People have been pushing the boundaries of reality by way of art for thousands of years. Today, anyone can make a surreal image with the tap of a finger, thanks to the many photo apps available. Yet in the days before digital, people had to be a bit more crafty.
Two Headed Man, ca. 1855
A crazy balancing act, ca. 1930
Christmas Card, Angus McBean, 1950
Man Juggling his Own Head, ca. 1880
Photo manipulations weren”t only for humorous purposes. Just as photography developed from a way of recording events into a fine art, so too did the manipulation of photographs. Photographers could create arresting images, as well as unique, artistic portraits of famous people.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Guibert, ca. 1900
Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home, Grete Stern, 1948
Room with Eye, Maurice Tabard, 1930
Photo manipulations were also used for political purposes. Realistic images could be created using collages of negatives to create visions of the future, or to create propaganda imagery. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “spirit photographs” were created to convince people of the existence of ghosts, and were usually used to swindle people out of their money.
A “spirit” photograph, John K. Hallowell, ca. 1901
Dirigible docked on Empire State Building, New York, 1930
A Powerful Collision, 1914
Finally, photo manipulation allowed photographers to fine-tune their images. Landscape photography used to be tricky back in the day, with the sky often appearing overexposed. Photographers quickly learned that they could get the right balance by combining negatives. Photo retouching was also developed, which ranged from making people appear more attractive to, in the case of many a dictator, erasing people entirely from photos.
Cloud Study, Light-Dark, Gustave Le Gray, 1856
Lenin and Stalin in Gorki in 1922
General Grant at City Point, Levin Corbin, ca. 1902
(via Techly, Mashable)
By now, you know that the images you see in magazines and online (and even sometimes in the news) can be altered so subtly that you might not even notice. But as you can see, tweaking reality to meet personal, political, or artistic needs is nothing new. It”s just a lot easier to do these days.