Paul Wilson Goss Applauds New Exhibit On History of Photograph Retouching

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A recent article discusses a new exhibit open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that depicts the long history of retouching photographs. Paul Wilson Goss believes in the educational value of this exhibit.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal describes a new exhibit found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop.” The display discusses the history of photography retouching, dating the practice back to as early as 1846. This example features an unwanted figure that was inked out. Professional photographer Paul Wilson Goss believes in the educational value of the exhibit.    

Discussing a photographer who was caught manipulating photographs in the 1860s, the exhibit’s curator, Mia Fineman, remarked, “People then understood that photographs were not always true. Manipulated images have always shown up as a sort of footnote to the real story of photography, which is the story of unadulterated truth and immediacy.”

The exhibit is broken into seven parts, and shows the different types of photographs that have become subject to manipulation over the years. While some of these alterations were created innocently as a way to fix poor lighting or contrast, others were influenced by the current fashions.

Around the turn of the century, it was assumed that viewers would not pick up on these manipulations. Lyle Rexer, a photo historian and lecturer at the School of Visual Arts elaborates on this point saying, “They only knew in broad terms what the world was supposed to look like. Photographers were co-conspirators in this—engineers in how the photos came out. They were the ones who were most aware that there was no natural photography.”

While today’s photo manipulation processes are complex, the exhibit illustrates that 19th century photographers were also working with fairly complicated photo alteration procedures. One 19th century image is actually made up of more than 30 glass negatives, which each hold a piece of the final composition.

While the display covers the history of photo doctoring, it also makes a statement about today’s use of the process. Says historian and author Luc Sante, “How perceptive were people about photography and what they were willing to believe is an open question. It’s one thing for people to put faith in fake photos in 1871, and then again in 1920 as readers of the Graphic, which notoriously faked images. Today it’s very easy to fake things with technology so you have this freewheeling skepticism.”

Paul Wilson Goss is a professional photographer who owns and operates his own business under the heading of Paul Wilson Goss Photography. He applauds this exhibit and its message. He stated, “Today, readers are very aware of the idea of Photoshop and retouched images. However, it’s quite interesting to think that this practice has actually gone on for more than a hundred years. For photographers, it’s fascinating to look through the history of this process and to see how it has evolved. Photo manipulation and alterations play an important part in the role of photographers, so it’s key that we understand how this has changed over the years. Even for those individuals who aren’t photographers, it’s interesting to think that ‘Photoshopping’ is not new at all. While it’s common today, it was also quite common when our grandparents and great-grandparents were looking at newspapers.”


Paul Wilson Goss is a professional photographer who owns and operates his own business. At his studio, Paul photographs a wide variety of subjects including babies, families, musical groups, and engaged couples. Paul strives to make each client feel comfortable when they step into his studio, regardless of their level of experience in front of the lens. Paul was educated at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has won many awards for his work.

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Samuel Lynch
PR Management Inc.
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