Photo Fakery

Oh man, was I excited this week when I started reading “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock.” I love stuff like this!! First, we had the article about FSA’s photography fakery during FDR’s campaign. My first thought when reading this was the famous manipulation of photographs by the Soviet Union, namely the removal of Nikolai Yezhov from photographs with Stalin.


Here today, gone tomorrow!

Clearly, the situation with the cow skull being faked is slightly different than removing a human being after his execution from a photograph, but historical manipulation is something that is interesting to think about, especially regarding historical sources. Obviously, both of these photographs are primary sources-as are the photographs that were taken by FSA-despite, or because of, their manipulation. In both cases, it was political propaganda that inspired the manipulations.

Luckily, the series of articles regarding photo fakery continued to include the controversy of an alarm clock and a young boy covering his eyes! To me, the mystery of Walker Evans’s photographs of the mantel and the alarm clock in juxtaposition with James Agee’s writings was amazing to read.The arguments back and forth on what is genuine and true documentary photography was interesting. To read opinions from the photographers, their supporters, and their detractors made for a real, thought-provoking “think session” for myself on documenting the past through photography and text.

One element that I found most interesting for historians is this:

The lesson to be learned is that a photographer must be aware of and concerned about the words that accompany a picture. These words should be considered as carefully as the lighting, exposure and composition of the photograph.- Arthur Rothstein

I believe that this advice is relevant to historians working with images as well, especially as we manipulate (although that is not always a dirty word) images for our own work.

I just felt that I had to blog on this subject, as this type of history and controversy really interests me. We hear all the time about the dangers of photo manipulation, but the controversy of that has long been present, as we see in “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock.” We have to find ways to be transparent about the images, as well as properly label with captions.

Speaking of photos and captions, did any of you happen to see this? I found it quite interesting considering we’re reading about images and the controversies surrounding their captions this week.


2 thoughts on “Photo Fakery

  1. Am guessing you’ve seen the book The Commissar Vanishes? It’s completely filled with such pictures of vanished and altered Soviets!

    It would be an interesting book project (albeit an immoral one) to take iconic American photos and photoshop them – not for an artistic point, as is frequently done – but to revise American history and influence the future. For example, what if the iconic photo of President Obama and his senior staff monitoring the bin Ladin raid deleted Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden? Or included two Pakistani generals? What if the recent photos of him in blue jeans and rolled-up shirtsleeves, talking to Putin, included Kerry or Clinton or someone else? Troubling thoughts…

    • That’s actually interesting to think about….Wasn’t that photograph of the bin Laden raid actually edited to remove Hillary Clinton in certain countries? I also think of the incident of Chinese officials that were poorly photoshopped into an image with an elderly woman, making them 1.) huge in comparison to the woman, and 2.) one of them doesn’t have legs because of the photoshop. “Official Photos” can, and apparently will, be edited, so most things we have to look at carefully.

      I obviously do not think that the editing of historical images (or staging) is a wise decision, but in the example of the image above, it becomes a primary source of what was occurring during the era of Soviet control. It’s really interesting to think about what we think is the truth, despite “photographic evidence.”

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