Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

The exhibition is made possible by Adobe.

The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Works in the Exhibition

  • The Pond - Moonrise

    Edward J. Steichen (American (born Luxembourg), Bivange 1879–1973 West Redding, Connecticut)

    Date: 1904
    Accession Number: 33.43.40

  • The Heart of the Storm

    Anne W. Brigman (American, Honolulu, Hawaii 1869–1950 Eagle Rock, California)

    Date: 1912
    Accession Number: 33.43.129

  • [Room with Eye]

    Maurice Tabard (French, Lyons 1897–1984 Nice)

    Date: 1930
    Accession Number: 62.576.4

  • Obsession

    William Mortensen (American, 1897–1965)

    Date: ca. 1930
    Accession Number: 1975.623.1

  • Human Relations

    William Mortensen (American, 1897–1965)

    Date: 1932
    Accession Number: 1975.623.2

  • Untitled

    Jerry N. Uelsmann (American, born Detroit, Michigan, 1934)

    Date: 1976, printed 1980
    Accession Number: 1981.1073

Featured Media

Faking It Symposium: Social Documentary and Pictorial Manipulation

Program information

The symposium "Truth, Lies, and Photographs" was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop, on view October 11, 2012, through January 27, 2013. In this talk, Miles D. Orvell, Professor of English and American Studies, Temple University, discusses parallels between H. P. Robinson, a pictorial photographer, and W. Eugene Smith, a social documentary photographer. Both photographers, despite working in different genres of photography, manipulated the images while photographing them, sometimes asking participants to pose or repeat activities over and over again.

Part Three of Seven

Recorded November 2, 2012

The exhibition is made possible by Adobe.
This program is made possible by Joyce Frank Menschel.

Faking It

Program Information

Can you spot which photos are fake? Can you imagine why they were altered? Put your eyes to the test.

Digital cameras and image editing software have made photo manipulation easier than ever, but photographers have been doctoring images since the medium was invented. The false "realities" in altered photographs can be either surprising and eye-catching or truly deceptive and misleading.

Faking It is a quiz that asks players to spot which photos are fake and figure out why they were altered. Through fifteen sets of questions accompanied by more than two dozen remarkable images, the Faking It quiz challenges misconceptions about the history of photo manipulation.

Images in the quiz range from a heroic portrait of Ulysses S. Grant to a playful portrait of Salvador Dalí, and from New York's glamorous Empire State Building to Oregon's sublime Cape Horn.

This feature complements the exhibition Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, on view October 11, 2012–January 27, 2013. It is also available in the iTunes store as a free iPad app.

Faking It

Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

October 11, 2012–January 27, 2013

Accompanied by a catalogue and a free iPad app

The urge to modify camera images is as old as photography itself—only the methods have changed. Nearly every type of manipulation we now associate with digital photography was also part of the medium's pre-digital repertoire: smoothing away wrinkles, slimming waistlines, adding people to a scene (or removing them)—even fabricating events that never took place.

This international loan exhibition traces the history of manipulated photography from the 1840s through the early 1990s, when the computer replaced manual techniques as the dominant means of doctoring photographs. Most of the two hundred pictures on view were altered after the negative was exposed—through photomontage, combination printing, overpainting, retouching, or, as is often the case, a blend of several processes. In every instance, the final image differs significantly from what stood before the camera at any given moment.

Whether modified in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment, or commerce, the pictures featured in the exhibition adopt the seamlessly realistic appearance of conventional photographs. They aim to convince the eye, even if the mind rebels at the scenarios they conjure, such as a woman bathing in a glass of champagne or a man brandishing his own severed head.

Over the past two decades, digital technology has made us all more keenly aware of the malleability of the photographic image, and many lament a loss of faith in the testimony of the camera. What we have gained, however, is a fresh perspective on the history of the medium and its complex relationship to visual truth. Through today's eyes, we can see that the old adage "the camera never lies" has always been photography's supreme fiction.