This digitally altered photograph of OJ Simpson appeared on the cover of Time magazine shortly after Simpson’s arrest for murder. This photograph was manipulated from the original mug-shot that appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Newsweek. Time magazine was subsequently accused of manipulating the photograph to make Simpson appear “darker” and “menacing”.
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 Race and gender (10)
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.
A picture used on a campaign flyer for New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Virginia Fields shows her standing with a diverse group of people. Fields’ chief campaign consultant, Joe Mercurio, admitted the picture was a composite of four separate photos. The picture, according to Mercurio, was meant to show that she has broad support and was not intended to deceive anyone.
The Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman digitally removed two female Cabinet members from a photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center left) and President Shimon Peres (center right), replacing the females with male Cabinet members. The newspaper Yated Neeman is considered to be ultra-orthodox and not supportive of females in the cabinet.
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.
Elle magazine was accused of lightening the skin of actress and former Miss World Aishwanya Rai. A similar complaint was also leveled against the October 2010 issue of Elle, which featured actress Gabourey Sidibeon (of the hit movie Precious). With regard to the photo of Sidibeon, Elle’s editor-in-chief Robbie Myers explained. “At a photo shoot, in a studio, that is a fashion shoot, that’s glamorous, the lighting is different. The photography is different than a red carpet shot from a paparazzi.” She emphasized, “We absolutely did not lighten her skin. Retouching is when we take a piece of hair and move it out of her eye, so you can’t compare a picture on a press line from what you do in a studio, where your job is to make them look beautiful.”
The Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung published a photo of President Obama and his national security team in the White House Situation Room. This photo was taken as the team watched a raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Prior to publication, the paper removed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason from the photo. In response to criticism, the paper responded, in part: “In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”
ESPN published an article about African-American quarterback Michael Vick, posing the question “What if Michael Vick were white?” Though the content of the article itself was relatively non-controversial, ESPN received substantial criticism for publishing alongside the article a photo illustration depicting the athlete as a caucasian.
After taking harsh criticism, South African newspaper The Citizen apologized for cloning out bodies from an AFP wire photo of the wreckage from a bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed eight South Africans. The paper stated that the editors had directed that the bodies in the photo be blurred to make the photo less graphic, but that the person doing the modifications cloned the bodies out instead. Some readers even questioned whether racism played a part in the decision, considering that the bodies that were removed were of white victims, whereas similalry graphic photos of black victims of a mining accident were recently run in the same paper without modification. In their apology, however, the paper denied that assessment: “This photo [Marikana] was not nearly as graphic as the Kabul one, which is why the bodies were not blurred. Due to the much more graphic nature of the Kabul blast photo, we felt that blurring the bodies was appropriate. Removing them completely is, however, completely inexcusable and we readily admit that this never should have happened.”