About the Hoax Photo Database
The Hoax Photo Database catalogs examples of photo fakery, from the beginnings of photography up to the present. Included in the database are photos that are "real," but which have been suspected of being fake, as well as images whose veracity remains undetermined. The photos are displayed in chronological order (or reverse-chronological). They're categorized by theme, technique of fakery (if known), and time period. See below for the full list of categories.

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Portrait of the Photographer as a Drowned Man
Status: Staged
Date: 1840
During the 1830s there was a race among inventors to be the first to perfect the photographic process. Louis Daguerre won the race (at least, he was the first to patent a process) and gained all the glory. However, this left other inventors feeling bitter. For instance, 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.

Bayard wrote an explanatory note on the back of the photo:
The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life....! ... He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.

So while Bayard is not remembered as the first to invent photography, he is remembered for a different kind of first — the first to fake a photograph.

Despite his frustration at being underappreciated, Bayard continued to be a productive photographer. Two years later, in recognition of his contributions, he was given a prize of 3000 francs by the Societe d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale.
  • Hippolyte Bayard. Wikipedia.
  • Lester, P. (1991). Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 91-92.
Technique: Staged Scene. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Death, Striking a Pose,.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
Status: Staged
Date: April 23, 1855
Roger Fenton was sent to document the Crimean War by the British government. However, he avoided photographing combat scenes or views of the dead or wounded. Instead, most of his photos show officers posing in their uniforms. He doubtless wanted to avoid producing any pictures that might provoke criticism of the war back home. (Taking only flattering views of a subject is one way a photojournalist can introduce bias into their work -- though the concept of photojournalism had not yet evolved when Fenton was working.)

But one of Fenton's Crimean War images (top), which he titled "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," is considered a masterpiece of war photography. It shows a simple, but haunting view of a cannonball-strewn road near Sevastopol.

In 1981 historican Mark Haworth-Booth realized that Fenton had taken a second photograph of this scene (bottom), but in the second photograph there were no cannonballs on the road. Subsequent analysis has proven that this second, previously unnoticed photo was taken before the other. (Researchers have been able to identify rocks that rolled downhill in between the time Fenton took the first and second shot.) Which means that Fenton probably staged the scene, moving cannonballs from the ditch onto the road in order to create a more dramatic image.
Roger Fenton Crimean War Photographs. Library of Congress.
Morris, E. (Sep 25, 2007). Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? The New York Times.
Technique: Staged Scene. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Landscapes, Photojournalism, War,.
Street Urchins Tossing Chestnuts
Status: Staged
Date: 1857
A street urchin tosses a chestnut in the air as his bored companion looks on. It may look like a real-life scene caught by the camera, but in fact it is staged. Cameras were too slow in the 1850s to record something as quick-moving as a tossed chestnut. Therefore Oscar Rejlander (who is sometimes called the Father of Art Photography) suspended a chestnut in mid-air with a piece of fine thread in order to create the scene. The thread is barely visible if you examine a larger version of the picture.
Lester, P. (1991). Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 92.
Technique: Staged Scene, Movable Prop. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Art, Children,.
Interior of the Secundra Bagh
Status: Possibly staged
Date: March or April 1858
In November 1857 British forces put down an Indian rebellion in Lucknow (northern India). Two thousand sepoys who had holed up in the Secundra Bagh Palace were killed. The British buried their own dead, but they left the Indian dead to rot.

A few months later (around March or April 1858), photographer Felice Beato arrived in Lucknow and took a photograph of the interior of the Secundra Bagh Palace. Bones of the dead can be seen in the foreground of the photo, lying exposed on the ground.

