ARCHIVE/Art Exhibitions

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

Written by Aksel Ritenis


When I told my teenager about the new exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art which is called, in part, “Faking It: Manipulated Photography,”

she looked at me as if I had two heads and asked, “Isn’t that just Photoshop?”

Well no, I thought, it’s much more. “These pictures were taken before Photoshop was invented,” I finally replied, effectively ending our conversation. I didn’t know then that the exhibit includes images of men with two heads—like the two I apparently have—and some 200 more. A number of photographs appeared familiar, but took on new meaning in the context of a study of manipulation. I felt a bit like a youngster seeing a magic trick for the first time when I looked at the diverse displays and wondered, “How did they do that?” Fortunately, unlike the secrets of the magician’s code, this installation includes wall text that details the processes used.

The exhibition first made it abundantly clear that photographic images have been manipulated since the invention of the camera. Early photographers were quickly frustrated by the technical limits of the medium, “specifically, its inability to depict the world as it appears to the naked eye.” For example, in the mid-nineteenth century, when cameras couldn’t render colored images, color was applied manually where necessary. Photographers also used hand-coloring, emphasizing blue tints, to recast daylight scenes as night shots. Some added dramatic clouds to otherwise bland skies, or combined separate images into one picture. Gustave Le Gray used these techniques to powerful effect in “Cloud Study Light-Dark” (1856-57), where waves and sky came from different negatives. His techniques remained secret during his lifetime, but he was so impressed with one set of clouds that he used them again in another work.


About the author

Aksel Ritenis

Axel is the Editor and Publisher of Connoisseur Magazine "for the Finer Things in Life" and has been the custodian of the magazine for over 10 years and leader of a team of freelance Journalists and Community Members who continue to make it all happen!-Join the Team at Connoisseur Magazine!

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