Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

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MET - Faking ItOn January 27th, the “Faking It” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art comes to a close. The exhibited explores the manipulation of photography, before the use of the extremely popular computer program: Adobe Photoshop.  In an exhibition made possible by Adobe, we get a glimpse of published and unpublished images that were manipulated using chemical or other physical means, that in the times these images were created, the techniques were considered revolutionary.  Sample after sample, we begin to realize that everything we think is new in post-production are quite ancient (some effects even dating back to the beginning of photography in the 19th century).  For example, the replacing of dull/bland skies with deep, partly cloudy skies, were a commonplace practice, specifically in the publishing industry.  Old photography technology often blew out the sky to nothing more than a white glare, so cumulus clouds had to be timed in later, in an extensive post-production process.  In a series of photographs to advertise dish sets, we see that the “bling” had been added by hand to make the china more alluring to high priced buyers.  There are a lot of examples of the “Applied Coloring” technique, where photos were quite literally colored by hand, in the same way old motion pictures were.

Filip Dujardin METNear the exhibit, in a completely separate gallery, is the The Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography, which also has a concentration of “faked” photography. The content of this exhibition is rolling, as it is dedicated to showing work created after 1960 (and there’s always work being created after 1960).  One work I gravitated towards was an image created by photographer Filip Dujardin, who used the free program Google Sketchup, to create a photo-realistic image of a fictional building.  The fact that an image created using Google Sketchup is displayed at the MET is a sign of good times to come.

The MET writes on their website for the exhibit: Over the past two decades, digital technology has made us all more keenly aware of the malleability of the photographic image, and many lament a loss of faith in the testimony of the camera. What we have gained, however, is a fresh perspective on the history of the medium and its complex relationship to visual truth. Through today’s eyes, we can see that the old adage “the camera never lies” has always been photography’s supreme fiction. I couldn’t agree more.

-E

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