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Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop, the first major exhibition devoted to the art of photographic manipulation before the advent of digital imagery. Featuring some 180 visually captivating photographs created between the 1840s and 1990s in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment and commerce, the exhibition offers a new perspective on the history of photography as it traces the medium’s complex and changing relationship to visual truth. The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop debuted at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (October 11, 2012, through January 27, 2013) and traveled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (February 17 through May 5, 2013). In Houston, the exhibition will include several works from the MFAH collection. Faking It is on view at the MFAH from June 2 through August 25, 2013.

While the widespread use of Adobe® Photoshop® software has brought about an increased awareness of the degree to which photographs can be doctored, photographers—including such major artists as Gustave Le Gray, Edward Steichen, Weegee and Richard Avedon—have been fabricating, modifying and otherwise manipulating camera images since the medium was first invented. This exhibition demonstrates that today’s digitally manipulated images are part of a continuum that extends back to photography’s first decades. Through visually captivating photographs, Faking It significantly revises our understanding of photographic history.

The photographs in the exhibition were altered using a variety of techniques, including multiple exposure (taking two or more pictures on a single negative), combination printing (producing a single print from elements of two or more negatives), photomontage, overpainting and retouching on the negative or print. In every case, the meaning and content of the camera image was significantly transformed in the process of manipulation.

The exhibition is divided into seven thematic sections, each focusing on a different set of motivations for manipulating the camera image.

1. “Picture Perfect” explores 19th-century photographers’ efforts to compensate for the new medium’s technical limitations—specifically, its inability to depict the world the way it looks to the naked eye. To augment photography’s monochrome palette, pigments were applied to portraits to make them more vivid and lifelike.

2. “Artifice in the Name of Art” highlights the creativity of early art photographers, which lay not in the act of taking a photograph but in the subsequent transformation of the camera image into a hand-crafted picture. This section begins in the 1850s with elaborate combination prints of narrative and allegorical subjects by Oscar Gustave Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson. It continues with the revival of Pictorialism at the dawn of the twentieth century in the work of artist-photographers such as Edward Steichen, Anne W. Brigman and F. Holland Day.

3. “Politics and Persuasion” presents photographs that were manipulated for explicitly political or ideological ends. It begins with Ernest Eugene Appert’s faked photographs of the 1871 Paris Commune massacres, and continues with images used to foster patriotism, advance racial ideologies and support or protest totalitarian regimes. Sequences of photographs published in Stalin-era Soviet Russia from which purged Party officials were erased demonstrate the chilling ease with which the historical record could be falsified. Also featured are composite portraits of criminals by Francis Galton and reproductions of John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi photomontages of the 1930s.

4. “Novelties and Amusements” brings together a broad variety of amateur and commercial photographs intended to astonish, amuse and entertain. The section features people holding their own severed heads, figures appearing doubled or tripled, ghostly images and experimental distortions.

5. “Pictures in Print” reveals the ways in which newspapers, magazines and advertisers have altered, improved and sometimes fabricated images in their entirety to depict events that never occurred—such as the docking of a zeppelin on the tip of the Empire State Building. Highlights include Erwin Blumenfeld’s famous “Doe Eye” Vogue cover from 1950 and Richard Avedon’s multiple portrait of Audrey Hepburn from 1967.

6. “Mind’s Eye” features works from the 1920s through 1940s by such artists as Herbert Bayer, Maurice Tabard, Dora Maar, Clarence John Laughlin and Grete Stern, who have used photography to evoke subjective states of mind, conjuring dreamlike scenarios and surreal imaginary worlds.

7. The final section, “Protoshop,” presents photographs from the second half of the 20th century by Yves Klein, John Baldessari, Duane Michals, Jerry Uelsmann and other artists who have adapted earlier techniques of image manipulation—such as spirit photography or news photo retouching—to create works that self-consciously and often humorously question photography’s presumed objectivity.

Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop is organized by Mia Fineman, Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the exhibition is coordinated by Yasufumi Nakamori, Associate Curator of Photography, and Allison Pappas, Curatorial Assistant of Photography.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 296-page catalogue written by Mia Fineman, Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Organization and Funding
Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Generous funding is provided by The Margaret Cooke Skidmore Endowed Exhibition Fund.

Related Programs and Exhibitions
iPad kiosks will be available in the MFAH’s Kinder Education Center where visitors can test their knowledge of photograph manipulation based on content from Faking It. The app will also be available for download from the iTunes App Store. The interactive app is made possible by Adobe Systems Incorporated.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has organized the complementary exhibition, After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age, on view June 19 through September 8, 2013, to coincide with Faking It. Comprised of approximately a dozen works, it continues the conversation about the ways photographers utilized the tools of their day to manipulate images. While photographers have long used manual techniques to alter images, digital cameras and software applications have made the process faster, easier and more accessible. The installation explores the use of digital technology to alter images from the late 1980s to the present. All of the works on display in After Photoshop are from the MFAH permanent collection.