Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Photograph Manipulation When Pictures Lie (ALWAYS) The Art of Painting a Photograph

(Click to Enlarge)

It is a very short walk from enhancement to deception. I suppose manipulating photographs (and by extension, the masses) is an art as old as photography. We often forget what happens after the shutter is snapped is really what photography is about. Even a monkey can take a picture, there must be a photo of a monkey operating a camera release on the web. (Note to self...commission a monkey to take some photos)

However, it is a serious subject, and I don't just mean the obvious historical examples we are all familiar with. Trimming the fat of supermodels for supermarket checkout lanes, eliminating Stalin's rivals with the stroke of a brush, etc. It is a serious ethical problem which is increasingly ignored. In 1982 the National Geographic moved no less than the pyramids closer together to fit them on their cover. It is insidious and shameful...but it isn't new at all. We've been had for centuries. If it weren't so widely practiced and so commonly accepted, it would be collectively known as the greatest and most pervasive hoax in history.

Paint Shop and Photoshop certainly made it easier. The programs have been around a long time now, and in an increasingly visual world where text is shortened to less than a caption, that we can not rely on what the eye sees is unfortunate and it could someday have tragic consequences. I guess.
I have collected examples of the art of photo manipulation for a while now. It was the practice of the press to "highlight" or embellish photographs for publication. I find these examples striking and beautiful, if fraudulent, because they were all done by hand with a paintbrush. All were treated prior to publication and reproduction in a newspaper, where inadequate newsprint printing process made the craft necessary. But they never told us.

One from my collection, the firing squad here from 1927, was recently used in a small spread in Foam Magazine. Had the photo been taken moments later, the paint artist would have certainly wiped up the blood (or highlighted it I suppose, depending on intent) I reprint it here as an extreme example since virtually no photo remains, it is as much painting as picture. The other examples, none too nefarious that I can tell, but deceptive still, are shown more to illustrate a lost art. By the way...I have cropped some, but not "treated" in anyway. Like the press, I wouldn't tell you if I did. Being a music fan, Chuck Berry in the Clouds is a particular favorite, but then you can hardly beat a pipe which smokes "HEALTH."


Group of Original painted, embellished and manipulated press photographs, 1920 - 1971
Collection Jim Linderman


  1. Great post. This is like something you need to run as a regular feature as a reminder.

    I can remember being in journalism school when the National Geographic thing broke and we were all shocked- But really, that was just the beginning of the modern era of manipulation and fake stories for Pulitzers.

  2. beautiful examples you have here!
    let's not forget that the lens of the camera itself (to say nothing of the film type, speed, shutter, f-stop) has already greatly manipulated the actual scene. absolutely no photograph is an accurate representation of its subject. otherwise our eyes would function exactly as a camera does (which they don't).
    and don't even get me started on where the camera is and who is deciding to point it, and when.