Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..

Faking It – Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

Whenever I come to New York to visit family, I make it a point to take the train into Manhattan from Long Island and visit the great museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). I was by no means disappointed this last visit because the city was alive with Christmas shoppers and all decked out and bustling for the holidays.

Its a wonderful time of year to spend a day just walking around New York soaking up the iconic sites like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Times Square and of course Central Park.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

A highlight of my day was spending the afternoon at the MET seeing the exhibitions. I enjoyed the Andy Warhol show, but was truly fascinated by the Faking It – Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop exhibition.

You may think photographs were factual visual documents before the advent of digital technology, however this comprehensive exhibition reveals how photographs have been being manipulated and altered in a variety of ways since its invention.

The MET Museum’s web site description of this exhibition states…“The urge to modify camera images is as old as photography itself—only the methods have changed. Nearly every type of manipulation we now associate with digital photography was also part of the medium’s pre-digital repertoire: smoothing away wrinkles, slimming waistlines, adding people to a scene (or removing them)—even fabricating events that never took place.”

Whether it be simple color tinting of black and white Daguerreotypes, adding clouds to cloudless skies by multiple printing or more complex and almost seamless manipulations as in Oscar Rejlander’s photographic allegory  “The Two Way’s of Life” from 1857 that used over 30 negatives to make –  photographers and darkroom technicians  have devised creative ways for altering the straight photographic image.

Richard Avedon stated the following in 1967, “The minute you pick up a camera you begin to lie or tell your own truth. You make subjective judgments every step of the way – in how you light the subject, choosing the moment of exposure, cropping the print. It’s just a matter of how far you choose to go.”

Oscar Rejlander’s Two Ways of Life Allegorical Photograph

This exhibition is organized by themes and image manipulation methods and techniques.  I was aware of most of these techniques before seeing the exhibition, however it made me more aware of the wide extent of photo manipulation in analog photography and how incredibly pervasive it was before the 1980’s and the innovation of digital technology.

Fading Away by Henry Peach Robinson – Combination Print of 5 Separate Negatives

I was also amazed and a little shocked at how many great traditional photographers dabbled in “trick” photography and/or some form of photographic manipulation.  Photographers like Edward Steichen, Barbara Morgan, Lewis Hine and the great crime photographer Weegee all experimented with image manipulation of some kind during their careers.

John Paul Pennebaker
Sealed Power Piston Rings, 1933

I was also impressed with the seamless quality of many of the early manipulations. The early photographers and darkroom technicians virtuosity with double exposures, multiple printing, colorizations and negative retouching astounded me.

Jerry N. Uelsmann (American, born Detroit, Michigan, 1934)

Continued from MET web site…“Whether modified in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment, or commerce, the pictures featured in the exhibition adopt the seamlessly realistic appearance of conventional photographs. They aim to convince the eye, even if the mind rebels at the scenarios they conjure, such as a woman bathing in a glass of champagne or a man brandishing his own severed head.”

A Car Load of Texas Corn
George B. Cornish

Photographers have been manipulating their pictures almost since the actual invention of Photography.  Digital image manipulation software programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, Picassa and Gimp just make it easier to do and have added to the endless possibilities for altering and enhancing images.

Rodin—The Thinker
Edward J. Steichen

Below is a link for the entire exhibition.  I really enjoyed some of the very kitsch “trick” photography like men trapped in glass bottles and the photographs (postcards) of giant ears of corn, rabbits and big as horses and a woman riding on the top of a moth.

5th Avenue, NYC by Patrick Keough

After spending a good part of the day meandering around the museum I walked back to Penn Station (40 blocks) and took photos along the way.  All in all I had a great day in Manhattan and got myself in the Christmas spirit from seeing them decorate the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and putting up all the Christmas Display windows in stores like Macy’s. There is nothing like being in NYC during the Christmas season!

Click Here for MET Exhibition Information and All Images in the Show


4 comments on “Faking It – Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

  1. Bessie
    November 27, 2012

    thanks for sharing Patrick! Too cool.

  2. Roberto
    December 3, 2012

    thanks for the link…. Roberto

  3. Susan
    February 16, 2013

    I missed a group photo & am looking to super-impose myself from 1 photo into the group photo; where are you located?

  4. Pingback: Photoshoppen voordat photoshop bestond - Foreverpetite

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