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9 Infamous Altered Photographs You Didn't Know About

Photographic manipulation dates back almost as far as photography. However, whereas an inspiring photo artist today may simply download Adobe Photoshop and set about creating impossible landscapes and reality-bending images for the sake of beauty, historically, photo manipulation has been used by those in power to give credibility and grandeur to their positions. Here is a brief history of how photo editing has been used at times to help further political ends. The Civil War was a time of great leaders doing amazing things. But despite the world-changing decisions that were routinely being made at this crucial point in history, the political and military leaders of the time were not above changing photographs to make themselves appear more noble. Even the Great Emancipator himself, President Abraham Lincoln, appears in an altered photo.

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Abraham Lincoln 1860

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The original picture featured John Calhoun, a noted politician and political theorist (and slave advocate) from the south. It is believed that the unnamed photo manipulator chose the pose because of its heroic look, grafting the President’s head onto Calhoun’s body to create the finished product.

Cottingley Fairies

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Although we might be less likely to get taken in by this photo today, it did create quite a stir when it was released in 1917. Eventually, however, the two girls who had taken the photos came forward and admitted that they had used paper cutouts. Strangely enough, the two girls maintained that they actually had encountered real living fairies, even if the photo itself was a fake. You never have a camera nearby when you need one.

General Grant at City Point

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This photo of General Ulysses S. Grant at City Point, Virginia, consists of parts from three different photos to create an image of the general sitting on a horse in front of his troops.

Joseph Stalin

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Mid-20th Century. As technology and techniques progressed, photo manipulators learned how to do more than simply cobble together new picture from pieces of old ones; a new process that involved airbrushing out specific portions of an image began to be used. Joseph Stalin, Soviet Premier from 1922 to 1952, was known to routinely have political rivals and those who had fallen out of favor with him removed from photographs. One such example is an image of Joseph Stalin with a young commissar by the name of Nikolai Yezhov. After his relationship with Stalin began to deteriorate, the picture was altered so that Yezhov no longer appeared in it.

Given Stalin’s legendary temper, it’s no surprise that Yezhov himself disappeared as well, executed as an enemy of the state. Of course, Stalin was not above using more traditional photo manipulation techniques. Images of Stalin sitting alongside V. I. Lenin, the first Soviet Premier and one of the founders of communism in Russia, have been proven to be forgeries, created to cement Stalin’s link to the well-known revolutionary. At the same time, political leaders from other nations—such as the following:

Kent State Massacre

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Sometimes a photo needs to be manipulated in order for it to have the proper impact. What aspect of this photo has been doctored? The unfortunate placement of the pole that seems to be growing out of the young woman’s head in the original image. Additionally, the small spot of blood that can be seen on the far right of the original image was either cropped out or otherwise removed from the image in certain publications.

Mussolini on Horseback

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Benito Mussolini liked to portray himself as more of a hero than he really was. So, for example, when he decided to have a photograph taken of himself apparently leading the charge from atop his horse, saber in hand, he thought it would be best to remove the young horse handler who is keeping him from falling on his face. That’s gratitude for you.

Sarah Palin

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Modern times. As easy as it is to digitally alter photographs these days, it’s no wonder that more and more political activists are using the magic of manipulation to further their own goals. In 2004, United States Presidential Candidate John Kerry appeared in a photograph allegedly taken during the early 70's, which seemed to depict him speaking alongside actress Jane Fonda at an anti-Vietnam War rally.

Strangely enough, the original image of Kerry that was used for the manipulation was taken at an anti-war protest; the manipulators simply felt that it would help their cause to include Fonda in the image. In 2008, photo manipulators created a brief sensation when they created a composite image of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The image depicts the governor wearing a stars-and-stripes bikini and wielding a high-powered rifle. Although it was quickly found to be an altered image, it continued to circulate the Internet through emails and online posts.

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