Although digital imaging has raised society’s awareness about how camera images are constructed, the practice of hand altering photographs has existed since the medium was invented. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop is the first major exhibition devoted to the history of how photographers have actively interacted with pictures before the digital age. Following the curatorial premise that “there is no such thing as an absolutely unmanipulated photograph,” the project offers a stimulating view on the history of photography as it traces the medium’s link to visual truth by concentrating on how images were changed after the camera capture. It does this by featuring some 200 photographs created between the 1840s and 1990s in the service of art, commerce, entertainment, news and politics. The show and catalog were organized and written by Mia Fineman, Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She earned her PhD from Yale and has worked at the Met since 1997 on a range of exhibitions. What follows is a condensation of recent conversations between Fineman and Hirsch.
Mia Fineman: The idea for the project came out of a question that I found people asking at photography presentations: How has digital technology changed photography? Specifically, has the ability to easily manipulate photographic imagery changed photography’s relationship to truth? My conclusion, based on three and half years of research, is that things have not changed as much as most people think. The exhibition is a history of pre-digital manipulation that demonstrates that nearly everything people now associate with digitally manipulated photography has been part of the medium’s history from the beginning.