Saturday, May 1, 2010

Photo Tampering Throughout History

Photography lost its innocence many years ago. In as early as the 1860s, photographs were already being manipulated, only a few decades after Niepce created the first photograph in 1814. With the advent of high-resolution digital cameras, powerful personal computers and sophisticated photo-editing software, the manipulation of digital images is becoming more common. Here, I have collected some examples of tampering throughout history.
To help contend with the implications of this tampering, we have developed a series of tools for detecting traces of tampering in digital images (contact me at Ma'at Consulting for more information about our services).
circa 1860: This nearly iconic portrait of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is a composite of Lincoln's head and the Southern politician John Calhoun's body. Putting the date of this image into context, note that the first permanent photographic image was created in 1826 and the Eastman Dry Plate Company (later to become Eastman Kodak) was created in 1881.
circa 1864: This print purports to be of General Ulysses S. Grant in front of his troops at City Point, Virginia, during the American Civil War. Some very nice detective work by researchers at the Library of Congress revealed that this print is a composite of three separate prints: (1) the head in this photo is taken from a portrait of Grant; (2) the horse and body are those of Major General Alexander M. McCook; and (3) the backgoround is of Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher's Hill, VA.

circa 1865: In this photo by famed photographer Mathew Brady, General Sherman is seen posing with his Generals. General Francis P. Blair (far right) was added to the original photograph.
circa 1930: Stalin routinely air-brushed his enemies out of photographs. In this photograph a commissar was removed from the original photograph after falling out of favor with Stalin.

January 2003: The original copy of the Beatles Abbey Road album cover shows Paul McCartney, third in line, holding a cigarette. United States poster companies have airbrushed this image to remove the cigarette from McCartney's hand. This change was made without the permission of either McCartney or Apple Records, which owns the rights to the image. "We have never agreed to anything like this," said an Apple spokesman. "It seems these poster companies got a little carried away. They shouldn't have done what they have, but there isn't much we can do about it now."

October 2005: This doctored photo of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared alongside a USA Today news story about Rice's comments to U.S. Lawmakers regarding U.S. Troops in Iraq. After receiving complaints from readers, this photograph was removed from USA Today's website, and the following Editor's note appeared alongside a "properly adjusted copy": Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice's face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards.

November 2005: This digitally altered image of illustrator Clement Hurd appeared in a newly revised edition of the book "Goodnight Moon", a classic children's book written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Hurd. The publisher, HarperCollins, altered the original photograph to remove a cigarette from Hurd's hand. HarperCollins said it made the change to avoid the appearance of encouraging smoking and did so with the permission of the illustrator's estate. But Mr. Hurd's son said he felt pressured to allow it. Prior to this latest edition, the photograph of Mr. Hurd grasping a cigarette has been on the book for at least two decades.


November 2005: Former Rolling Stones' bassist Bill Wyman was digitally removed from this cover of the Rolling Stones album "Rarities, 1971-2003" (Wyman was the bassist for the Rolling Stones from 1962 to 1992). The original photo from which Wyman was removed dates back to 1978 when Wyman was still with the group.

August 2006: This photograph by Adnan Hajj, a Lebanese photographer, showed thick black smoke rising above buildings in the Lebanese capital after an Israeli air raid. The Reuters news agency initially published this photograph on their web site and then withdrew it when it became evident that the original image had been manipulated to show more and darker smoke. "Hajj has denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under", said Moira Whittle, the head of public relations for Reuters. "This represents a serious breach of Reuters' standards and we shall not be accepting or using pictures taken by him." A second photograph by Hajj was also determined to have been doctored.

September 2006: A photograph of CBS news anchor Katie Couric was digitally altered from this original to give Couric a trimmer waistline and a thinner face. This photo appeared in CBS' in-house magazine Watch! CBS spokesman, Gil Schwartz, said "the doctored image was the work of a CBS photo department employee who got a little zealous". Schwartz added, "I talked to my photo department; we had a discussion about it; I think photo understands this is not something we'd do in the future."

July 2008: This image of an Iranian missile test appeared on the front page of many major newspapers. The image is from the web site of Sepah News, the media arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. After the publication of this photo, it was revealed that the second missile from the right was digitally added to the image in order to conceal a missile on the ground that did not fire.

September 2008: This photo of Governor Sarah Palin was widely distributed across the Internet shortly after Palin was announced as the vice presidential nominee for the Republican ticket. Shortly after its release the photo was revealed to be a composite of Palin's head, and somebody else's body.

April 2009: This photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center left), President Shimon Peres (center right), along with members of the Cabinet. The Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman digitally removed two female Cabinet members from the photo and replaced them with male members. The newspaper Yated Neeman is considered to be ultra-orthodox and not supportive of females in the cabinet.

April 2010: Three astronauts living aboard the International Space Station sent to Mission Control this April Fool's Day prank photo of themselves floating in space without spacesuits. "You have a real problem", responded Mission Control. "Don't worry, we are wearing sunscreen", responded the astronauts.

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