Altered Images

Since the dawn of photography, there have been those who alter its images. The Soviets used altered images to erase history they didn’t like, now almost every magazine uses airbrushes to erase their cover girl’s unsightly cellulose. With the rise of digital photography and photoshop, anyone can alter an image but with the rise of the internet now there are more and more people looking to, “catch” those that do. Below are some of the most famous altered images:

altered Lincoln Kerry Fonda Photoshop

Couric Weight Loss Kent State Shooting Full Filo Unedited OJ Simpson Mag covers

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National Geographic 1982 Oswald Backyard Shots Harding and kerrigan

Sarkozy Shirtless photoshop Soviet Altered

Hajj photoshop pictures Soviet Editing

Lincoln Portrait

altered LincolnBehind the camera: Thomas Hicks made the portrait using the head from Mathew Brady’s portrait
Where: America
Photo Summary: Abraham Lincoln’s head placed upon the photo of another politician, John C. Calhoun
Picture Taken: After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865
This image is in the public domain because of its age

On April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln the 16th President of the United States was assassinated by a supporter of the defeated Southern Confederacy. The nation shocked at his sudden death were desperate for a memento to memorialize the martyred President. Photographers struggled to fulfil demand but there were no suitable heroic images. Artists were forced to create there own and images were created using Lincoln’s head on previously published images of Alexander Hamilton and Martin Van Buren. One of the most famous images of Lincoln was created by Thomas Hicks who used the head from Mathew Brady’s portrait, the one on the American five dollar bill and posted it on the body of John C. Calhoun. When Hicks positioned the head on to Calhoun’s body he reversed the head. However, when he reversed the head he also reversed Lincoln’s famous mole. It was through the mole being placed on the wrong side of the face that this alteration was noticed. Ironically Calhoun, who was the 7th Vice President of the United States, led the pro-slavery faction when he was in office while Lincoln would become famous for freeing the slaves.

Walski Forgery – 2003

Iraqi Alteration MergeBehind the camera: Brian Walski
Where: Near Basra, Iraq
Photo Summary: Photographer Brian Walski merged to two photos on the right to create his composite image on the left of a British soldier in Iraq trying to control a crowd of civilians.
Picture Taken: The image was the Monday, March 31, 2003 Los Angeles Times Newspaper Cover.

In the early Media coverage of the 2003 Iraqi War a minor controversy erupted when it was revealed that LA Times photographer, Brian Walski, had taken two images and made a more dramatic composite.

Great photographers who can compose pictures under that kind of intensity–I’m amazed by how they can do it. Things are happening so fast. You have to watch out for yourself, and look what’s going on to be able to compose pictures. I had ten frames of soldier totally cut off. At some point I must have zoomed out. When that guy
came up with the baby, I shot off ten more frames. I had just one where you could see the soldier’s face. The others he was turned away. I put four pictures on my laptop. I was going back and forth. There was no reason to do [what I did]. I was playing around a little bit. I said, ‘that looks good.’ I worked it and sent it.
…I wasn’t debating the ethics of it when I was doing it. I was looking for a better image. It was a 14 hour day and I was tired. It was probably ten at night. I was looking to make a picture. Why I chose this course is something I’ll go over and over in my head for a long time. I certainly wasn’t thinking of the ramifications.
It’s not just me. It’s what I’ve done to my co-workers, to the Times, to other photographers that were there. I feel really bad.

On Sunday, March 30, Brian Walski sent in the altered image to LA Times staff who posted it on Newscom an internal photo sharing system for various media outlets owned by the Tribune News Corporation. A number of papers ran the image including the Hartford Courant. One of the Courant staff while closely looking through images for a friend noticed a duplication in the image and alerted, Thom McGuire, the Courant’s Assistant Managing Editor for Photography & Graphics. Closely looking again at the image he had earlier approved for print he saw the duplication and called Colin Crawford, Los Angeles Times Director of Photography. Crawford called Walski who recalls:

…that night, Colin [Crawford, the Times director of photo] said, ‘Give me an excuse. Tell me it was a satellite transmission problem. Say something.’ I said, ‘No, I did it. I combined the two pictures.’
…He didn’t [fire me over the phone]. I admitted it to him. He said, ‘send me the images.’ I did. Then I called back and said, ‘I’ll resign.’ He said, ‘No, they are going to fire you.’ I think it was out of Colin’s hands at this point.

