The `Sun' did it. Stalin did it. This is how simple it is to retouch history

Paul McCann,Kate Watson-Smyth
Wednesday 19 August 1998 23:02 BST

IN ORWELL'S 1984, Winston Smith did it for a living. Stalin did it to Trotsky. Ronald Reagan did it to Oliver North. And last week the Sun did it to Shelley Anne Emery and her wheelchair.

When the newspaper excised Ms Emery from a photograph of the England cricket team, it was carrying on a long tradition of picture manipulation that stretches back to the beginnings of photography.

Dictators had a need to alter history, and Stalin managed not only to have Trotsky cut from photographs next to Lenin, but to have himself placed in some to make him look closer to the revolutionary leader than he really was.

After the Iran-Contra scandal broke, the White House's press office airbrushed Oliver North from a photograph taken with President Reagan in the Oval Office.

Today, such chicanery is no longer the preserve of government propagandists. With with the advent of sophisticated computer software and digitised photographs, almost anyone can alter reality. And they can never be detected.

The most famous recent newspaper cases have included the Guardian removing a person from behind Gordon Brown's arm on Budget day last year and the Daily Mirror creating an embrace between Dodi Fayed and Diana, Princess of Wales, on a yacht just before they were killed.

A computer program called Adobe Photoshop is mainly responsible. At one time only a photographer with colour filters, or a processor, with dark room chemicals, airbrush and scissors, could alter an image.

Now after a little training on Photoshop, editors can do what they like to an image. They can do it quicker and better than processors with years of training were ever able to.

Photoshop was not originally intended for the newspaper industry, it was for artists in advertising and design agencies. By turning a photograph into a digital image, Photoshop allows each component part of it to be played with down to the smallest pixel. The advent of powerful personal computers allowed Photoshop to be given to every picture editor on a newspaper.

All the traditional tricks like darkening the background to give the subject more emphasis can be done in seconds and this is regularly done by newspapers. Picture sizes can now be extended by simply sampling electronically a patch of sky or grass at the edge of the frame and copying it over and over to lengthen the picture. So widespread are these changes that they raise few ethical questions in the minds of picture editors, they do not, after all, alter the meaning of a picture.

More borderline is where a picture is enhanced in the newsroom to make it fit for publication. If a photographer uses a filter to make a sky more dramatic it is considered an element in his craft. It becomes questionable when a desk-based editor, who never saw the original sunset, has a weak picture but uses a computer make the sky more orange and make the image better.

More dangerous is changing the content so that the meaning is changed. Even in pre-digital days newspapers would commonly move people closer together to alter their relationships. All it took was some scissors and tape.

Donald Trelford, former editor of the Observer, said that lying with pictures was as bad as lying with words if not worse. "People believe that the camera doesn't lie and it is not enough simply to deplore the practice in the industry's code of ethics.

"A detailed code of acceptable and unacceptable techniques of picture enhancement ought to be drawn up," Mr Trelford said.

In the photograph above, we have removed Tom Sawyer, general secretary of the Labour Party, in order to create a picture that shows just the most powerful men in the country. We were even able to make Gordon Brown smile and put a champagne bottle in the picture.

Mr Brown's smile was chosen from The Independent's electronic picture library. We could just have replaced his smile - Photoshop will let you blur the joins using skin tones copied from other parts of an image - but we chose to replace his whole head because his eyes are shut in the original.

Moving Mr Cook was just as easy. We cut around him and dragged him across so he would cover Tom Sawyer. The "background" from where Mr Cook had been was electronically airbrushed with a neutral image.

Only a few years ago, to do what we have done would have cost thousands of pounds and days of computing time. Now, with a pounds 1,200 PC and Photoshop software, anyone can play Stalin, or the Sun, with their own family album.

Leading article,

Review, page 3

Strange affair of the kiss that wasn't

When the Mirror lost out to the Sunday Mirror in the bidding war for exclusive photographs of Diana, Princess of Wales, embracing Dodi Fayed the newspaper decided to create its own. Under a headline "Exclusive: The picture they all wanted", the paper showed Mr Fayed and the Princess in an embrace. However, the picture was actually weeks old and to make it work the Mirror had been forced to rotate Mr Fayed's head. The News of the World, also mocked-up its own version, but did confess to it. The incidents caused the Press Complaints Commission to create specific rules governing the alteration of photographs.

Odd business of the missing budget day figure

The Government decided to try to manipulate images of Budget day last year by refusing to allow the Chancellor's traditional No.11 Downing Street photocall to be taken with Gordon Brown on his own. Instead a group of young people, intended to represent the theme of the Budget, surrounded the Chancellor in all photographs except one in the Guardian. The Guardian decided on some image management of its own and removed the top of a woman's head from behind the Chancellor's elbow to give a more aesthetically pleasing picture. It was forced to reprint the photograph and apologised to its readers the next day.

Sinister case of the purged comrade

Stalin's propagandists became well-practised in the art of forgery because of the large number of people who became non-persons under the dictator. Most famously he had the exiled Trotsky removed from photographs showing him with Lenin. To encourage a cult of his own personality, and to bolster his part in the 1918 revolution, he also had himself placed in photographs with Lenin. Nikolai Yezhov, who was removed from this photo of Stalin, Molotov and Voloshinov, was head of the notorious NKVD secret police from 1936 to 1938 and was himself executed in 1940.

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