‘Faking It, Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop’

The 202 manipulated images comprising the ‘Faking It’ exhibition elucidate and illustrate the manipulation of photographs from the birth of photography. The exhibition contains works by numerous photographers, a number of whom are currently unknown. Stretching from the early 19th century until the late 20th century, the collection attempts to broaden the viewer’s perspective and awareness of historic photographic manipulation. For the purpose of this review, four photographs in particular will be used to appraise and evaluate the exhibition, they are; ‘Man Daydreaming about Love’, ‘The Corporal is Leading Germany into a Catastrophe’, ‘Man in a Bottle’, ‘Un Coup de Pompe’.

Mia Fineman, the author of the exhibition, explained that the structure was divided into “seven thematic, roughly chronological sections”, with a specific focus upon the “motivations for manipulating the camera image”.[1] Fundamentally, the exhibition revolves around the idea of presenting the ‘impossible’ via the medium of photography. The seven themes of the exhibition include the attempts to “overcome the perceived limitations” of photography, the development of detailed composite photographs, images which were manipulated for “political or ideological ends”, then there were images which were created with the intention to “astonish, amuse, and entertain”, additionally there were photos which were manipulated for the use of newspapers and magazines, the creation of dreamlike photos became widely created, the final theme was around the use of composite images including the insertion of ‘spirit’ individuals to “highlight the inherent mutability of the photographic image”. These themes effectively present the varied forms of the manipulation of photographic images prior to the development and promulgation of Photoshop.

love

The ‘Man Daydreaming about Love’ taken around 1910 is a composite photograph which was an attempt to capture two ‘worlds’ in one image. It shows a man in a dreamlike state with the subject of what he was dreaming about, namely himself and a young woman. This attempt to fuse the physical with the incorporeal is an ambitious attempt to expand the capcity of photography to include the seen and the unseen. Whilst comprising two separate images, the unknown author succeeded in creating a seamless juxtaposition by effectively using clouds to bridge the gap between the two original photographs.[2]

corporal

Alexander Zhitomirsky’s photograph ‘The Corporal is Leading Germany into a Catastrophe’ was a carefully constructed piece of propaganda intending to pin a sense of failure onto Adolf Hitler by using notable German hero Otto Von Bismark with a pointed “accusing finger”. Interestingly, the caption for the photograph is used as a means to denigrate and belittle Hitler’s military rank – and in so doing make the claim that he is unfit to lead Germany. This photograph was located in the third section of the exhibition, and employs the use of composite images to result in the finger of Bismark pointing at Hitler. The pose that Hitler holds indicates a sense of bated insecurity as if some failure had taken place. Regardless of the context, the manipulative construction of these photographs illustrates one of the ways in which propaganda made use of photographic development techniques, to create an otherwise impossible image.[3]

higgins

The fourth section of the exhibtion, as has been noted, focused on photographs which could “amuse” and “astonish” through manipulation. John C. Higgins’ photograph ‘Man in Bottle’ is a fine example of providing photographic amusement and almost a sense of bewilderment through the clever creation of a composite image. This photograph and those similar, add a sense of entertainment to the exhibition which enhances the exhibtion by illustrating the place that photographic humour held in the late 19th century. Higgins’ used the image as the front of a postcard which inevitably would have been used to publicise his photograhy studio in the hope of more business. The clever manipulation offers the intial thought of, ‘how did he do that?’, which in turn captures the attention and interest of the viewer. As a clever visual device, this form of photographic manipulation provides an additional insight into a form of advertising which existed in 1888.

inflationjpg

The Un Coup de Pompe (directly translated as ‘Shot Pump’) is a clever manipulation whereby the unknown author took two photographs and created a composite image of a man inflating his own head. The use of a larger second image for the pumped head was an effective means of giving the illusion that the head was inflating. The unknown author was clearly trying to astound by presenting the impossible. Additionally, it illustrates the quality of photo manipulation, even at the end of the 19th century. The image was used for the cover of the “amateur photography magazine Photo Pêle-Mêle in 1903”, there was widespread popularity for “balloon heads”,  as Mia Fineman points out in relation to the 1901 film, ‘L’homme à la tête de caoutchouc (The Man with the Rubber Head, 1901)’.[4] The popularity of decapitation and balloon heads took a hold around the beginning of the 20th century.  Consequently, there are a number of balloon heads within the collection of which this one succinctly captures what they were attempting to achieve. I feel that this image is the pinnacle of early photographic manipulation; the seamless connection of the images indicates the level high quality workmanship, which was engaged in this type of work. Additionally, the rapid emergence of comedic artwork provides an insight into the developments surrounding the culture of photography; no longer was it limited to just portraits of individuals and families.