On April 1 Walski was fired and the LA Times’ reputation tarnished forever.

Kerry Fonda Rally – 2004

Fonda Kerry Corbis Pics
Behind the camera: Ken Light took the 1971 Kerry photo
Owen Franken took the 1972 Fonda shot
Where: Kerry was at an anti-war rally in Mineola, N.Y.
Fonda was speaking at a Miami Beach, Fla. rally
Photo Summary: Kerry and Fonda at different anti-war rallies but during the 2004 presidential race their pictures were merged to associate Fonda with Kerry
Picture Taken: Kerry’s picture was taken in June 13, 1971 and Fonda’s picture was taken in August 1972
Kerry Fonda Photoshop
In the run-up to the 2004 American presidential elections, this picture appeared in an effort to tar, the Democratic party nominee, John Kerry’s wartime experience. Even though he was a decorated Vietnam War Vet, Kerry had his war record systematically attacked by various right-wing Republican groups hoping to discredit his military record during the 2004 election campaign.


John Kerry joined the Navy in 1966 and became a part of the Swift boat units operating in Vietnam. He remained in active duty until 1970 and was part of the Navy reserves until 1972. During the early 70s Kerry joined an anti-war group called the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). During his anti-Vietnam activities, he spent a lot of time touring the country making speeches and attending rallies. As he was a decorated soldier against the war, Kerry received a lot of media attention throughout this time.


Jane Fonda was a famous actress who in the 70s became an anti-war political activist. She caused much controversy when she visited North Vietnam in 1972. During the trip, her naivety was jumped upon by the North Vietnamese who used the media to score a number of propaganda points. One of the most famous images from the visit is of her seated in an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American planes. Also, while in Hanoi, Vietnamese government officials convinced her to record a number of anti-war propaganda pieces for broadcast to American troops. However, probably her most famous and controversial action during the trip was her trip to visit American P.O.W.s held in prison. She saw a number of prisoners and agreed to pass on messages to their families.
Lots of people visited American P.O.W.s in North Vietnam but Fonda gained the wraith of vets and the military establishment by calling American P.O.W.s who claimed to have been tortured in Vietnamese jails, “liars”. Since her visit claims that prisoners tried to slip her paper and that she reported these efforts to North Vietnamese officials, or that prisoners spit in her face and then were tortured have surfaced on the internet. Most of the claims have been proven false by those who were actually present during the Prisoner/Fonda meeting.
Still, the impression remains that Fonda is a traitor to the US and in particular a traitor to American prisoners in Vietnam so much so that any link to Fonda is a death knell to any American politician.

The Picture

In this light, the picture showing both Kerry and Fonda was a serious threat to the Kerry campaign. Kerry’s team quickly responded that while he did attend many rallies throughout the 70s, and he did attend at least one with Jane Fonda, a September 1970 anti-war rally in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, (There is even a picture of Fonda with Kerry in the background) the Kerry camp has always asserted that Kerry and Fonda never spoke together at any rallies.
In fact, Ken Light the photographer of Kerry’s picture taken at a June 13, 1971 rally has threatened to sue whoever created the collage of his picture and a picture of Fonda speaking at a rally in 1972 taken by another photographer, Owen Franken, in August 1972. Ironically Ken Light is a now a UC Berkeley professor of journalism ethics teaching his students on matters of law and photo ethics. Now not only does he teach the course he was also the subject.

