Oprah's Head, Ann-Margaret's Body: A Brief History of Pre-Photoshop Fakery


People have been faking photos since long before digital tools came along.

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In 1989, TV Guide put television's celebrity-du-jour, Oprah Winfrey, on its cover, perching her upon a pile of money. The picture was exactly the kind of thing that tends to sell magazines on newsstands and in supermarket check-out lines: It was friendly, it was saucy, it was sparkly. The only problem was that it wasn't, actually, Oprah. TV Guide had taken a picture of the talk show host's face ... and grafted it onto the body of '60s star Ann-Margaret. The magazine had asked the permission of neither woman before it published its odd bit of Frankensteinery. 

Photoshop was invented in 1987 and widely distributed, for the first time, in 1990; the TV Guide debacle would mark one of the last times that art editors had to physically splice images to create new manipulations. But a lack of Photoshop, while the software ushered in our present age of doctored photography, did nothing to stop would-be fakers from their, er, fauxtography.

The photo-forensics firm Fourandsix -- led by noted computer scientists Kevin Connor and Hany Farid -- has been keeping track of manipulated photos as they've emerged throughout history. Their collection is extensive, occasionally baffling, and often hilarious.

Below is a pretty-much-iconic lithograph of President Lincoln, poised serenely and symbolically before a flag, a globe, and a stack of thick-looking books. It turns out that the image is actually a composite: Lincoln's head spliced onto the body and the setting of the prominent South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun. Connor and Farid date the Lincoln image around 1860; Calhoun died in 1850.

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And here's an image of Ulysses S. Grant, mounted upon a proud steed before his troops in City Point, Virginia, during the Civil War:

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Turns out that this is a composite of three separate images: the head comes from a portrait of Grant, the horse and body belong to Major General Alexander McCook, and the background comes from a print of Confederate prisoners captured during battle in Fisher's Hill, Virginia.

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It took researchers at the Library of Congress to figure out that the (impressively well-doctored) image was a fake.

And then there's Mussolini, who traded horse handler for heroism:

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And then, not to be outdone, there's Stalin, who routinely air-brushed his enemies out of photographs. (The fellow at right is a commissar who later fell out of favor with the dictator.)

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Indeed. For more pre-Photoshop Photoshopping, here's the full collection.

Via New York Daily News

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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