When can a photo be trusted?

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Photo Tampering throughout History

Though photo manipulation has become more common in the age of digital cameras and image editing software, it actually dates back almost as far as the invention of photography. Gathered below is an overview of some of the more notable instances of photo manipulation in history. For recent years, an exhaustive inventory of every photo manipulation would be nearly impossible, so we focus here on the instances that have been most controversial or notorious, or ones that raise the most interesting ethical questions.  

We’ll continue to update this gallery as more incidents come to our attention, so if you come across any notable ones you think we should include, feel free to send us an e-mail at 

[Click thumbnails to view complete images.]

Sunday
Jul032011

It is believed that this doctored photograph contributed to Senator Millard Tydings’ electoral defeat in 1950. The photo of Tydings (right) conversing with Earl Browder (left), a leader of the American Communist party, was meant to suggest that Tydings had communist sympathies.

Sunday
Jul032011

In 1960 the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia to win its first Olympic gold medal in hockey. The official team photo was doctored to include the faces of Bill Cleary (front row, third from the left), Bob Cleary (middle row, far left) and John Mayasich (top row, far left), who were not present for the team photo. These players were superimposed onto the bodies of players Bob Dupuis, Larry Alm and Herb Brooks, respectively.

Sunday
Jul032011

On April 12, 1961 a Russian team of cosmonauts led by Yuri Gagarin were the first humans to complete an orbit of earth. One of the cosmonauts, Grigoriy Nelyubov, was removed from a photo of the team taken after their journey. Nelyubov had been expelled from the program for misbehavior.

Sunday
Jul032011

When in the summer of 1968 Fidel Castro (right) approves of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, Carlos Franqui (middle) cuts off relations with the regime and goes into exile in Italy. His image was removed from photographs. Franqui wrote about his feeling of being erased: I discover my photographic death. Do I exist? I am a little black, I am a little white, I am a little shit, On Fidel’s vest.

Wednesday
Jul062011

This Pulitzer Prize winning photo by John Filo shows Mary Ann Vecchio screaming as she kneels over the body of student Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University, where National Guardsmen had fired into a crowd of demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine. The photo originally featured a visually distracting fencepost behind Mary Ann Vecchio’s head, but this was removed by an unknown photo editor in the early 1970’s. The modified photo then was published in Life magazine and other publications.

Wednesday
Jul062011

The German Chancellor of West Germany, Willy Brandt (far left in photo), meets with Leonid Brezhnev (far right), First Secretary of the Communist Party. The two smoke and drink, and it is reported that the atmosphere is cordial and that they are drunk. The German press publishes a photograph that shows the beer bottles on the table. The Soviet press, however, removed the bottles from the original photograph.

Wednesday
Jul062011

The so called “Gang of Four” were removed from this original photograph of a memorial ceremony for Mao Tse-Tung held at Tiananmen Square.

Wednesday
Jul062011

In this National Geographic magazine cover story on Egypt by Gorden Gahen, the Great Pyramid of Giza was digitally moved to fit the magazine’s vertical format. Tom Kennedy, who became the director of photography at National Geographic after the cover was manipulated, stated that “We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn’t repeat that mistake today”.

Wednesday
Jul062011

The cover of TV Guide displayed this picture of daytime talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. This picture was created by splicing the head of Winfrey onto the body of actress Ann-Margret, taken from a 1979 publicity shot. The composite was created without permission of Winfrey or Ann-Margret, and was detected by Ann-Margret’s fashion designer, who recognized the dress.

Wednesday
Jul062011

This cover of TexasMonthly shows the then Texas Governor Ann Richards astride a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle. This picture was created by splicing the head of Richards onto the body of a model. The editors explained that their credit page disclosed this fact by noting in the credits page “Cover Photograph by Jim Myers … Stock photograph (head shot) By Kevin Vandivier / Texastock”. After the motorcycle cover appeared, Richards said that since the model had such a nice body, she could hardly complain.