Katie Couric’s weight loss – 2006

Couric Weight LossBehind the camera: CBS photographer
Where: CBS Studios
Photo Summary: Couric body was “slimmed” in order to better market her image.
Picture Taken: The image was taken in May 2003 and spread around the net as her official photo

On the 15th anniversary of her position as a permanent co-host on the NBC TV News program, Today Katie Couric announced that she would leave the show to be the new anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News replacing Dan Rather. CBS billed Couric as “the first female solo anchor of a weekday network evening news broadcast,”.
They spent millions on marketing to and preparing their audience for her arrival. In this quest to push the Couric experience in the words of Gil Schwartz, executive vice president of communications for CBS Corp. Someone in the CBS photo department “got a little zealous” with Couric’s picture that was released in May as her official image. While people on magazine covers are airbrushed every day, Couric’s picture gained a lot of criticism as she was supposed to be a serious reporter able to fill Rather and Cronkite’s shoes. Couric herself brushed off the story saying, “I liked the first picture better because there’s more of me to love”

Hajj Controversy – 2006

Hajj photoshop picturesBehind the camera: Adnan Hajj
Where: Beirut, Lebanon
Photo Summary: Shot of Beirut under IDF attack
Picture Taken: 2006 Lebanon War

During the 2006 Lebanon War foreign media relied on local Lebanese news staff to get the pictures of the Israeli bombardment. One of these reporters was Adnan Hajj.

Adnan Hajj

Adnan Hajj, a Lebanese freelance photographer based in the Middle East had worked for Reuters for about 10 years. Almost a thousand of his pictures appeared on their photo service. During the war, he provided a number of images to Reuters one of which was as reported by Charles Johnson, a blogger from Little Green Footballs, as being faked.

Clone tool

As shown above, the picture seems to have the smoke enhanced in a clumsy way probably using the Photoshop clone tool. In his defense, Hajj claimed to have altered the images to clear up any dust. Further investigation would reveal that a number of pictures had been altered or staged by Hajj and by August 7 Reuters had announced that in addition to halting working with Hajj the would also pull all 920 photos by Hajj from their site.
Kent State Shooting Full Filo Unedited

Kent State Pole

Behind the camera: Student photographer John Filo
Where: Kent University
Photo Summary: Mary Vecchio screaming as she crouched over the bleeding body of Jeffrey Miller
Picture Taken: May 4, 1970

Edited version of Kent State

The pole! The pole is missing.

Main Article:Kent State Shooting
An altered version of John Filo’s famous picture has over the years been published a number of times instead of the real Filo Pulitzer Prize Winner shown on the left. The altered version appeared as recently as May 1st, 1995 in the LIFE magazine article, “Caught in time” Pg 38

Can you spot the difference?

Hint – It’s not the missing pool of blood at the bottom of the picture, which while lightened can still be seen.

OJ Simpson’s dark day

OJ Simpson Mag coversBehind the camera: LAPD mugshot photographer took the original and then TIME illustrator Matt Mahurin darkened the image and shrunk the mugshot number
Where: Mugshot taken by the LAPD and then used on the covers of Newsweek and Time magazine
Photo Summary: OJ Simpson mugshot – Arresting number – BK4013970
Picture Taken: Mugshot taken on June 17, 1994. Cover images used on June 27, 1994 editions

In 1994 America stopped in their tracks as they learned that a former Mr. American Pie, OJ Simpson, was being arrested for the murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Starting with the slow car chase media and the American public became obsessed with the trial.
To cash in on what was shaping up to be the trial of the century TIME and Newsweek both used Simpson’s June 17, 1994 Mugshot on their magazine covers. Newsweek used the mugshot unaltered, TIME opted to use an artistic version when Simpson’s face appeared darker, blurrier, and unshaven. Civil rights groups cried in outrage at what they saw as an attempt by TIME to make Simpson look more guilty by demonizing a man supposedly innocent until proven guilty.
Matt Mahurin, the artist at Time Magazine who manipulated the police photo of OJ, defended his actions stating that he, “wanted to make it more artful, more compelling.” Managing Editor at TIME issued a letter to TIME readers:

[Matt Mahurin] had only a few hours, but I found what he did in that time quite impressive. The harshness of the mug shot — the merciless bright light, the stubble on Simpson’s face, the cold
specificity of the picture — had been subtly smoothed and shaped into an icon of tragedy. The expression on his face was not merely blank now; it was bottomless. This cover, with the simple, nonjudgmental headline “An American Tragedy,” seemed the obvious, right choice.

