Archive for the History of the issue Category

Photo Manipulation Throughout History: A Timeline

Posted in History of the issue on April 1, 2009 by Katie McKay

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,