Never Too Late to Fake it at The Met

Maurice Guibert’s Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model (ca. 1890). Gelatin silver print. Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Henry P. Mcllhenny.

Maurice Guibert’s Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model (ca. 1890). Gelatin silver print. Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Henry P. Mcllhenny.

Even though it’s the last day, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has you covered: they’ve put the entire show, Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop on the web and into a free iPad app.

So whether you’re living in New York or not, you can enjoy the wonderful history of how photos have been manipulated since the birth of photography (around the 1840s) until the birth of Photoshop (around the early 1990s). As if you couldn’t guess, this provocative show is sponsored by Adobe.

Who doesn’t get a kick out of double exposures, double portraits, and fake stuff inside the photo? Certainly Montmartre pals Maurice Guibert and Toulouse-Lautrec did. Even the great Steichen used some photo-manipulation to create his iconic portrait of Rodin with The Thinker.

Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York, 1930. This never happened. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund Fund

Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York, 1930. This never happened. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund Fund

In a nutshell, professionals and amateurs have been fiddling with negatives, creating photomontages, rephotographing images, and retouching since the beginning. So, really, there’s nothing new about all the creativity that goes into today’s digital imagery, except that it’s easier to do on a computer.

One of the first innovations was faking color to make the black-and-white photos in the late 1800s more “real.” The V&A Museum even hired expert photographer-lithographer J.I. Williamson to hand-color the pictures he took of their decorative arts collection.

Another early innovation was taking two (or more) exposures for land and sky, masking out parts of the negative (just like in Photoshop), and printing it all on a single sheet of paper.

And what about the masters of the wacky postcards of the early 1900 Americana that predate the Jackalope?

The Met has posted a brief guide to the themes in the show as well as the full, rich archive of 202 photos that hung on the walls until today. Really a fun treasure trove to explore.

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