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Banner: Detecting the Truth: Fakes, Forgeries and TrickeryBanner: Detecting the Truth: Fakes, Forgeries and Trickery

Detecting Deception

Photos

With modern technology it is sometimes very hard to tell a forged photograph from a real one. But picture tampering is nothing new. Over 100 years ago, tricksters were already altering photos by painting onto the negative or directly on the paper picture. Backgrounds could be cut out and new ones added and entire people could be removed from the scene!

Photograph of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King, in Banff, 1939 Altered photograph of Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King in Banff, 1939-1940

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Photograph of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King, in Banff, 1939
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This was the case in this picture taken in 1939. In the original photo, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King seem to be enjoying a nice day in Banff, Alberta. Unfortunately for the king, he was painted out of the picture.

Altered photograph of Queen Elizabeth and  Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King in Banff, 1939-1940, seen under a microscope

Altered photograph of Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King in Banff, 1939-1940, seen under a microscope
Source

Retouching and overpainting are quite routine in the photography world. Before the invention of colour pictures, it was common practice to paint some colour onto photographs to make them "prettier." Sometimes changes were made to restore a damaged photo, or to hide or add an element.

Altered images can still be very valuable to historical researchers since they give us an idea of what people in the past were trying to achieve by faking them. Why would Mackenzie King have the king removed from the photograph? This is still a mystery, but with research, we found this tricked photo on the promotion poster the Prime Minister used during the next election campaign. Did he want to show that he was trustworthy because the king himself trusted him alone with his wife the queen? Or was it because he wanted to be the only "King" in the photo? The odds are there was a more serious reason. Our expert's most educated guess is that Mackenzie King, having the big ego he had, thought this photo (without the king) showed his strong personality -- him in control of the situation, with the queen looking at him with admiration. What do you think? Knowing why a change was made is sometimes just as important as the picture itself.

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Tricks of the Trade

Examine these photos closely. Do any sections look painted on?

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Glossary

overpainting: paint, not applied by the artist, that covers the original paint and often is not a necessary change to the image
retouching: making changes to a painting or the negative of a photograph to correct small imperfections

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