Lies have been in photography from the beginning. Curator John Szarkowski famously described photography as “born whole” and that includes lies. “Nothing is as deceptive as a photograph,” states Franz Kafka. In the internet age, the possibilities of image creation and circulation have spread like oil on water, and so has the scope and ambition of lying with photographs.
This project constructs an analytic framework for classifying photographic lies, but we know that photographs have been unreliable messengers from the start. We are aware of the many precursor fictions far before our digital age: Hippolyte Bayard melodramatically staging a self-portrait of his death by drowning in 1840, Roger Fenton moving Crimean War cannonballs in 1855 for the sake of composition, Gustav Le Gray adding skies to Normandy seascapes by using a second negative in photography’s second decade, Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson undertaking complex combination printing in the 1850s and 60s, Alexander Gardner rearranging the rebel sharpshooter at Gettysburg, Francis Galton’s 1880s physiognomic composites. These and many more are outside the scope of this effort. We are concerned with photography in the internet age, photography turned up past ten.