– Fiona Torsch
We love trickery. Or rather, we love the quest for innovation, the unexpected, and the impossible. When the impossible turns out to be, well, impossible, then we settle for illusion.
What better way to explain the success of Harry Houdini, David Blaine, David Copperfield, and illusion within photography (check out the Huffington Post for some really trippy images)? Of course, Photoshop is the bee’s knees, or so they say, when it comes to manipulating an image to give you a photo which deceives the eye and makes you say Wow! Or is it?
Whilst Photoshop may be a handy tool for touching up images, getting rid of that pesky red-eye, brightening or dimming an image, etc, I believe that not all associations with this programme are positive. For example, when Kate Winslet appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, people were quick to jump in with their disgruntled opinions – outrage even – that the magazine would so blatantly alter a proudly curvaceous celebrity in such a manner. However, this is only one example of a long list: Andy Roddick on the cover of Men’s Fitness in 2007, Beyonce in her L’Oreal advertising campaign, Demi Lovato on the cover of Cosmo, and even Kate Middleton for the Royal Wedding issue of Grazia, to name just a few. Faced with an improbable image, the natural response is to look at it, scoff, and say ‘Photoshop’.
However, a completely different reaction is to be found when faced with an image which is downright clever, and is not the result of Photoshop. There have been a whole host of crazes recently regarding optical illusion – Harry Pottering, Vadering, etc. In my opinion, we have 19th-century masters of (photographic) manipulation to thank for this.
When photography was first invented in the 1830’s, it soon became not just a technical innovation, but a source of artistic innovation. Humour, creativity, and a desire to shock and thrill – this is what sparked a trend of digitally altered photographs, a trend which can still be seen today.
To find out more about photographic illusion in the 19th century, you need go no further than The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Faking it: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop is running until the 25thAugust, so be sure not to miss out! If this tickles your fancy but you’re not sure where to go next in your quest for photographic inspiration, why not pick up a copy of Man Ray, by Alexander Games and Patrick Bade?