist to use adjectives. But we need to have a flexible ethics, one which focuses on the intent and effect of the manipulation, not the manipulation itself.

In terms of educating people about photography and journalism, I would hope that all people learn to understand that an image is just as much a creation of the photographer as a paragraph is of the author. One has to be skeptical, while not being so skeptical you're starting to deisgn your own tinfoil head-gear.

Of course, cases like the smoke over Beirut - that was just idiotic. In the end, it just created a doubt in the West concerning the extent of the destruction which happened there (which was severe - as can be seen on sattilite images). I have no idea what that man was thinking.
posted by jb at 10:10 AM on August 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Manipulating images for political reasons, or just vanity, predates photography by hundreds of years. Potraits have been "tweaked" for generations; same goes for images in books, with medieval owners and early modern publishers (1500s) altering images to fit the circumstances as they saw fit. Images are consciously created -- even the most "natural" scene becomes a creation once it is captured and presented to other viewers. The question becomes who is entitled to participate in the process, when and how.
posted by woodway at 10:17 AM on August 30, 2008

In many ways, compared with what used to be done in the darkroom with chemicals and light, I look at the rise in photographic manipulation that obtains from the move to digital technology to be mostly a matter of degree.

I think it's very easy to look back at the days of silver halide photography with nostalgia and mistakenly view them as a "golden age" of objective photographic reality , when in truth they were never such. In fact, I would go as far as to say that there is essentially no such thing as a photograph as an objective record of reality - for a start, the human vision system does not capture discrete moments in time, whereas photographs do. Take for example one's memory of a lightning strike - particularly one that is visibly composed of multiple strokes. What would a "faithful" photograph of such an event look like? Should it only consist of one stroke (as a short exposure would show), or should it incorporate all of them (resulting from a longer exposure)?

Secondly, there is the matter of exposure latitude - most digital image sensors today have a narrower dynamic range than typical silver halide film, but even the best silver halide film could not hope to match the dynamic range of the human vision system. So what then are we to make of digital HDR (high dynamic range photography)? When used carefully, HDR can give very natural-looking results that approximate the dynamic range of human sight. And yet, because they exceed the dynamic range of silver halide, HDR is sometimes dismissed as "fakery". More generously, artistically-used HDR can produce results that look more like a painting than a photograph. Why? Well, because most paintings more closely reproduce the dynamic range of human vision than any photograph.

Third, and partly to compensate for either imperfections in the capture process, or for limitations in the medium, photographers have essentially always manipulated their images through techniques such as push-processing, dodging & burning, and varying the time the print spends in the developer tray, or using non-standard concentrations, mixtures or temperatures of chemicals.

Finally, we should even consider the process by which the image is manipulated even before the shutter is opened, by the use of selective focus, manipulation of depth of field, choice of focal length (wide angle vs. telephoto, fisheye vs. rectilinear, or alignment of focal plane relative to the image plane with a tilt-shift lens or bellows system) and even composition itself.

And this doesn't even begin to touch on the compositing and retouching of the sort that Stalin's photo editors used to indulge in, as shown in the FPP.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you that the only thing Photoshop has done is to make all of these techniques easier to apply, even after the fact, plus it has added a few that were not feasible to accomplish in the analog age, such as HDR.
posted by kcds at 10:31 AM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in this, I can highly recommend David King's The Commissar Vanishes. Lots of examples of Stalin-era photo manipulation, with explanations of not only how they were done, but why.
posted by Rangeboy at 10:33 AM on August 30, 2008

Rereading your post, ooh, there's some other goodies there, like you mentioned. Like this one, Searching in Clutter.

The deceptions and the reasons for them in the photo altering have been fascinating.

What irony it was Lincoln whose image was the first famous one to be altered. Looking at the image it rings false, his theatrical stance, with his arm positioned like that, was so unlike Lincoln.