There is controversy about whether corpses actually were still lying unburied when Beato was in Lucknow. A reporter for The Times reported seeing unburied skeletons as late as April 1858. But a British officer, Sir George Campbell, wrote in his memoirs that Beato arranged for bones to be disinterred and scattered around in order to recreate the aftermath of the battle.
Secundra Bagh after Indian Mutiny. Wikipedia.
• Harris, David. (1999). Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato's Photographs of China.
Technique: Staged Scene. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Death, Military, War, Photojournalism,.
Mumler’s Spirit Photos
Status: Double exposures passed off as spirit photos
Date: 1861-1879
In 1861 William Mumler was working as a jewelry engraver in Boston and dabbling in photography on the side. One day, after developing a self-portrait, he noticed what appeared to be the shadowy figure of a young girl floating beside his own likeness. Mumler assumed it was an accident, the trace of an earlier negative made with the same plate, but friends told him the figure resembled his dead cousin. Soon the unusual photo (top) came to the attention of the spiritualist community, who proclaimed it to be the first photo ever taken of a spirit. Mumler didn't argue with them. Instead he took advantage of the interest in the photo to go into business as the world's first spirit photographer. He grew wealthy producing spirit photos for grief-stricken clients who had lost relatives in the Civil War.

However, Mumler attracted an enormous number of critics as well as supporters. Some members of the spiritualist community accused him of fraud, alleging that the "spirits" in his photo resembled people who were not only still alive, but who had sat for him recently. Rival photographers grew increasingly alarmed at his popularity, believing that he was blackening the reputation of the profession.

In 1869, after moving to New York City, he was brought up on charges of fraud by the police department who had sent an undercover agent to sit for him. The resulting trial pitted believers in spiritualism against supporters of scientific rationalism. The prosecution brought in professional photographers who explained how Mumler could have easily created the spirit-photo effect through the use of double exposure. The photographer Abraham Bogardus prepared a "fake" spirit photo (middle) in which the ghostly image of Abraham Lincoln could be seen floating behind the shoulder of the notorious showman P.T. Barnum. However, Mumler's defense team brought in many of his clients who testified that they believed his spirit photos to be real. In the end, Mumler was acquitted.

After the trial, Mumler moved back to Boston. It was here, around 1871, that he produced his most famous photo (bottom) when Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, showed up at his studio. It is said that she introduced herself using the assumed name "Mrs. Lindall." The resulting photo, which seemed to show her being embraced by the spirit of her dead husband, was widely circulated. It is believed to be the last photo ever taken of Mrs. Lincoln, who died in 1882.

Mumler published an autobiography in 1875, but his career was in decline. He stopped producing spirit photos in 1879. When he died in 1884 he was, by most accounts, penniless.
The ghost and Mr. Mumler. Historynet.com.
• Cloutier, Crista. (2004). "Mumler's Ghosts" in The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult. Yale University Press: 20-23.
• Kaplan, Louis. (2008). The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer. University of Minnesota Press.
Technique: Superimposed Image. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Death, Paranormal, Ghosts, Striking a Pose,.
A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep
Status: Staged Scene
Date: Taken in 1863. Exposed as a fake in 1961.
Alexander Gardner and his assistants took a series of photographs showing the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. These photos were published in Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War, a work which proved very influential in defining the image of the Civil War for many Americans.

But in 1961 Frederic Ray, art director of the Civil War Times, noticed that two of the photographs, taken in different locations on the battlefield, appeared to show the same corpse. In one scene (top) a Confederate soldier's corpse lay on the southern slope of Devil's Den. Gardner had captioned this photo "A Sharpshooter's Last Sleep."

But in another scene (bottom) the body had moved forty yards to a rocky niche. Gardner captioned this photo "The Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter." Apparently Gardner had moved the soldier's corpse to the rocky outcropping for the sake of creating a more dramatic image. He even turned the soldier's head to face the camera and leaned a gun against the rocks.

Although Gardner identified the soldier as a sharpshooter, the weapon beside him is not a sharpshooter's rifle. It was probably a prop, placed there by Gardner.
Moving the Body, Hoaxipedia article.
The Case of the Moved Body, Library of Congress.
Ray. F. (Oct 1961). "The Case of the Rearranged Corpse." Civil War Times. 3(6): 19.
Technique: Staged Scene, Movable Prop. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Death, Military, War, Photojournalism,.
Petticoat Politics
Status: Fake (composite)
Date: May 1865
Jefferson Davis, President of the Southern Confederacy, was captured by Union forces on May 10, 1865. According to legend, he was caught while trying to flee disguised as a woman. The reality is less colorful. Davis later explained that, when he heard the Union soldiers approaching, he grabbed what he thought was his overcoat and stepped outside. But it was very early morning, and in the darkness he had grabbed his wife's coat by mistake.

