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Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

By Jules Ebe on May 30th 2013

One of the distinctive attributes of photography when it was invented was its ability to see what the human eye could not. It had the quality of honesty – what you saw in the picture was what you got. Many people touted photography as the “Pencil of Nature”, the truth of the world around us. If it was in the photograph – it had to be real, correct?!

With the development of Photoshop and other means of digital manipulations, some said that photography had lost its way. Little did they know, photography has been lying the entire time.

Many artists used various techniques with metal, paper, glass, and the negative we know today. Though the materials have changed over the last two centuries, the idea to use photography to trick, entertain, and enthrall has not.

A recent exhibition Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop traces the practice of photo manipulation from the 1840s through the 1980s to convey how photography has always been a medium of fabricated truths and artful lies.

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

Unidentified American artist
Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011

Maurice Guibert (French, 1856-1913)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model
c. 1900
Gelatin silver print
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Unidentified American artist
Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester


Unidentified American artist
Two-Headed Man
c. 1855
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

If you are unable to make it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York exhibition currently traveling the US, you can purchase the art catalogue by clicking here.

Can you imagine why these images were made? What inspired the photographer? Let us know your thoughts.

Until Next Time . . .

Stay Inspired ~ Jules


is a Southern California based Conceptual Artist and Photographer. Her work has been featured in several print publications and selections can be seen in local gallery exhibitions. Connect with her on Facebook and Google+.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Wonder how long it took to pull these off ?

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  2. Tanya Smith

    So cool. My photography professor back in the day always said that Photoshop was developed to replicate techniques used in the darkroom and this is a great example.

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