And it pisses me off how they are de-fatting females and males of all ages and social standing, from TV anchors to politicians. It dehumanizes people. What sick visual spin mastering.

Some alterations are laughable, the Mussolini one with the horse handler makes him look like a child playing horsie, posing. And in the one by himself it does look heroic. Interesting to see the reality.

In GW's note
, it seems typical he put a question mark after writing, "I think I may need a bathroom break". Both bad grammar and pathetic. Makes him ever the child-like Pinocchio asking permission from Gepetto.

Interesting to think of the motivation behind these deceptions and to learn a new term, digital forensics.
posted by nickyskye at 11:18 AM on August 30, 2008

There was a picture of Ronad Reagan that had airbrushed out his intravenous tubes as well.


This reminds me a bit of Spy Magazine and their outrageous doctored photographs. Those were satirical gags, tho...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:29 AM on August 30, 2008

but it is quite a challenge to find non-manipulated photographs in any typical newspaper or magazine

I think it's that National Geographic specifically has a reputation more in line with photojournalism than with, say, travel writing.

I felt that the site equated photos doctored to propagate lies with photos doctored to make an editorial or political point.

I've objected to the site on this basis before. I believe there's a fundamental difference between, say, the thinner Kate Winslet and the biker Ann Richards, even though both are obviously editorial. I was surprised that anyone thought that Oprah TV guide cover was real instead of a "photo illustration".

I've written Farid about two important movie posters that attracted attention for their photo manipulation. The first was For Your Eyes Only (eponysterical?), an obvious montage of at least two shots. The butt isn't an actress in the film but a model, and I think at least two and perhaps three models claimed it was theirs, likely for career purposes. There was also an issue with the crossbow prop.

The second was the Pretty Woman poster, which so clearly pasted Gere and Roberts's heads on models' bodies (and made Gere quite a bit younger in the process).

These two cases are significant not because I noticed them, but because they attracted media attention at their respective releases. I'm not sure why Farid's first movie poster example is from 2006. I suspect that there are just too many cases of movie poster alterations for a comprehensive history, but not including media call-outs, I think, changes the balance or significance they would have in his history.
posted by dhartung at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2008

I work at a newspaper as an imaging technician and the things people used to do to photos in the mid 20th century to get them to print "better" are disturbing. We've recently embarked on scanning our entire library of photos and, in my opinion, at least 50% shouldn't be scanned. The folks of yore used white-out to erase backgrounds. They used markers to paint in lines on coats, hair, teeth, backgrounds. You name it they did it. The most frustrating part is why didn't the old timer photogs think to make 2 copies of their work. One they could manipulate and one to save for posterity untouched. Once they got the exposure right how hard would it have been to make an extra copy?

Our major scanning project pisses me off because I know somewhere deep in our library there are untouched 4x5 negatives we could be scanning, but our librarians are too lazy (or too understaffed) to hunt them down. Of course my biggest fear is we'll somehow complete this seemingly neverending project (actually there's no way this project will be completed in my lifetime) just in time for the librarians to find the negatives and we'll have to start all over again. I'm all for doing things ONCE the right way and see this as just a huge waste of time.

I think of how the NY Times have their beautiful archived photos for sale. Untouched, our photographs would be equally stunning, but no one is going to buy our fucked up, manipulated, painted on crap. I honestly don't know what the purpose of scanning these pictures is and no on in charge can tell me. I'd post examples, but times are hard in the newspaper business these days and I can't afford to be fired.
posted by wherever, whatever at 2:11 PM on August 30, 2008

I can't help but feel that the Harper's cover with the A.W.O.L. article is erroneously included. Was there a huge public outcry over the 7 soldiers pictured? Did people make phone calls and write letters over the fate of the palest soldier, worrying that he would soon fade into non-existence? The photo has been altered, but altered in a way to make it clear that it is a graphic illustration advertising the article. "Tampering" connotates deception.
posted by redsparkler at 1:14 AM on August 31, 2008

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