Photoshop Tricks : 10 Historic Political Photoshop Disasters

Long before there was Photoshop, image doctoring was the work of hobbyists, businesses and big governments alike. While some photographers doctored photos for pure entertainment, others did so to misinform, to propagandize for political gain. How has photoshop and early doctoring techniques impacted the world of politics? Here are 10 of the most famous, most historic doctored photographs in modern world history.

Iranian Missile Test

A photo that found its way onto the front pages of scores of newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune and countless front pages on news sites worldwide, this image of an Iranian missile test was shot down for Photoshop propagandism. Provided by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and released on the wire by Agence France-Presse, the photo was “digitally altered” to include a fourth missile added to cover one that might have grounded or failed during the launch.

Kim Jong-il is… Alive?

Denying the poor health of its “Dear Leader,” strangely absent the public eye in 2008, the North Korean government released a series of photos assuring the world of Kim Jong-il’s health. The UK’s Times noted that one of the photos of Kim posing with soldiers shows a line running along the stand that mysteriously vanishes, inconsistent shadows cast by the leader’s legs, one of which the BBC noticed had “mismatched pixels.” Some fairly benign technical factors could explain the incongruity, but the North Korean government been suspected of doctoring photos in the past.

Barack Obama Smoking

Prior to his run for the White House, Barack Obama gave up smoking. The President admits to a lapse here and there, but a photo that made the rounds early in 2008 was the product of an unknown Photoshop hoaxer who took liberties with an image captured by Kwame Ross during Obama’s campaign to become an Illinois senator. But if you want to see Obama smoking, at least take in the work of a decent lens-smith.

John Kerry and Jane Fonda

A photo faked to align Sen. John Kerry with actress Jane Fonda, this highly circulated photo was purported to show Kerry as a 27-year-old Vietnam War Veteran at an antiwar rally in 1971 alongside the vocal Iraq War oppositionist. The Kerry photo, snapped by Ken Light — ironically, a journalism ethics professor at UC Berkeley — was taken as Kerry prepared to give a speech at the rally, which Fonda never attended. The Fonda picture was taken by photographer Owen Franken at a Miami antiwar rally in 1972. The photos were merged and emblazoned with an Associated Press logo and disseminated.

Lee Harvey Oswald in his backyard

Police searching Lee Harvey Oswald’s home after JFK’s assassination found photos that showed him standing in his backyard, a rifle similar to the one used in the shooting in one hand, two communist newspapers in the other. The photo went public in 1964 and was released in several publications. Observers noticed some of the pre-Photoshop era photos appeared to be doctored, particularly with some of the rifle’s detailing. The left photo appeared on the cover of Life, depicting a rifle with a scope, which was curiously absent in version of the photo that ran in the Detroit Free Press. The photo with the scope remerged again on the cover of Newsweek. Also questioned were weird shadows and a line across Oswald’s chin. Tapping a team of photo experts, the Select Committee on Assassination in 1978 determined the photo wasn’t tampered with and was simply the victim of sloppy efforts by editors who were trying to boost the photo’s contrast for printing.

Iranian Presidential rally

It’s hard not to give extra attention to photo released during a media ban, but this depiction of a crowd rallying in support of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the country’s protested presidential election has been derided as Photoshopped propaganda and creative editing that falsely inflated audience attendance.

Bush campaign ad

Poorly doctored, but apparently without editorial or political malice, George W. Bush’s camp late in the 2004 campaign released a TV ad entitled “Whatever It Takes.” What the video did take was liberties with a photo of Bush standing on a podium. A video editor was given the photo and asked to focus on the boy waving an American flag. Instead of cropping and tightening the frame, he pasted over Bush and the podium with images copied from the crowd, which when discovered, quickly fueled cyber suspicion that Republicans were trying to make the Bush’s audience of soldiers appear larger.

Chief Spanish spy and fisherman

Dubbed the “Worst Fauxtography Ever,” Spanish intelligence director Alberto Saiz in July resigned after a scandal erupted over allegations that he went on several fishing trips while on official business, leaving taxpayers with the bill for expeditions to Senegal, Mali, Mexico and Morocco. To cover his tracks, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Saiz ordered intelligence agents to doctor photos of the trips that were leaked to the press. The director’s head was replaced, unfortunately the graphic technician replaced it with one copied from a man less a few feet away … in the same photo.

Mussolini and the missing horse handler

For fascism’s founding father in Italy, appearances are everything. As prime minister, Benito Mussolini had a penchant for politics and propaganda, which played out in the above image in the pre-Photoshop days of the early-1940s. Mussolini wanted to be a hero, or at least look like one horseback with a sword pointed towards the heavens. Problem is, it’s hard to look tough when there’s a stable hand holding the reigns and steadying the steed, so the photo was doctored and the horsey helper was replaced with a distant tree.

Gun-toting Governor Palin

Released in 2008, shortly after the announcement that Gov. Sarah Palin was joining Sen. John McCain in a bid for the White House, this fake photo quickly became an Internet sensation. A cut-and-paste composite of Palin’s head atop a bikini-clad pool patriot, the doctored photo gave the Governor both a large gun and big bazookas.

Subscribe to receive free email updates: