Even Better Than the Real Thing

February 13, 2013

Photographer Wanda Waltz
as the original catwoman.

The good thing about photography is that it apprehends reality exactly. But that’s its limitation, too. So almost as soon as the medium was invented, photographers began tinkering with images — to amuse, flatter and deceive. “Faking It: Manipulating Photography Before Photoshop” illustrates all that and more, with 200 or so photos made from the 1840s through the 1980s.

‘Cat + I’ (1932) Minotaurs, mermaids and other creatures melding human and animal have always fascinated. Italian photographer Wanda Waltz transformed herself into such a hybrid in the above montage, an image both playful and menacing.

‘[Unidentified Man Seated with Three Spirits]’ (1862-75) For mediums like William H. Mumler, photography was a bold new way to show the presence of spirits of the departed. In the 1860s, he produced pictures of ethereal wraiths. Of course, the pictures were fakes: double exposures of living people. Eventually, the ghostbusters got him.

‘Leap into the Void’ (1960) French painter and conceptual artist Yves Klein had himself photographed leaping out a window; the photo was manipulated to delete the men who caught him. The resulting image of Klein’s suicidal plunge graced the front page of his own single-issue newspaper. Mark Jenkins (for express)

National Gallery of Art, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; Sunday through May 5, free; 202-737-4215. (Archives)

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Rudi Greenberg · February 13, 2013