Hoax Photo Database: Recent Additions

I've been a bit lazy about posting on the blog for the past few days, but that doesn't mean I haven't been working on the site! I've actually been adding lots of content to the Hoax Photo Database. Here are a few of the photos I've added recently:

The Vanishing Belly Button
Back in 1964 the LA Times ran an ad for Scandinavian Airlines showing a blonde model posing on top of a rock. Strangely, the Times felt the need to remove the model's belly button... because a belly button might have been too provocative for its readers!

Dickens in America
Back in 1867 the Mathew Brady studio in New York produced this doctored image of Charles Dickens. We'd call this photoshopping today, but back then everything had to be done in a darkroom. It's a good example of image doctoring from early in the history of photography.

The Peppered Moth
H.B.D. Kettlewell's photos of (dead) moths on trees are probably the most famous example of scientific photo fakery.

Bloody Sunday, 1905
For decades this image was included in Soviet textbooks, where it was described as an actual photo of the "Bloody Sunday" massacre that occurred in St. Petersburg, 1905, when the police opened fire on workers marching toward the Tsar's Winter Palace. In reality, the photo was a still from a 1925 movie.


Posted on Tue Sep 09, 2008


The Scandanavian Airlines pic recalls the famous story about the 60s TV sitcom, "I Dream of Jeannie." Barbara Eden's role as a female genie included a two-piece "harem girl" outfit with a bare midriff. But the network censors (remember them?) apparently thought this was too explicit for TV audiences. Strangely, instead of redesigning the costume to add a full top, the solution was to cover Ms. Eden's navel with a patch and makeup. I guess we are supposed to conclude that genies, being magical, are not born by the usual route.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Tue Sep 09, 2008  at  09:50 AM
The last two photos would not have been hoaxes if they had been properly labeled. If the books they were included in had referred to the moth picture as an experimental demonstration, and the Winter Palace picture as a dramatic re-enactment, they still would have served their illustrative purposes, and there would have been no controversy.

My school history textbooks were illustrated with many paintings and drawings of events such as the Battle of the Alamo or the Mayflower Compact, yet no one mistook them for photojournalism.

I think the most notorious photo hoax of recent years was Time Magazine's artificial darkening of O.J. Simson's face when they put him on the cover for a story about his murder trial. I guess they thought the real Simpson didn't look evil enough, and in frequently in art dark = evil.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Tue Sep 09, 2008  at  10:00 AM
>>The last two photos would not have been hoaxes if they had been properly labeled.<<

True. But I think false captioning has an important place in the history of photo fakery. A photo without a caption is often meaningless. So creating a misleading caption is just as deceptive as altering the image itself.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Sep 09, 2008  at  11:22 AM
Damn you, Big Gary. You beat me to the Barbara Eden story! I was all excited about telling it, too. Grrrr.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Wed Sep 10, 2008  at  01:30 AM
The peppered moth photos are not fakes. They were made to illustrate the effort of the differing coloration on different backgrounds. Kettlewell never claimed that they were taken from life, and given the photographic technique of the day, everyone would have known that the were staged.
Posted by barkdog  on  Sat Sep 13, 2008  at  03:58 PM
Sorry, I'm not going to agree with you about calling the peppered moth photos a hoax, captioning or no. The photos were taken to illustrate the appearance on different surfaces, and that is exactly what they accomplished. If your criteria is going to be captioning (by publishers not in contact with the photographer) and not specifically stating the photographs were not taken in situ, you've got a really, really long list to add to, starting with every issue of supermarket media ever published to date.

It was the Intelligent Design advocates that kicked up the fuss about the photos, in an attempt to lead people to believe that one prominent case that established evolution was based on false info. Nothing of the sort had occurred - Kettlewell did not use the photos as any part of his research, nor were they offered as supporting documentation except, as noted, for illustrative purposes. And such practices are widespread in photography - insects are not the most obliging of subjects. The point wasn't, "Look, I caught two photos of two varieties in great circumstances!" but instead, "This is a comparison of the relative camouflage characteristics."

By including these as "hoax" photos, you're perpetuating the misrepresentation fostered by the Discovery Institute. This really belongs on your "hoaxes about hoaxes" page.
Posted by Just Al  on  Wed Sep 17, 2008  at  07:14 AM
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