Photoshop might have made it easy to create faked photographs, but you don’t need fancy editing skills to manipulate the truth. Photographers have been faking images almost as long as they’ve been making them simply by setting up shots that look natural.
Here are some of the world’s most infamous staged photos.
The Cottingley Fairies
Photography: Elsie Wright
In 1917, Elsie Wright, 16, and her cousin Frances Griffith, 10, borrowed a camera belonging to Elsie’s father and took two pictures of what the girls claimed were fairies in Cottingley Beck, England. Initially, the images were authenticated by some of the leading photography experts of the time although Kodak was less convinced, arguing that there were many ways to fake images like these.
Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and a believer in spiritualism, saw the photos, was convinced that they were genuine and wrote about them in The Strand in 1920. The article created a media storm and the girls took three more pictures showing fairies dancing and enjoying a sun bath.
It was only in 1978 that a researcher spotted that the fairies were identical to drawings in Princess Mary’s Gift Book, a children’s book published in 1917. Three years later the girls, then in their late seventies, admitted that they had staged four of the five images using paper cut-outs and hatpins. Frances continued to claim that the fifth image was genuine.
The Loch Ness Monster
Photography: Robert Kenneth Wilson
Few people believe in fairies today, but a surprisingly large number of people believe there’s a monster at the bottom of Scotland’s Loch Ness. Many of them are likely to have been convinced by this photograph shot by a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson, who said he had photographed “something in the water.”
He had indeed photographed something in the water: a toy submarine with a sculpted head.
Wilson’s father-in-law, Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter who had been persuaded to hunt for the monster and ridiculed in the Daily Mail, organized the creation of the picture for revenge.
Green Helmet Guy at Qana
Fairies and monsters are popular but obvious — and relatively harmless — subjects to stage. A greater concern is the staging of war photography. When an Israeli bomb landed on a building in the Lebanese town of Qana during the 2006 conflict, the deaths of 28 people, including 16 children, should have been shocking enough. They really didn’t need a man dubbed “Green Helmet Guy” in the blogosphere and later identified as Salam Daher to hold up the bodies.
When the same guy was filmed by German television station NDR ordering a camera operator where to stand as a child is removed from an ambulance, accusations that he was a Hezbullah stage manager grew.
Still from NDR.
Interviewed by AP, Daher, a civil defense worker, admitted that at Qana, “I did hold the baby up, but I was saying ‘look at who the Israelis are killing. They are children.” Throughout the storm surrounding the alleged staging of the photos, no one has claimed the child was fake.
Conveniently Placed Toys
Photography: Ben Curtis, AP (top left) and Sharif Karim, Reuters.
If there’s one war image that’s so common it’s become a cliché, it’s a child’s toy conveniently discovered at the bottom of a pile of bomb-blasted rubble — a toy that always seems to have miraculously avoided the dust and debris around it.
These are just four of the images found by SlubLog and shot during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, three by the same photographer.
General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon
Photography: Eddie Adams
We’ve already seen that staging can take many forms. At Qana, the events were real but manipulated by the subjects for greater drama. Elsewhere, the toys were likely to have been placed on the rubble to create a more telling image.
In Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning shot of General (then Colonel) Ngyen Ngoc Loan killing a Viet Cong prisoner, the execution was supposed to have taken place indoors. Loan conducted the shooting outside to enable photographers to obtain a better shot. Again, the picture was staged but the killing was real.
Kiss by the Hotel De Ville
Photography: Robert Doisneau
Alfred Eisenstaedt’s image of a sailor kissing a girl in a white dress in Times Square on VJ day was real. Robert Doisneau’s photograph of a couple kissing by the Hotel de Ville in Paris in 1950 was not.
In 1993, Denise and Jean-Louis Lavergne sued Doisneau after claiming that they were the subjects of the image. In his defense, Doisneau admitted he had posed the shot using models Françoise Bornet and her boyfriend Jacques Carteaud.
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima
Photography: Joe Rosenthal
And finally, a photograph can be stuck with the label “staged” even when it wasn’t. Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima was the second flag-raising to have taken place that day, but neither was staged for the cameras. In fact, Rosenthal was so busy piling up rocks to stand on that he almost missed the moment and took the picture without using the viewfinder:
Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken.
Accusations that the image had been staged came later when Rosenthal was asked if he had staged the photo. Thinking that the questioner was referring to a later group shot of the soldiers, Rosenthal answered “Sure.”
[tags] staged photos [/tags]