To conclude, those who visit the exhibit will not leave “nostalgic for when a photo was just a photo”.[5] The manipulation of images has as many motives as there are photographs, different artists held different intentions, ultimately resulting in the wide spectrum of images.[6]  The ability to present reality and an alternate reality in these images has changed throughout the history of the camera, but Mia Fineman introduces her book by explaining that there has been a “loss of faith in photography as an accurate, trustworthy means of representing the world”.[7] The exhibition represents this stance of Finemans, and highlights the versatile nature of reality when viewed through the camera lens. Simply put – photography has not changed much since its inception in the 1840s, manipulation and alterations have occurred since the mediums inception, as such, today the only change has been the way in which the photographs have been manipulated, now we see the manipulations taking place digitally.[8] Thus, the visual feast that is the ‘Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop’ exhibition, offers a fascinating insight into the history of photographic manipulation, not only does it educate, but it allows an open exploration into the changes within photographic culture.  The history of photography is absorbing and filled with riveting nuances; the exhibition is one that any historian of photography should explore.[9]

1,118 words

The exhibition was made possible via the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Adobe.

Faking It Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop by Mia Fineman is available for purchase at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Store for $60 and is on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art until January 27th 2013.

Bibliography

Steve Meltzer, ‘Faking It’: New Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit puts on a magic show of photo manipulation, October 11th 2012, available at: http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2012/10/11/faking-it-new-metropolitan-museum-of-art-exhibit-puts-on-a-magic-show, accessed: 6th December 2012.

Rebecca Robertson, ‘An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum showcases manipulated photographs from the pre-digital age’, 1st October 2012, available at: http://www.artnews.com/2012/10/01/pix-before-pixels/, accessed: 6th December 2012.

Heather Murphy, ‘The Met Embraces Fakes’, 23rd October 2012, available at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2012/10/23/the_metropolitan_museum_of_art_explores_photo_manipulation.html, accessed: 6th December 2012.

Ken Johnson, ‘Their Cheating Art: Reality and Illusion ‘Faking It’ at the Met, a Photography Exhibition’, 11th October 2012, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/arts/design/faking-it-at-the-met-a-photography-exhibition.html, accessed: 6th December 2012.

Tom LeGro, ‘What Did We Do Before Photoshop?’, 29th November 2012, available at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/blog/2012/11/slide-show-what-did-we-do-before-photoshop.html, accessed: 6th December 2012.

Maria Popova, ‘Faking It: 150 Years of Image Manipulation Before Photoshop’, 23rd October 2012, available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/10/faking-it-150-years-of-image-manipulation-before-photoshop/263995/, accessed: 6th December 2012.

Joshua Kopstein, ‘Is this shopped Truth, lies, and art before and after Photoshop’, 12th October 2012, available at: http://www.theverge.com/2012/10/12/3489356/is-this-shopped-truth-lies-and-art-before-and-after-photoshop, accessed: 6th December 2012.


[1] Tom LeGro, ‘What Did We Do Before Photoshop?’, 29th November 2012, available at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/blog/2012/11/slide-show-what-did-we-do-before-photoshop.html, accessed: 6th December 2012.

[3] ‘The Corporal is Leading Germany into a Catastrophe’, available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/view?exhibitionId=%7b36D81705-241D-4934-AB02-FD7C8DBBB3E5%7d&oid=190049247&pg=4&rpp=60&pos=194&ft=*, accessed: 13th December 2012.

[5] Joshua Kopstein, ‘Is this shopped Truth, lies, and art before and after Photoshop’, 12th October 2012, available at: http://www.theverge.com/2012/10/12/3489356/is-this-shopped-truth-lies-and-art-before-and-after-photoshop, accessed: 6th December 2012.

[6] Heather Murphy, ‘The Met Embraces Fakes’, 23rd October 2012, available at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2012/10/23/the_metropolitan_museum_of_art_explores_photo_manipulation.html, accessed: 6th December 2012.

[7] Maria Popova, ‘Faking It: 150 Years of Image Manipulation Before Photoshop’, 23rd October 2012, available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/10/faking-it-150-years-of-image-manipulation-before-photoshop/263995/, accessed: 6th December 2012.

[8] Rebecca Robertson, ‘An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum showcases manipulated photographs from the pre-digital age’, 1st October 2012, available at: http://www.artnews.com/2012/10/01/pix-before-pixels/, accessed: 6th December 2012.

[9] Steve Meltzer, ‘Faking It’: New Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit puts on a magic show of photo manipulation, October 11th 2012, available at: http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2012/10/11/faking-it-new-metropolitan-museum-of-art-exhibit-puts-on-a-magic-show, accessed: 6th December 2012.

2 Responses to “‘Faking It, Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop’”

  1. Any thoughts, comments or impressions are welcome!

  2. I think it’s a really good review James! Using quotes, or information, from the organiser was a good shout, allows more insight to why it was put together in that way :) Although I must say that the head blowing up picture is really creepy! :P

    Kat

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