- Reality-altering tools have existed almost as long as photography.
- In the last century and a half, there has been an array of tools developed to trick viewers into seeing things that aren’t there.
- Old trick photographs look silly to us now, but deepfake videos are shockingly convincing.
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Using photos to trick viewers into falling for illusions has been as popular as the medium of photography itself.
While scalpels and glue were once the main tools of the trade, Adobe’s landmark Photoshop software brought picture manipulation to the modern era — and made it available to the masses. Magazine covers and ads were no longer the only places where one could turn to for warped visions of reality. With the click of a mouse, anyone could vanish their most hated blemishes from pictures or add elements that were never there.
Now, AI has made image manipulation a part of daily life. Accessible phone apps can show us how we’d look 40 years in the future, while "deepfake" videos take reality-altering to its extreme: it grafts faces onto images and videos so convincingly, people who view them are sure they’re portraying actual events.
Here are the biggest leaps image-manipulating technology has made in the last decades.
Composite images made for heroic panoramas.
Library of Congress
This photograph, known as "General Grant at City Point," depicts Union General Ulysses S. Grant at his most heroic. Well, sort of.
The photograph, according to the Library of Congress, is actually from around 1902 — 40 years after the Civil War. It was created by a Washington, DC, photographer named Levin Corbin Handy, who hoped to make money selling heroic Civil War photos.
Different images contributed to the final product.
Library of Congress; Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Grant’s head came from this informal portrait taken in Cold Harbor, Virginia, in 1864. The horse and body came from Maj. Gen. Alexander McDowell McCook, from a July 1864 photograph.
The scenery was fake, too. It wasn’t City Point at all: It was a camp for Confederate prisoners who were captured in the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, which explains why no one is paying much attention to Grant or his horse in the doctored photo.
Composite images could also create some fantastic illusions.
Convinced this photo is real? The grasshopper’s shadow isn’t in the same direction as the man’s. If it were, it would be slanting left along the man’s pants or on the ground. And not to state the obvious, but grasshoppers don’t grow three feet long.
This photograph, though quite absurd, was thought to be real by many people. According to the Kansas Historical Society, it was created by Frank D. "Pop" Conard, from Garden City, Kansas, in 1937. In fact, he made several images featuring giant grasshoppers, which he called "hopper whoppers."
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