These optical illusions were created not by computers, but by painstaking, clever handiwork.
"The painter constructs, the photographer discloses," Susan Sontag famously asserted in On Photography. But in the quarter century since, the rise of digital photography and image manipulation software has increasingly transmogrified the photographer into a constructor of reality, a reality in which believing is seeing. Still, image manipulation dates much further back—in fact, to the dawn of photography itself. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (public library), the companion book to the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of the same title, traces the evolution of image manipulation from the 1840s to the 1990s, when computer software first began to revolutionize the alteration of photographs.
These images—artful, subversive, unapologetic in their unreality—serve sometimes to amuse and entertain, sometimes to deliberately deceive, sometimes to comment on social and political issues, and always to give pause with how they tease and taunt our assumptions of optical reality and visual representation.