Staged Scene

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May 1936
The Perambulating Skull
Arthur Rothstein took this photo while documenting drought conditions in South Dakota for the Resettlement Administration. But Republican papers noticed that the same skull appeared in other photos by Rothstein and accused him of using it as a "movable prop" to dramatize the drought for political purposes. They mockingly referred to the cow's head as the "perambulating skull."
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circa 1935
Whopper Hoppers
Giant grasshoppers were particularly popular subjects for photo fakery during the 1930s. In this image, taken on a farm near Mitchell, South Dakota by an unknown photographer, three men struggle to subdue "the largest grasshopper in existence." The "whopper hopper" appears to have been a wooden model.
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April 1934
The Surgeon’s Photo
This is the most famous Loch Ness Monster photo. It was long believed to have been taken on April 19, 1934 by a British surgeon who said he noticed something moving in the water while he was driving along the Loch. The photo actually shows a fake serpent's head attached to a toy submarine, and it wasn't taken by the surgeon. His role was merely to serve as a credible front-man for the hoax.
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Published in 1933; debunked in 1984.
Death in the Air
Spectacular images of World War I dog fights were eventually exposed as photos of model airplanes.
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July 29, 1925
Mother Cat Stops Traffic
The news photographer arrived too late to capture the original scene, so he convinced the policeman to recreate it.
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Bloody Sunday, 1905
Soviet textbooks claimed this was a photo of 1905's Bloody Sunday massacre in St. Petersburg. It was actually a reenactment of that event.
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The Cottingley Fairies
Two young girls used paper cutouts to create a series of images of "fairies" while playing in the garden of a Cottingley village home. Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by skeptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognized photos in the world. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were definitively debunked.
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Pacific Sea Monster
A group of men show off a sea serpent that washed up on the beach at Ballard, Washington. However, the "sea serpent" looks suspiciously like the trunk of a tree.
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ca. 1900
A Bear and its Hunters
A humorous example of a staged scene — a bear joins its hunters for a friendly group photo, somewhere in the Utah wilderness.
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ca. 1888
The Rope Trick
A young lady poses on a swing in a photographer's studio. Except, she isn't really on a swing. 19th-century photographers needed subjects to remain stationary to get the proper focus and exposure. So swinging back and forth was out of the question. The swing was actually a prop available from a catalog. The ropes remained rigid and were not attached to anything above.
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late 1860s
The Martyr Lincoln
Following the assassination of Lincoln, the Army didn't allow any pictures to be taken of him in his casket. Therefore, con artists stepped in to fill the demand. This image was one of many that circulated purporting to show the dead President, but it's fake. It shows a man lying down, probably only pretending to be dead. But that man is not Lincoln.
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Taken in 1863. Exposed as a fake in 1961.
A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep
Civil War photographers used a corpse as a movable prop.
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March or April 1858
Interior of the Secundra Bagh
Human bones were disinterred and scattered around to recreate the aftermath of a battle.
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Street Urchins Tossing Chestnuts
This may look like a real-life scene caught by the camera, but in fact is staged. Cameras were too slow in the 1850s to record something as quick-moving as a tossed chestnut. So Oscar Rejlander suspended a chestnut in mid-air with a piece of fine thread in order to create the scene.
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April 23, 1855
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
Roger Fenton took this photo while documenting the Crimean War for the British government. This image, considered a masterpiece of war photography, shows a simple, but haunting view of a cannonball-strewn road near Sevastopol. But in 1981 historian Mark Haworth-Booth determined that Fenton probably staged this scene, moving cannonballs from the ditch onto the road in order to create a more dramatic image.
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Portrait of the Photographer as a Drowned Man
Louis Daguerre was the first to patent a photographic process. But Hippolyte Bayard had independently invented a rival photographic process known as direct positive printing, and had done so as early as Daguerre, but his invention didn't earn him fame and riches. Frustrated, he created a photograph to express his feelings, showing himself pretending to be a suicide victim.
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