Museum

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has just opened what looks like a great photography exhibit.

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.

This international loan exhibition traces the history of manipulated photography from the 1840s through the early 1990s, when the computer replaced manual techniques as the dominant means of doctoring photographs. Most of the two hundred pictures on view were altered after the negative was exposed—through photomontage, combination printing, overpainting, retouching, or, as is often the case, a blend of several processes. In every instance, the final image differs significantly from what stood before the camera at any given moment.