The Northern media pounced on the idea of Davis fleeing in feminine disguise, and exaggerated it to suggest that Davis was wearing a skirt, not merely a woman's overcoat. Since there were no photographs of Davis's capture, the Kellogg Brothers, Connecticut-based photographers, printed up satirical "carte-de-visites" showing Davis in women's clothing. They first photographed a model in a hoop skirt, brandishing a knife in her hand. Then they pasted Davis's head onto the body.
Collins, K. & Wilsher, A. (July/Sep 1984). "Petticoat Politics: The Capture of Jefferson Davis." History of Photography. 8(3): 237-242.
Technique: Composite Images. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Head Transplants, Politics,.
Lincoln’s Portrait
Status: Fake (composite)
Date: Late 1860s

The standing portrait of Lincoln (left) was created soon after the American Civil War. Although it hung in many classrooms, Lincoln never posed for it. Instead, an unknown entrepreneur created it by cutting-and-pasting a headshot of Lincoln taken from a photograph by Mathew Brady (middle) onto a portrait of the Southern leader John Calhoun (right). This was done because there were hardly any appropriate ‘heroic-style’ portraits of Lincoln made during his life. In the Calhoun image, the papers on the table say “strict constitution,” “free trade,” and “the sovereignty of the states.” In the Lincoln image, these words have been changed to read, “constitution,” “union,” and “proclamation of freedom.”
MacDougall, C. (1958, 2nd ed.). Hoaxes. Dover Publications: 80.
Mitchell, W.J. (1992). The Reconfigured Eye. MIT Press: 204-208.
The Martyr Lincoln
Status: Staged using lookalike
Date: late 1860s
Following the assassination of Lincoln, the Army did not allow any pictures to be taken of him in his casket. Therefore, con artists stepped in to fill the demand. The top image was one of many that circulated purporting to show the dead President, but it is fake. Whoever the man is lying down, pretending to be dead, it is not Lincoln.

The bottom image is the only known authentic death photo of Lincoln. It shows him lying in state in New York City Hall, ten days after his assassination. It was taken by Garvey and Son, New York photographers. They later destroyed the original plate and all prints of it, except for one.
"Rare Photo." (Feb 11, 1967). The Washington Post.
Brugioni, D. (1999). Photo Fakery. Brassey's: 36.
Technique: Staged Scene. Time Period: Before 1900.
Themes: Death, Politics, viral images,.
Dickens in America
Status: Fake (doctored)
Date: December 1867
In 1867 the popular author Charles Dickens toured the United States. His tour manager signed an agreement with the New York photographers Jeremiah Gurney & Son, assuring them they would have the exclusive right to photograph Dickens during his visit. However, in December 1867 the New York Daily Tribune proudly announced it had persuaded the author to sit for a photo at the Mathew Brady studio on Broadway. The public was invited to go view the portrait (top). This prompted a protest from the Gurneys who denounced the Brady photo as a fake. Modern research indicates the Gurneys were right.

Historian Malcolm Andrews discovered that somehow the Mathew Brady studio had obtained an 1861 portrait of Dickens (middle) taken by the Watkins brothers in England. It was a portrait Dickens had never liked, privately remarking that he looked "grim and wasted" in it. But the Brady studio tidied it up, offering an early example of what was possible, even in the 1860s, with darkroom techniques.

The Brady studio thickened and combed the author's hair, smoothed his face, gave him a stylish mustache, and added a buttonhole to his lapel as well as a dress-shirt front. The result was a significantly fresher-looking Dickens. The Daily Tribune promised its readers that the portrait showed "Mr. Dickens just as he is in his readings."

In reality, Dickens looked quite different, because by 1867 he had lost much of the hair he had in 1861. The bottom photo, taken by the Gurney studio, shows what Dickens actually looked like during his American tour.
• Andrews, M. (2004). "Mathew Brady's Portrait of Dickens: 'a fraud and imposition on the public'?" History of Photography. 28(4): 375-379.
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