The National Organization for Marriage set up a website devoted to the repeal of gay marriage in New Hampshire, dressing it up with several composited crowd photos purportedly showing the groundswell of support for their cause. A gay blogger, however, soon noticed that at least two of the crowd photos were taken from Barack Obama campaign rallies in other states. NOM then removed the photos and replaced them with a photo of actual NOM supporters taken in New York.
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 Politics (81)
Francisca Pol Cabrer, a conservative party candidate on the island of Mallorca in Spain, had to resign from her campaign after posting an inappropriate photo on her Facebook page. The doctored photo pictured Carme Chacon, the defense minister, revealing her chest at a meeting with defense officials. The photo carried the caption, “What a Socialist Party minister has to do to win votes.” [Note: The version of the photo attached here has been modified to obscure the nudity.]
The Egyption Ministry of Information published on their official Facebook page manipulated photos of a women’s march protesting military rule and brutality against women. In the photos, signs bearing the slogan “down with military rule” had been replaced with signs depicting blue and pink bras. The Ministry later apologized for the incident. The symbolism was particularly troubling given the sensitivity around a previous incident in which a female protester had been stripped down to her bra and dragged through the street by a group of soldiers.
In an educational document about Jewish history, Israel’s Military Rabbinate published a photograph of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in which the Dome of the Rock had been digitally removed. An official spokesperson claimed that the manipulation was appropriate, because the photo was included to illustrate an article about Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple, when the Dome of the Rock had not yet been built. However, a reserve officer expressed concern about the incident, saying that “the Military Rabbinate should be more alert about the educational messages it passes on, especially considering the Temple Mount’s history. A world war could break if someone would try to do something about that place, and I think they should be more cautious when approaching the subject.” [Photo credit for comparison image: Brave New Alps]
Pakistan’s Press Information Department distributed a photo of prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani speaking with two generals in which his fingers were extended in an awkward pose, and partially clipped. Further investigation determined that the original photo showed him holding a teacup, which had been removed prior to publication of the photo. The department eventually replaced the modified photo with the original.
A Russian newspaper distributed by a pro-Kremlin group printed a photograph showing blogger/activist Aleksei Navalny standing beside Boris A. Berezovsky, an exiled financier being sought by Russian police. The photograph was revealed to be a fake within hours when the photographer declared that it was doctored and the original image was published on other websites. The incident quickly led to a flood of image parodies in which Navalny was depicted alongside a range of unlikely companions, including Stalin, Putin, and an alien.
The Russian Orthodox church was forced to apologize for a manipulated photo of their leader, Patriarch Kirill I, which was posted on their website. In the posted photo, they had eliminated a $30,000 Breguet watch from the patriarch’s wrist, but a reflection of the watch was still visible in the table upon which his arm was resting. Initially, the patriarch denied that he had ever worn the watch, and insisted that any photo showing it on his wrist had been doctored. Later, though, the church put the original image including the watch on its website, along with a statement that “a gross violation of our internal ethics has occurred, and it will be thoroughly investigated. The guilty will be severely punished.”
The managing editor of the Miami Herald demanded that Florida Governor Rick Scott remove a photo from his Facebook page, because it depicted the front page of the newspaper with a doctored headline. The image was intended to promote an editorial written by the Governor with the headline “New Law Helps Put Floridians Back to Work.” However, the real newspaper featured no mention of the editorial on the front page. In fact, someone on the Governor’s social media team had replaced one of the original headlines on an older issue of the newspaper, but had neglected to remove the byline reading “Guatemala City.”
One of the more notorious occurrences of photo tampering in recent history took on new life four years later. Someone from Iran’s semi-official Mehr News apparently used an online image search to find a suitable photo to illustrate a headline saying that Iran’s missile program was no threat to the U.S. and Europe. However, the image that was chosen was a parody of Iran’s official doctored photo of a missile launch from 2008. One of many images from the meme inspired by the original photo, this version features an absurd number of missiles, as well as a waving Jar Jar Binks, from the Star Wars prequel.
Perhaps aiming to make the June 2011 work by other Chinese officials look reasonable in comparison, the government in Yuhang District published a photo promoting a recent landscaping project in which officials appear to levitate over the scene—some with their legs only partially cloned in.