How ‘shopping images predates computers

Robert Johnson, The Art of Retouching Photographic Negatives (1930)

Today I’ve mostly been inspired by this fascinating article at The Verge on the history of photo manipulation. It marks a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which shows how trickery and clever retouches are as old as photography itself. The museum’s website says:

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the first major exhibition devoted to the history of manipulated photography before the digital age. Featuring some 200 visually captivating photographs created between the 1840s and 1990s in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment, and commerce, the exhibition offers a provocative new perspective on the history of photography as it traces the medium’s complex and changing relationship to visual truth.

Appropriately, it’s sponsored by Adobe.

The Verge notes:

In the beginning, most manipulation had to do with the limitations of early photographic equipment. Applying paint onto prints and negatives was a cure for the common monochrome, and early photographers like Gustave Le Gray also used combination printing as a stopgap solution for the early camera’s inability to capture both sky and earth in a single exposure. Three of Le Gray’s Seascape portraits, for example, use the same ‘sky’ image — though without hordes of vigilant internet commenters to parse his every pixel, it’s unlikely he was ever called out for it.

The Metropolitan’s website continues:

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. Artifice in the Name of Art begins in the 1850s with elaborate combination prints of narrative and allegorical subjects by Oscar Gustave Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson. It continues with the revival of Pictorialism at the dawn of the twentieth century in the work of artist-photographers such as Edward Steichen, Anne W. Brigman, and F. Holland Day.

The exhibition runs from now until 27 January 2013. If you’re not going to be anywhere near NYC, you could always head on over to Photoshop Disasters with the rest of us instead.

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Joes Photoshop Disasters

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