Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Trusting Photographs

One of my blog posts that I most enjoyed writing was entitled “Photography And Truth”, which can be read here and here. These posts ultimately turned into an essay that was published on Uwe Steinmuller’s Digital Outback Photography website. In the essay, I mentioned that I was surprised that there was an expectation on the part of many, if not most, viewers that fine art photography should depict ‘the truth’. In reality, there are decisions made by the photographer including focal length, in camera cropping, and shooting in RAW format (to name a few) that explain why most photographs are ‘untruthful’ to at least some degree.. However, there are journalistic standards that move a photograph more (but not necessarily totally) towards depicting the world as it truly is.

As the digital age progresses, there continues to be advancements in technology which allow for photographic 'doctoring' using methods that are increasingly subtle and difficult to detect. Interestingly, however, the concept of photographic manipulation is not a new one. In fact, such manipulations have been used since the earliest days of the medium.

One of the most famous photographic portraits of Abraham Lincoln was actually a composite image of Lincoln's head atop John Calhoun's body (ironic, given that Calhoun was a staunch supporter of slavery), done to give the president a more 'heroic' appearance.

John Calhoun


Abraham Lincoln


A New Version Of Abraham Lincoln

An image of Millard Tydings talking to Earl Browder, the leader of the American Communist Party at the time, played a role in his 1950 election defeat. The photograph is widely believed to be a fake composite.

Millard Tydings And Earl Browder....
Felt To Be A Fake Composite

Similarly, a composite image of Senator John Kerry and Jane Fonda was surely not helpful to Kerry's political career.

Photos Of Kerry And Fonda Used In A Fake Composite

I find the use of 'doctored' photographs for political and sensationalistic purposes throughout history a fascinating topic and ran across two very interesting and informative papers dealing with the subject. Both were written by Dr. Hany Farid of Dartmouth University. The first paper, entitled "Digital Doctoring: Can We Trust Photographs" can be read here. The paper discusses these photos, as well as others, and also describes (using layman's language) various new methods of detecting fraudulent photographs. The article is in pdf format and can be downloaded. It makes for a fast, but very interesting, read on the subject.

The second paper, entitled "Photo Tampering Throughout History", has several pages of examples of altered photographs, including many modern day images.

Both papers are definitely worth taking the time to read!