Sunday, July 13, 2008

Believing Is Seeing

The alteration of photos for propaganda purposes has been with us as long as photography itself; it is not an invention of the digital age. But while digitally altered photographs can easily fool the eye, they often leave telltale footprints that allow them to be unmasked as forgeries. There are many famous altered photographs, from a Matthew Brady photograph of Abraham Lincoln’s head composited on to John Calhoun’s body to the endlessly altered photographs from Soviet Russia. An entire book, “The Commissar Vanishes,” by David King, is devoted to Soviet whims about who should be included (or deleted) in photographs. In the series shown above, Stalin is accompanied by three officials, then two, then one, as they successively fall out of favor and are cropped and airbrushed into non-existence. (In the end, in a painting based on the photograph, he stands alone.) We understand Stalin’s intentions by removing comrades, but what is the purpose of these Iranian missile photographs? They are clearly altered. The question remains: Why, and to what end?
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