Manipulated photography

Faking It Exhibition: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop

In our digital communication age, everyone knows Photoshop. Even the Oxford and Mirriam-Webster dictionaries have come to define Photoshop as a verb:

transitive verb, often capitalized\?f?-(?)t?-?shäp\
Definition of PHOTOSHOP
: to alter (a digital image) with Photoshop software or other image-editing software especially in a way that distorts reality (as for deliberately deceptive purposes)

In this age digital wonderment we believe that photo manipulation began with Photoshop. However, this is not the case at all. Ever since the inception of photography in 1839, artists have used the public’s belief that photographs are “real” and always tell the truth.

At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC there has been an exhibition called,Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop. This exhibition started in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and will end at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. In Faking It, the curator, Mia Fineman, Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at the Met, has divided the exhibit into seven parts that start in the 1840’s up through the late 20th century.

Manipulated photography

In the first section, Picture Perfect, we witness how photography was manipulated because of its technical limitations. For example, all photographic processes were mono-chrome or black & white. So to add tan element of realism, daguerreotype plates and photographic prints were hand colored. Also, because of the exposure limitations due to the plates light sensitivity of those early times, photographic artists would make muptiple exposures on several plates and then with masking in the darkroom, blend all of these exposures together. A technique much like the modern equvilant of HDR (High Dynamic Range).

In another section, Artifice in the Name of Art , photographers begin to use this ability to manipulate photographs with their psychological power of “realism and truth” to tell unique or sereal stories. Other sections also show how photographs manipulated to distort the “truth” for purposes of policital propaganda.

For me, the most exciting element of this exhibition was seeing the actual prints of so many images I’ve only known from images in books. Seeing the actual print of Henry Peach Robinson’s, Fading Away was a real joy. Also learning that Edward Steichen‘s portrait of Rodin, was actually a composite was fascinating. Even Mathew Brady got into the act with his group portrait of Sherman and his Officers. Now, we know the artist Man Ray manipulated images, but so did the documentary photographer Lewis Hines. In the mid 20th century you may be aware of Duane MichalsJerry Uelsmann creating dream-like images, but portrait photographer Richard Avedon created interpretive photographs for Vogue.

“Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop” closes at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC this weekend, May 5th, 2013. If you can make a moment to visit, check it out. If you miss it, check out the exhibions web site at both the NGA and the Met Museum of Art. You can also get the catalog on

Source: Jarvis Grant,