Facetuning and Photoshopping Isn’t New: Influencers Were Doing It 100 Years Ago

We tend to think that manipulating images to create unrealistic notions of beauty is a recent phenomenon thanks to Photoshop and celebrity culture, but it turns out that retouching photos in order to mislead people has been around for well over a century.

Because of an assumption that photography — particularly in its earliest forms — carries some level of truth, it’s unlikely that you will have noticed that many old photos featuring people have been edited to conform to specific ideas of how the body and the face should be presented. In this fascinating video, Bernadette Banner explains her recent discoveries of the levels of manipulation undertaken by photographers working at the end of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th century.

You could argue that what was happening during the Victorian and Edwardian eras was more damaging than the images produced by today’s influencers because the average consumer’s media literacy is at a level where there is a greater awareness of the techniques and attempts at deception being deployed. Your average teenager knows how to use apps and lighting to create flattering photos and videos and has a level of awareness that the influencers seen on social media are also using similar tactics. As Banner points out, the huge difference is that the amount of media that surrounds us today is very different from what it was a hundred years ago.

Have influencers been lying to us throughout history? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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3 Comments

Timothy Roper's picture

Don't forget the photo with Lincoln's head on top of John Calhoun's body!

Jason Frels's picture

I tried to tell my daughters this sort of thing as they were going through their teenage years.

I like to shoot landscapes and seldom shoot people, but it is the same thing with manipulation. But, I guess in contrast when I see a nice landscape photo I am often particularly interested in how it was edited.

Robert Sakowski's picture

Retouching has always been a part of photography. I ones saw a great exhibition in Berlin, it was about photo manipulation in Press through history.