Pyramids on National Geographic

Behind the camera: Scitex software squeezed the two pyramids together
Where: Egypt’s Giza Pyramids
Photo Summary: Egypt’s Giza Pyramids
Picture Taken: Image was published on the cover of National Geographic magazine, vol 161, no 2 February 1982

In the early ’80s, National Geographic magazine purchased the Scitex computer-digitizer which allowed an image to be digitized and then altered. In 1982, the magazine wanted to do a story about Egypt’s pyramids. They had an image but it was a horizontal photo that wouldn’t fit on the magazine’s vertical cover. To get around this troublesome problem photo editors OKed the use of Scitex to “squeeze” the two pyramids together. At the time the magazine justified their actions by referring the digital manipulation as the “retroactive repositioning of the photographer,” or if the photographer had been 10m to the side the resulting image would have been the same.
Critics at the time were outraged and on retrospection, National Geographic agreed with them and changed their policy.

At the beginning of our access to Scitex, I think we were seduced by the dictum, ‘If it can be done, it must be done.’
But there’s a danger there. When a photograph becomes synthesis, fantasy, rather than reportage, then the whole purpose of the photograph dies. A photographer is a reporter — a photon thief, if you will. He goes and takes, with a delicate instrument, an extremely thin slice of life. When we changed that slice of life, no matter in what small way, we diluted our credibility. If images are altered to suit the editorial purposes of anyone, if soda cans or clutter or blacks or people of ethnic backgrounds are taken out, suddenly you’ve got a world that’s not only unreal but surreal.
At National Geographic, the Scitex will never be used again to shift any one of the Seven Wonders of the World, or to delete anything that’s unpleasant or add anything that’s left out.

Backyard Photos

Behind the camera: Oswald’s Russian wife Marina using the Imperial 620 Duo Lens Camera
Where: Oswald’s Backyard
Photo Summary: Lee Harvey Oswald holding two left-wing newspapers The Militant and The Worker which are dated March 11 and March 24. In addition to the two papers, Oswald is holding a rifle and has a .38 calibre revolver strapped to his waist. Going from left to right are the life cover and the original
Picture Taken: Sunday, March 31, 1963

Main Article:Oswald Backyard Shots
The world stopped on Nov 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while driving in his open limo through the streets of Dallas. From the second Kennedy was killed, his murder has been shrouded in conspiracy theories and intense public interest. One of the many figures that became infamous as a result is the supposed lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.
On the Feb 21, 1964, cover of LIFE magazine, the world was given its first glimpse at what would become known as the “backyard” pictures. The images caused a lot of public controversy regarding the authenticity of the shots when years later the originals were released which looked different than not only LIFE’s cover but other magazines who used the same photo. The Forgery accusations would add fuel to many JFK conspiracy theorists. Later it was revealed that LIFE and other magazines retouched and altered the original in different ways for publication. Not only did the news publication versions differ from the original, but they were also different from each other.

Harding vs Kerrigan – Fire on Ice – 1994

Harding and kerriganBehind the camera: Newsday Photo Staff
Where: Newsday Cover
Photo Summary: Two shots of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding altered to appear like they were skating together
Picture Taken: Picture released on the Feb. 16, 1994 Cover
A media storm was set a fire when on January 6, 1994, at a practice session during the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Nancy Kerrigan was assaulted by a man with a steel pipe. It soon was revealed that the assailant was Shane Stant a man hired by skating rival Tonya Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. The plan was to knock out Kerrigan in hopes that Harding would win the gold and the millions of dollars sponsorship the medal enabled.

The Cover

Newsday magazine anxious to cash in on the growing controversy created a composite of an image of the two different skaters and made it seem like they were skating together. Editors across the country decried the false imagery even though Newsday editors added a byline beside the picture identifying that it was two separate images and had also added a large cutline stating:

Tonya Harding, left, and Nancy Kerrigan appear to skate together in this New York Newsday composite illustration. Tomorrow, they’ll take to the ice together.


