Photo Manipulation Since 1840s: Artful Fabricated Truths in Photography

in Photography + Gear


Before Adobe Photoshop came to existence and captured digital images were manipulated, the art of photo manipulation and retouching was already present between the 1840s and 1990s. During the earliest years of photography, artist were finding ways to alter the captured images taken by their camera.

To understand more about why and how photographs were transformed, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is going to have its first major exhibit dedicated to the historical background of photo manipulation prior to the digital era termed “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop.” The exhibit will start from October 11th until January 27th, 2013

Curator Mia Fineman said that the photographic manipulation is part of a long tradition that has never been examined closely because there has always been a desire to believe photographs represent the truth. The images in the exhibit were transformed utilizing a range of photo techniques, like multiple exposure, photo montage, retouching and combination printing over the negative or print.

Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

For early art photographers, the ultimate creativity lay not in the act of taking a photograph but in the subsequent transformation of the camera image into a hand-crafted picture. Let’s explore some of the most captivating photographs in history.


1. Unidentified American artist, Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders, ca. 1930. Gelatin silver print, Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


2. Unidentified French artist, Published by Allain de Torbéchet et Cie., Man Juggling His Own Head, ca. 1880. Albumen silver print from glass negative. Collection of Christophe Goeury. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


3. Grete Stern (Argentinian, born Germany, 1904-1999), Sueño No. 1: Articulos eléctricos para el hogar, Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home, 1948. Gelatin silver printhe Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2012 (2012.10). Courtesy of Galería Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires


4. Unidentified American artist, Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York, 1930. Gelatin silver print, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011 (2011.189)


5. Unidentified American artist, Two-Headed Man, ca. 1855. Daguerreotype, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri (Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.), 2005.27.373


6. George Washington Wilson (Scottish, 1823–1893), Aberdeen Portraits No. 1, 1857. Albumen silver print from glass negative, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2011, 2011.424. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


7. Unidentified German artist, A Powerful Collision, 1914. Gelatin silver print, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-century Photography Fund, 2010, 2010.296. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


8. Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984), Room with Eye, 1930. Gelatin silver print, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962 (62.576.4). Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


9. Henry Peach Robinson (English, 1830–1901), Fading Away, 1858. Albumen silver print from glass negatives, The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum, Bradford, United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art


10. Unidentified Russian artist, Lenin and Stalin in Gorki in 1922, 1949. Gelatin silver print with applied media, Collection of Ryna and David Alexander. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I wonder how life would be without Photoshop. It has been a major tool for most artist and photographers who wanted to give their images a boost. It has also help to enhance portraits taken by professional wedding photographers. Talking about the power of technology on this digital age. If you have any ideas or want to share your opinions, just leave your comments below. Stay inspired!

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