Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline

The history of doctoring photographs dates back to the 1860s, only a few decades after Niepce created the first photograph in 1814, photographs were already being manipulated. The nearly iconic portrait of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is a composite of Lincoln’s head and the Southern politician John Calhoun’s body.


Around the 1910s, photographic composites of different images were created by commercial photographic studios to bring family members together into one picture when they were not together in reality for the portrait session.


They were cut out of other photos and pasted on top of a photo of the woman at right and re-photographed in a composite image.

1937:  In this doctored photograph, Adolf Hitler had Joseph Goebbels (second from the right) removed from the original photograph. It remains unclear why exactly Goebbels fell out of favor with Hitler.


1942: In order to create a more heroic portrait of himself, Benito Mussolini had the horse handler removed from the original photograph.


1982:  In this National Geographic magazine cover story on Egypt, photographer Gordon Gahen took a horizontal picture of the Great Pyramids of Giza, which had to be “squeezed” together to fit the magazine’s vertical format. Tom Kennedy, who became the director of photography at National Geographic after the cover was manipulated, stated that, “We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn’t repeat that mistake today.”


1989:  The cover of TV Guide displayed this picture of daytime talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. This picture was created by splicing the head of Winfrey onto the body of actress Ann-Margret, taken from a 1979 publicity shot. The composite was created without permission of Winfrey or Ann-Margret, and was detected by Ann-Margret’s fashion designer, who recognized the dress.


1992:  This cover of Texas Monthly shows former Texas Governor Ann Richards astride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This picture was created by splicing the head of Richards onto the body of a model. The editors explained that their credit page disclosed this fact by noting in the credits page “Cover Photograph by Jim Myers … Stock photograph (head shot) By Kevin Vandivier / Texastock.”


Entering the 1990s, with the advent of high-resolution digital cameras, powerful personal computers and sophisticated photo editing software, it is becoming more common to manipulate photographs. It is also harder to detect fake photos.

1994:  This digitally altered photograph of OJ Simpson appeared on the cover of Time magazine shortly after Simpson’s arrest for murder. This photograph was manipulated from the original mug shot that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Newsweek. Time was subsequently accused of manipulating the photograph to make Simpson appear “darker” and “menacing.”


1997:  This digitally altered photograph of Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey appeared on the cover of Newsweek shortly after Bobbi gave birth to septuplets. This photograph was manipulated from the original that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Time. Newsweek manipulated the photograph to make Bobbi’s teeth straighter, and were accused of trying to make her “more attractive.”


2000: Hoping to illustrate its diverse enrollment, the University of Wisconsin at Madison doctored a photograph on a brochure cover by digitally inserting a black student in a crowd of white football fans. The original photograph of white fans was taken in 1993. The additional black student, senior Diallo Shabazz, was taken in 1994. University officials said that they spent the summer looking for pictures that would show the school’s diversity — but had no luck.


2004:  This digital composite of Senator John Kerry and Jane Fonda sharing a stage at an anti-war rally emerged during the 2004 Presidential primaries as Senator Kerry was campaigning for the Democratic nomination. The picture of Senator Kerry was captured by photographer Ken Light as Kerry was preparing to give a speech at the Register for Peace Rally held in Mineola, New York, in June 1971. The picture of Jane Fonda was captured by Owen Franken as Fonda was speaking at a political rally in Miami Beach, Florida, in August 1972.


2006: A photograph of CBS news anchor Katie Couric was digitally altered from this original to give Couric a trimmer waistline and a thinner face. This photo appeared in CBS’ in-house magazine Watch! CBS spokesman, Gil Schwartz, said the doctored image was the work of a CBS photo department employee who got a little zealous.” Schwartz added, “I talked to my photo department; we had a discussion about it; I think photo understands this is not something we’d do in the future.”


2008: This photo of Governor Sarah Palin was widely distributed across the Internet shortly after Palin was announced as the vice presidential nominee for the Republican ticket. Shortly after its release the photo was revealed to be a composite of Palin’s head and somebody else’s body.


2009: This photo of Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan of “The Dark Knight” appeared in Vanity Fair as part of a series of photographs of acclaimed actors and directors. The photo of Ledger, who died in 2008, is from 2005 as he was promoting the film “Brokeback Mountain.” Nolan (shown on the left) was digitally inserted into this photo.



Photo Tampering Throughout History,

The Ethics of Digital Manipulation,

National Press Photographers Association, Ethics in the Age of Digital Photograph,


32 Responses to “Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline”

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  4. mr.mysterio Says:

    great job on this, i never expected some of those. see if you can find more…

  5. A good and instructive collection that opens eyes to an unknown issue.

  6. […] Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline В« Ethics in … Apr 1, 2009 … Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline. The history of doctoring photographs dates back … […]

  7. […] Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline В« Ethics in … Apr 1, 2009 … The history of doctoring photographs dates back to the 1860s, only a few decades after Niepce … […]

  8. […] the advent of electronic image manipulation that famously brought the pyramids together for the National Geographic cover, images have been altered to serve a purpose, develop a message, instill context. Photoshop […]

  9. Motorcycle Picture…

    […]Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline « Ethics in Photo Editing[…]…

  10. freedommurphy Says:

    I am studying photo manipulation in todays photojouralism. This blog has been huge help in my research with its history and viewpoints of ethical natures.

  11. An very good, and long overdue article. There should always be a distinction between an unaltered versus a manipulated image…
    The many digital art sites on the net are often clear on the concept….but they may make no distinction at all oftimes…a standard and some some software, to detect changes made to a photograph, are indeed needed… a tough problem, but needed…

  12. photography work…

    […]Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline « Ethics in Photo Editing[…]…

  13. […] is another link at wordpress about the History of Photo Manipulation Through the Years Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterLike this:Like6 bloggers like this […]

  14. An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you need to publish more on this topic, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people do not discuss such issues. To the next! Kind regards!!

  15. An enjoyable read. I actually have some more ideas about this. Do you accept guest articles on your blog?…

    […]Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline « Ethics in Photo Editing[…]…

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  18. Ayotunde Ishola Says:

    wow! really helpful

  19. […] and their editors were able to change what was ‘true’ and decide how a final work was to be seen (see examples of manipulations through history). Presumably, the further we wander from that initial shutter click, the further we stray from the […]

  20. Very good post! We are linking to this great article on our site.

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  22. […] Photo manipulation has come a long way since Abraham Lincoln’s head appeared on someone else’s body in an 1860s image. […]

  23. […] Green Screen or Chroma-Green Photography is a form of photography called Composite Photography. This is a widely popular form of photography that dated back to about 4 years after photographs were first taken. Per the blog Ethics in Editing, ” […]

  24. […] important ethical questions. Cases in point, the morphing of the Egyptian Pyramids on the cover of National Geographic and the award winning picture of a man living in a dangerous Belgium town, who was in fact a […]

  25. Goebbels deletion from the 1937 photo wasn’t due to a “falling out” with Hitler. Instead, I think it was due to a scandal about Goebbels’ philandering, and how close he was standing to the woman at the extreme right of the photo. She may even be the Czech actress with whom he was specifically linked at the time.

  26. […] [High Praise! to Ethics in Photo Editing] […]

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    Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline | Ethics in Photo Editing

  28. […] was created with the advent of Photoshop. Photographers and artists have been doing it since the 1860s! Photographer Jerry Uelsmann has been doing it for over 50 years. Before Photoshop, it was common […]

  29. […] photos was a convincing art long before Photoshop came around. There’s even a famous doctored photo of Lincoln, where his head was placed on a portrait of Southern leader John Calhoun […]

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