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Photo Detective: Photo Fakes
6/2/2010
Don't let doctored-up family pictures throw your research off track.

Think photo-editing tips and tricks were born of the computer age? Forget that notion — the art of altering images is as old as photography itself. Well-known Civil War photographer Mathew Brady took a group portrait of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his generals against a plain backdrop; later, he added one more general and a different background. Another enterprising photographer stuck Abraham Lincoln's head on the bodies of notable 19th-century personalities such as John C. Calhoun, Alexander Hamilton and Martin Van Buren, and sold the reconstructed images as memorial pieces after Lincoln's assassination. Don't have a photograph of Aunt Edna? Perhaps disgruntled relatives edited her out of the family portrait.

Dino A. Brugioni, a founder of the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center and the author of Photo Fakery: The History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation (Brassey's) has identified several types of photo trickery. The most common involve adding or removing a person or object from an image. A photographer could subtract a person by cutting the negative or painting over part of it with a chemical, or simply by creatively cropping the print. People also made cosmetic enhancements to their photos, such as hand-coloring the image or using pens to improve a subject's facial features.

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