Cottingley Fairies

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

On October 11, 2012, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will open the first major exhibition devoted to the history of manipulated, or “doctored” photographs. The show is called Faking It and, according to MoMA is “the first major exhibition devoted to the history of doctored photographs, from hand-painted daguerreotypes and altered salt prints of the 1840s to the pre-digital dreamscapes of the late twentieth century.” Many of these images may seem amateurish by today’s standards but, to the late 19th and early 20th century aesthetic, they were like magic. We tend to take Photoshop for granted, though it has only been around for a little over 20 years. Yet, in a relatively short time, it has changed the way we view images. Almost any photo we see is under some sort of scrutiny. Whether it’s a photograph of a beautiful model, a stunning landscape, or even a photo-journalistic image taken for a news story, there is always doubt in the back of our minds… was it Photoshopped? Is that what was really captured or has it been altered in some way? Faking It shows viewers that manipulating images is hardly a new thing. From the very early days of photography people, like William Notman, were finding ways to alter the pictures they took, whether to trick people or to explore new types of art or just for laughs. One of the most famous visual hoaxes is called the Cottingley Fairies and was perpetrated by a couple of schoolgirls back in 1917. Irritated at their father for not believing their stories of playing with fairies in the garden, they traced several illustrations of fairies out of a book, cut them out, then used hairpins to set them up in trees and in the grass. Using their father’s camera, they took pictures of each other with the “fairies”. Their mother took these photos to a spiritualist meeting and soon the news spread that there was evidence that faires existed. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) heard about the photographs and was fascinated. He believed until the day he died that these fairies were real, so much so that he wrote two pamphlets and a book vouching for the authenticity of the photos. In a 1920 article for The Strand, Doyle wrote, “The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which has already been put before it.” The two girls did not admit until 1983 that they had faked the photographs, saying they were too embarrassed to admit the truth after it became such big news. Just goes to show that with photography, you just can’t believe everything you see. Below are some more early examples of altered images.


Cottingley FairiesPhoto Manipulated SpiritsPhoto Manipulated Ads and Propaganda Toulouse-Latrec + Lenin and StalinPhoto Manipulated Surrealism
[via The Guardian]

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