Throwback Thursday: Photo Manipulation before Photoshop

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

You’ve heard the term “photoshopped,” coined from Adobe’s popular photo editing software, but the practice of photo manipulation is actually as old as photography itself.

Let’s take a look.

Throwback Thursday

Today when we think of photo editing, we tend to think of computers, software, and digital images, but before computers, photographs were edited manually. At first, editing was done to make up for the medium’s limits (e.g. photographs like the postcard above were tinted by hand using paint and inks to add color in a world of black-and-white images.)

But then photographers started getting very creative.

Sometimes it was difficult to produce the desired image, possibly because the film wouldn’t develop the way the photographer wanted it to, or perhaps because the desired image was of something that didn’t actually happen (e.g. a zeppelin docking at the top of the Empire State Building.)

Throwback Thursday Throwback Thursday

Photographers overcame these difficulties by doing a “double exposure,” or through combining several negatives into one image. The above images show 1) an Imp cyclecar outside Eckhart Public Library, and 2) and Imp advertisement depicting the exact same cyclecar. The advertisement was a combination of two images, and the dust kicked up by the cyclecar was added in to make it appear faster than the train.

Throwback Thursday

Photo manipulation went beyond marketing schemes, though, sometimes into very silly territory. For a short while, it was actually a trend to create photos of fake decapitations and disembodied heads.

Another trend is pictured above: ridiculously over-sized fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural produce were sometimes featured on postcards, with captions that pretended the imagery was real.

Want to see more history? Click here to search our online photo database, or check out the Genealogy Center’s official Facebook page.


About Chelsea

I've been working at Willennar Genealogy Center for over two years now, and I've loved every minute of getting to learn more about the stories of DeKalb County and the surrounding area. I'm interested in all kinds of history, but I'm especially fond of the early film industry, old letters and journals, the DeKalb County Fair, and the Interurban line.
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