BRIANA CALCAGNO ’14
Starting this past October, The Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomed its newest exhibit, ‘Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,’ as one of the first exhibitions dedicated to recording the manipulation of photography, prior to photoshop. The exhibit, an international loan exhibition, is a culmination of pre-photoshopped images from artists throughout the decades and across the globe. These photographs range from the 1840’s to the early 1990s, capturing and reconfiguring images about people, scenes and dreams. The 2012 exhibition not only brings together a variety of artists, times and styles, but also makes you question if seeing is believing.
The ‘Faking It’ exhibition, arranged by Mia Fineman, Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs, presents seven sections. The seven sections include “Picture Perfect,” “Artifice in the Name of Art,” “Politics and Persuasion,” “Novelties and Amusements,” “Pictures in Print,” “Mind’s Eye,” & “Protoshop.” It displays over 200 images that have been altered using different techniques for varying purposes.
Each of the sections in the exhibition focused on distinct aspects of either their subjects, or their commitment. The section entitled, “Picture Perfect” focused on the use of correcting the shortcoming of the new medium in the 19th century. “Politics and Persuasion” presented altered images for ideological or political means, including images of massacres, patriotism, race, and protests. While these sections focused on more political and social issues, other sections focused on advertising, entertaining the audience, and bringing dreams to life. These artist manipulations varied, from adding people to a scene, smoothing away wrinkles or adding some mystery into the image; but whether these artists modified their images for news, art, entertainment, or politics, they all flawlessly appeared realistic.
There are many techniques that artists used to create these pictures, and while they all altered the images after the negative exposure, they utilized a variety of different procedures. Some of the artists used techniques, including combination printing, multiple exposures, photomontages, retouching, and overpainting.
While some artists chose to focus on one of these elements, others chose to incorporate an assortment of them into their works. One image, created by Carleton E. Watkins in 1880-90, used a very simple technique. When compared to his original print the viewer can see that in his edited rendition of Cape Horn, Columbia River, Oregon (1867) he adds a majestic cloudy sky. Using the same technique as Gustave Le Gray in his 1857, Sete, The Great Wave, Watkins created two albumen silver prints and combined them to create one, what he calls, “perfect” image. It was very common in the nineteenth-century to have blown out skies, because of the sensitive photographic emulsions. Thus, many photographers produced combination prints to give their landscapes a more realistic and appealing appearance.
Another image featured in The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition was one of Gustave Le Gray’s, an image that closely resembled his The Great Wave. The work entitled Etude de Nuages, clair-obscur was created between 1856-57. The work uses albumen silver prints from glass negatives, breathtaking waves breaking over the coast line of France, and ethereal clouds floating above the landscape. At the time, Le Gray’s oceanic images had become incredibly famous and admired for their seemingly impossible ability to capture these scenes, and while his technique was unknown back then, the art world now knows that his double images were just a trick.
Additional photographs in the exhibit include Boris Mikhailov’s 1975, May Day Parade and the 1916 work of an unknown artist entitled, Fingers of Fate—The Tightening Grip. Both images were featured in the “Politics and Persuasion” section of the exhibition and resemble the technique, motives and flare of the famous John Heartfield. John Heartfield’s many images surrounding WWII demonstrated his ability to cunningly piece together images to express his stance on the Nazis. In his images, Adolf the Superman, Hurrah! Die Butter ist Alle, Goering the Executioner, he portrays Nazis in a dark light. His portrayal of light in this image is similar to the images in the exhibition show of the Soviet Union and its use of lights. This same technique of piecing together imaging is now seen in scrap booking, advertising and magazines, showing how this flare for invention created a style for today.
The ‘Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,’ exhibit will be running from now until Jan. 2. As a whole, the exhibit demonstrates the creativity, magic and realistic alterations that these artists were able to produce. With its extensive collection of images from all over the world, this exhibit is surely one that should not be passed up. With that in mind, take the time to visit this awe-inspiring show and try to figure out what is real and what is fabricated. Look closely, keep an open mind, and remember seeing is not believing.