Hoping to illustrate its diverse enrollment, the University of Wisconsin at Madison doctored a photograph on a brochure cover by digitally inserting a black student in a crowd of white football fans. The original photograph of white fans was taken in 1993. The additional black student, senior Diallo Shabazz, was taken in 1994. University officials said that they spent the summer looking for pictures that would show the school’s diversity — but had no luck.
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
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Entries in Marketing (16)
Under the headline “Rove personally connected to email scandal”, a photo of presidential adviser Karl Rove was said to provide evidence that the White House had created an independent e-mail system for communicating outside of the White House’s email system, which is automatically archived for record-keeping. The doctored photo, however, was part of an April Fool’s joke and marketing campaign by the Internet design company Coptix. “We watched the misinformation filter upward and outward,” said a Coptix spokesman. “This has driven tens of thousands of visitors to our Web site. … We consider our Web marketing experiment a success.”
In an advertisement for IMAX 3D theaters promoting the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the bust of actress Emma Watson was digitally enlarged. A similar advertisement in regular theaters was unaltered. Warner Brothers Pictures released a statement that said “This is not an official poster. Unfortunately this image was accidentally posted on the IMAX website. The mistake was promptly rectified and the image taken down.”
The cover of Toronto’s summer edition of Fun Guide was digitally altered to be more inclusive, keeping with an editorial policy to reflect diversity. “We superimposed the African-Canadian person onto the family cluster in the original photo,” said communications director John Gosgnach. The original image was of a family of indeterminate ethnic background. “When you’re publishing something with the deadlines and you don’t have the right photo, the objective is to communicate the service,” Mr. Sack, director of strategic communications, said.
The Polish subsidiary of Microsoft ran a version of a company marketing campaign in which the photo was altered to change the race of one of the people. The original photo appeared on Microsoft’s U.S. web site. Ultimately, the doctored photo on the Polish was removed and replaced with the original photo, but not before spawning an Internet meme in which many people submitted their own, obviously and humorously doctored versions of the photograph.
In perhaps the most notorious example of extreme retouching in fashion advertising, a magazine advertisement by Ralph Lauren depicted a heavily manipulated photo of model Filippa Hamilton. After numerous complaints that the resulting image had impossibly inhuman proportions, a Ralph Lauren representative admitted to “poor imaging and retouching”, and added, “we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.” Despite this promise, at least one subsequent image also featured unrealistic proportions.
A magazine ad for an Olay beauty product featuring the model Twiggy was banned in the United Kingdom by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). “Olay is my secret to brighter-looking eyes,” read the ad, and “… reduces the look of wrinkles and dark circles for brighter, younger-looking eyes.” In its ruling, the ASA said that it considered that the post-production retouching of the original ad, specifically in the eye area, could give consumers a “misleading impression of the effect the product could achieve”. An Olay spokesperson said the “minor retouching” had been inconsistent with its policies and it had already replaced the image with one with “no postproduction work in the eye area”.
A photo of Winston Churchill, featured above the entrance of The Britain At War Experience, in South-East London, was digitally altered to remove Churchill’s trademark cigar. Museum manager John Welsh was astonished to be told the image was digitally altered: “We’ve got all sorts of images in the museum, some with cigars and some without,… we wouldn’t have asked for there to be no cigar”, said Welsh.
A beleaguered British Petroleum (BP) contending with the gulf coast oil spill posted on their website a doctored photo of their command center in which three originally blank screens were altered. The doctored photo was eventually removed by BP and replaced with the original. BP spokesman Scott Dean said that there was no diabolical plot to photographically beef up the company’s command center. Rather, he said, a BP photographer with completely benign intentions just slipped the images in. “Normally we only use Photoshop for the typical purposes of color correction and cropping,” Dean said. “In this case they copied and pasted three ROV screen images in the original photo over three screens that were not running video feeds at the time.” He added, “We’ve instructed our post-production team to refrain from doing this in the future.” Later, a second photo was removed from BP’s website after it was discovered to have been manipulated as well.
The British Advertising Standards Authority banned two ads by cosmetics company L’Oreal due to excessive retouching. The first was an ad for Lancome featuring Julia Roberts, which claimed to “recreate the aura of perfect skin.” The second was an ad for Maybelline featuring Christy Turlington promoting a product called “The Eraser”. In making their judgment on the Lancome ad, the ASA stated that they “could not conclude that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques.”