‘Faking It’: New Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit puts on a magic show of photo manipulation


posted Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 5:35 PM EDT


Today, The New York Museum of Metropolitan Art opened a new photography exhibition to the public that showcases more than 200 manipulated images created by analog techniques between the 1840s and 1990s. Titled titled Faking It: Photo Manipulation Before Photoshop, the show runs through January 27, 2013, and is a great opportunity for folks in or visiting the New York metro area to see some incredible photographic sleight of hand in person.

Luckily, almost the entire exhibition is available online for those of us who can't make the trip -- including me. (And you know how much I love this artform. I wrote a short history about photo manipulation for Imaging Resource just recently without even realizing the Met was putting on this show.)
The Met even offers a free Faking It iPad App that gives you a guided tour of the exhibition. Included is a nifty little quiz to see if you can spot which images have been altered and how.
One of the things this exhibition illustrates is the strong connection between magic and photography, as both require skill to trick the eye. Since the birth of photography, photographers have entertained us and sold us products by turning handkerchiefs into bouquets of flowers. These early darkroom wizards had to rely on labor-intensive darkroom processes to merge and manipulate images -- things we do now with mouse-click ease.
Despite many of these images being more than a hundred years old, the pieces selected for the exhibition are still as fresh and seamlessly beautiful as they were the day they were made. Performed with such enormous skill that -- even though we know they are highly manipulated or even combined images -- at first glance we believe what we see. Despite the advances of digital photography, “the medium has not changed as much as you might think," said the Met's Assistant Curator Mia Fineman, who put together the exhibition.
That said, I have a small quibble with the show’s title. "Faking It" is a bit of marketing hyperbole, playing into the public’s misperceptions of manipulated imagery. Artists such as Jerry Uelsmann, Richard Avedon, Yves Klein and Grete Stern aren't trying to deceive anyone. They aren't altering photos simply to sell more magazines or products, as commercial art directors so often do these days. Instead, these master magicians manipulate images to create artistic visions that can't be achieved by normal photographic means. And, in turn, they challenge our eyes and minds by opening up new fantastical realities.
So, if you can make it to the Big Apple to take in the show in person, I beg you to do so. It's always worth it to see the works as the artists had intended them to be seen; they simple have more impact up close and personal. But if not, spend some time exploring the exhibition online and I'm sure you'll gain a new view on manipulated images and the photographers who create them.