Faking It: A Visual History of 150 Years of Image Manipulation Before Photoshop
Two-headed daguerreotypes, Dadaist photomontages, and how the subversion of optical reality got its start.
BY MARIA POPOVA
“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses,”Susan Sontag famously asserted in On Photography. But in the quarter century since, the rise of digital photography and image manipulation software has increasingly transmogrified the photographer into a constructor of reality, a reality in which believing is seeing. Still, image manipulation dates much further back — in fact, to the dawn of photography itself. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (public library), the companion book to the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of the same title, traces the evolution of image manipulation from the 1840s to the 1990s, when computer software first began to revolutionize the alteration of photographs.
These images — artful, subversive, unapologetic in their unreality — serve sometimes to amuse and entertain, sometimes to deliberately deceive, sometimes to comment on social and political issues, and always to give pause with how they tease and taunt our assumptions of optical reality and visual representation.
Met curator Mia Fineman writes in the introduction:
Over the past twenty years, photography has undergone a dramatic transformation. Mechanical cameras and silver-based film have been replaced by electronic image sensors and microchips; instead of shuffling through piles of glossy prints, we stare at the glowing screens of laptops, tablets, and mobile phones; negative enlargers and chemical darkrooms have given way to personal computers and image-processing software. Digital cameras and applications such as Photoshop have create, look at, and think about photographs. Among the most profound cultural effects of these new technologies has been a heightened awareness of the malleability of the photographic image and a corresponding loss of faith in photography as an accurate, trustworthy means of representing the visual world. As viewers, we have become increasingly savvy, even habitually skeptical, about photography’s claims to truth.
Syracuse University fine art professor Mary Warner Marien writes in the introduction:
Before it materialized as the camera and lens, photography was an idea. The desire to make a special kind of representation, originating in the object itself, is as old as humankind. It appears in the stencil paintings of hands in prehistoric art. In Western culture, the legend of the Corinthian woman who traced the shadow of her lover on a wall before he departed for war has evolved into an origin story for figurative art and, in the 1840s, for photography. Soon after the medium was disclosed to the world in 1839, the word ‘facsimile’ was adapted to describe the photograph’s unprecedented authenticity. Samuel F. B. Morse observed that a photograph could not be called a copy, but was a portion of nature itself. That notion, which persisted throughout the nineteenth century, found new life in the late twentieth-century language theory, in which the photograph was characterized as an imprint or transfer of the real, like a fingerprint.
Marien goes on to illuminate the history of photography alongside the parallel history of innovations in science and technology, as well as social and cultural developments across philosophy, politics, and aesthetics.
Inside a large warehouse in Berkeley, California, a few days before Thanksgiving, a team of engineers is cooking a full holiday meal—turkey, stuffing, the works—on a stove they designed and plan to launch next year. The startup, Channing Street Copper Company, is working on a better version of an inductive stove. Across the bay in San Francisco, another startup called Impulse recently raised $20 million to work on the same challenge: At a time when the world needs to wean itself off fossil fuels, how do you convince people to give up their gas stoves?
Channing Street Copper Company, also known as Copper, is focused on one hurdle for people who want to make the switch—the fact that it often involves pricey rewiring if your house doesn’t already have a 220-volt outlet in place in the kitchen. “It ends up being incredibly expensive to switch from gas to induction because of the need to upgrade the electrical service in the kitchen and potentially the house as well,” says cofounder Weldon Kennedy. In the Bay Area, he says, it can cost as much as $20,000 to do the electrical work, much more than the cost of a high-end stove itself.
To tackle that problem, the team added a battery to its stove, which makes it possible to plug into a standard wall outlet. (The project spun out of Otherlab, a research and innovation lab, which did Department of Energy-funded research on battery-equipped appliances.) If the power happens to go out in an emergency, the battery means that the stove can keep working to cook around five meals; it can also help power a fridge or mobile phone.
Induction stoves heat up pots magnetically with copper coils, unlike electric stoves, which heat directly and are harder to adjust while cooking. (Induction technology has a long history and was first introduced at the World’s Fair in 1933, and brought to market two decades later; the basic approach is still the same, but the latest models are more responsive, precise, and fast.) While older electric stoves have flaws, new induction stoves can now outperform gas. With a battery in place, water can come to a boil more quickly.
“We can boil a liter of water in about 40 seconds,” says Sam D’Amico, founder and CEO of Impulse, which is developing a battery-equipped induction stove. You can also instantly drop down to a low simmer. (It’s also possible to cook with a wok, he says, despite the lack of flames.) The company’s first product, a cooktop, is still in development, but he says there are other opportunities with the stove, like helping guide people through cooking steps to know where they are in a recipe. The stove could also potentially wirelessly power redesigned versions of appliances like air fryers that would look like cookware, and take up less space on countertops.
D’Amico, a consumer electronics engineer who was working on artificial and virtual reality at Facebook before pivoting to stoves, got into the space in part because he loves to cook. He initially envisioned a countertop pizza oven, realizing it would be possible to make a brick-oven style pizza in 90 seconds if the oven had a lithium battery. But then he saw the bigger opportunity of making a new induction stove, and pivoted. The company’s design also has dials, so it “looks like the UI/UX of a gas stove,” he says. “But under the hood, we’re able to do a lot more.”
If someone has a high-voltage connection, the battery can also double as energy storage at key parts of the day. In California, for example, there’s extra solar power midday, and the stove can help take it in and then push it back out later when it’s needed. “Effectively, we’re Trojan-horsing a small battery into people’s homes when the appliance goes in,” D’Amico says.
Having batteries of a certain size (larger than 3 kilowatt-hours) means that both the Impulse and Copper products will qualify for extra incentives from the new federal Inflation Reduction Act. Some cities and states also offer incentives for consumers. Copper recently opened a waitlist for preorders for its stove, which is slated to be out next spring, for $5,999; but with incentives, it can drop to $4,250, Kennedy says. (While gas stoves vary widely in price, some high-end stoves cost at least that much.) Impulse hasn’t yet announced a price and plans to share more next year.
Some people may choose to make the switch for environmental reasons; one recent Stanford study found that the methane leaking from U.S. stoves, alone, is comparable to the CO2 emissions from half a million cars. There’s also increasing evidence of the health risk of burning gas in your kitchen, as a stove emits pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde, and particulate matter. Nitrogen oxide is linked to a higher risk of asthma in children. Having a gas stove in the house is comparable to growing up with a parent smoking inside.
“I have a 15-month-old,” Kennedy says. “And now being in this business and constantly reading about the incredible health risks, particularly for young kids around, from air quality issues—I mean, a 42% increase in childhood asthma in homes burning fossil gas—it’s terrifying.”
But others may soon switch just because they want a better stove. “It’s getting to a point where the environmental options are the better options, versus there’s some compromise, like my straw dissolves in my drink or something like that,” D’Amico says. “I think paper straws are the counterpoint of what we’re doing. The product is good, and it’s good for the environment.”