Photoshopping the news before Photoshop
Titled “Faking It,” the museum has assembled nearly 200 examples of photos that were manipulated via airbrush, multiple exposures, darkroom derring-do and other means to appear to be something other than what they were. The show, amusingly, is sponsored in part by Adobe, the maker of – you guessed it – Photoshop.
An excellent example of news photo fakery in the show is the picture (below, right) of Elvis Presley, which was doctored by an artist for United Press International to substitute a buzz cut for the singer’s trademark pompadour when The King was drafted in 1957. The actual makeover was less severe, as this seemingly legitimate photo attests.
While the UPI image probably wasn’t meant to deceive anyone, the history of photo fakery in journalism is as old as the medium itself.
The old-timers I met as a young newsman in the 1970s told me that the Chicago newspapers used to, ahem, re-imagine the scenes of high-profile crimes in what were called “Pictographs” that were ginned up in newspaper photo studios. In a typical example of the genre, I am told, a photographer would simulate the scene of a high-profile murder by snapping a picture of an attractive model in an alluring outfit who was sprawled sensuously on a sofa and drizzled with Hershey’s syrup to simulate blood. The syrup was said to photograph better than ketchup in black and white.
One widely celebrated Chicago news photographer I knew carried a bunch of props in the trunk of his car to enhance the quality of his work. If he got to the scene too late to capture a picture of a child killed in a fire, he would throw a single tiny gym shoe on the lawn and make a picture of the charred structure that inevitably was captioned “The Grim Aftermath.”
No discussion of the ancient excesses of Chicago photojournalism would be complete without the tale of the “Lipstick Killer,” William Heirens. After confessing under extreme duress as a teenager to a trio of gruesome murders, Heirens spent 65 years in prison before dying behind bars earlier this year.
Heirens became known as the “Lipstick Killer” because the words “Stop Me Before I Kill Again” were scribbled in lipstick on the bathroom mirror of one of the murder victims. The old-timers I talked to who knew about the case said the cops who initially responded to the victim’s apartment did not recall seeing the message on the mirror. The first time anyone remembered seeing the message was after the news photographers got access to the crime scene. Kind of makes you wonder...