Even though allegations that Harding was part of the conspiracy to knock out Kerrigan she was still allowed to compete at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. The media storm ensured that the TV rating for the final would be huge. The event broke records starting with the highest ever TV rating for an Olympic broadcast. All those people got to watch Harding’s drama after she was “forced” to stop her program just seconds in and with tears streaming beg the referee for permission to restart because her laces were to too short. In the end it didn’t matter as Oksana Baiul of Ukraine won the gold medal Kerrigan got the silver and Harding placed 8th.

Shirtless Sarkozy

Sarkozy Shirtless photoshopBehind the camera: Jim Cole, Vince DeWitt
Where: Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire America
Photo Summary: Sarkozy on vacation in America during a US-French summit
Picture Taken: August 6, 2007

While on vacation in America during a US-French summit to repair ties to the country made during the Bush administration French President Nicolas Sarkozy was photographed canoeing, with his son Louis, on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. The pictures were purchased by an influential newspaper in France, Paris-Match. It later emerged that the image had been altered to remove Sarkozy’s love handles or as they in France, “poignées d’amour.”
The airbrushing stroked further controversy because of Sarkozy close ties to the Paris-Match and allegations that the magazine was actively supporting Sarkozy by portraying him in the best possible light. Paris-Match is owned by a parent company controlled by M. Sarkozy’s close friend Arnaud Lagardère. When pressed by a rival magazine on whether or not the image was altered Paris-Match, released a statement saying the “position of the boat exaggerated this protuberance, … When we reduced the shadows, the correction was exaggerated by the printing process.”

Tourist of Death

Behind the camera: Péter Guzli
Where: South Tower of the New York WTC
Photo Summary: Péter Guzli on vacation in New York on the south WTC tower
Picture Taken: November 28, 1997

This famous altered image hit emails and went viral after the 911 attacks in New York. The photo was forwarded with the title the tourist guy, the accidental tourist, Waldo or the WTC Guy and displayed a person who appears to be standing on the Observation deck of one of the World Trade Centre towers seconds before the plane hit the tower.
Péter Guzli on the WTC observation deck
Snopes and other hoax sites soon debunked the image for a variety of factors including:

  • The weather shown is different than the weather of Sept, 11 which was a warm day and he wouldn’t need all that clothing.
  • The plane shown in the photo is the wrong type of plane, a Boeing 757. The plane that hit the tower was a 767.
  • From the direction the plane is approaching implies that he was standing on the observation deck of the North WTC Tower yet the North tower doesn’t have an outside observation deck. Only the south WTC tower has an outside deck on the 110th floor
  • It was later revealed that the person was a 25-year-old Hungarian man named Péter Guzli who came forward when other people started claiming to be the photo’s subject. Guzli said, however, that he did not want publicity, “I’d like to keep my identity incognito … This was a joke meant for my friends, not such a wide audience.” It was later revealed that Guzli took the photo while visiting relatives in New York on November 28, 1997. After the 911 attacks, he edited the image to appear as though he was present on the tower when the plane hit.

    The Soviet History

    Stalin’s USSR is infamous for its brutal oppression. Anyone who was found to be out of favor with the regime was quickly rounded up in the Soviet purges. Communist membership did not guarantee one’s safety, and it was often those at the top who got a bullet in the back of the head. Not only was one killed but a “traitor’s” existence was completely wiped out from official Soviet history.

    Yezhov: From purger to purged

    Soviet AlteredBehind the camera: Soviet Photo Staff
    Where: Along the Moscow-Volga Canal
    Photo Summary: Soviet leader Stalin and the disappeared water commissar, Nikolai Yezhov
    Picture Taken:
    This image is in the public domain because of its age

    Nikolai Yezhov, the man who disappeared, fought for the Red Army during the Russian Civil War of 1919–1921. As a strong Stalin supporter, he slowly rose through the ranks after the war. In 1935 he wrote a paper about the dangers of political opposition as in his view any opposition to the state would lead to violence and terrorism. This stance of silencing any protest against the state was the basis of the Soviet purges.
    On September 26, 1936, he became the head of the Soviet secret service, the NKVD, and led one of the most savage anti-Soviet cleansings of the Soviet Union killing hundreds of thousands of people. His campaign was so brutal that even Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov criticized the harsh NKVD methods and in November 1938 his Deputy Lavrenty Beria took over. Yezhov maintained a post at the People’s Commissar for Water Transport but in 1939 he was relieved of all duties and arrested. On Feb 3 or 4 he was shot and his ashes were unceremoniously dumped in a common grave at Donskoi Cemetery, Moscow. By 1940 photos of him like the one above were removed from the official Soviet records.

    Trotsky? What Trotsky?

    Soviet EditingBehind the camera: L.Y. Leonidov
    Where: Red Square, Moscow, USSR
    Photo Summary: Soviet leaders celebrating the second anniversary of the October Revolution
    Picture Taken: November 7, 1919
    This image is in the public domain because of its age

    Leon Trotsky was an influential politician in the early days of the Soviet Union. He held a number of powerful positions until an internal Soviet power struggle with Stalin forced him and his allies from power. Trotsky was exiled but many of his supporters or people who Stalin thought were his supporters were hunted down and killed. Trotsky since his exile in 1929 moved from country to country but in 1940 was hunted down and killed, with an ice pick, in Mexico by Ramón Mercader, a Soviet agent.

    The Picture

    In keeping with not only murdering Trotsky and his allies the Soviet regime also strived to remove all “enemies of the state” from history. Pictures were altered using razors, other photos, and airbrushes. The picture above was taken by L.Y. Leonidov on November 7, 1919, as the Soviet Union was celebrating the second anniversary of the October Revolution.
    In the centre is Lenin with his trademark goatee and wearing a Soviet cap. Two people over to Lenin’s left is Trotsky wearing glasses and giving a salute. At this time Trotsky was a still a powerful figure in Russia and held the powerful chairman of the Supreme Military Council position. Two men over on Lenin’s right is Lev Kamenev another of Stalin’s opponents who would pay the ultimate price for going up against Stalin and was shot on August 25, 1936. Another bearded figure, Khalatov, below the boy in front of Trotsky was the one time Commissar of publishing and who was also eliminated in a 1937 purge. In 1967 in time for the V.I. Lenin in the Art of Photography, Moscow all these figures: Trotsky, Kamenev, and Khalatov were airbrushed out of the photo.
    Red army soldiers raising the soviet flag on the roof of the reichstag with two Watches

    Flag on the Reichstag

    Behind the camera: Red Army photographer Yevgeny Khaldei
    Where: On top of the German Reichstag building in Berlin
    Photo Summary: The Soviet flag being raised over the German Reichstag building by Meliton Kantaria
    Picture Taken: May 2, 1945
    Main Article:Flag on the Reichstag

    Red army soldiers raising the soviet flag on the roof of the reichstag with two Watches
    In the closing days of World War II, the Communist Russian Red Army smashed its way into Berlin. In Berlin, the Nazi capital, the German army was overwhelmed into pockets of resistance that either surrendered or fought fanatically to the last man. On the front lines with the Red Army was Yevgeny Khaldei, Soviet war photographer. In the future, he would say that he spent every 1,481 days of the Russian-German war covering the Soviet battle for the motherland, but in Nazi Berlin, he was looking for one thing, his Iwo Jima shot. Khaldei had seen the pictures of American GI’s raising the flag over the Japanese volcano and before the war ended he wanted to snap a similar scene in Berlin.

    As was the case with many Soviet and other journalists during the war, once the picture was taken and developed, that did not mean it was finished. Soviet censors at the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) noticed that on the wrists of the solider in the picture there was not one but two watches indicating a common practice by all parties during World War II — looting. The officials thought the sight of looting members of the Red Army would look bad and told Khaldei to edit them out. Not stopping with the watches, Khaldei also added smoke to the background to add to the drama of his wartime shot.

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