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Egypt's altered photograph just one in a long line of photo manipulation

Al-Ahram's doctored image of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other leaders at the Middle East peace talks in Washington.

A photograph might speak a thousand words, but those words might not be telling the truth.

Cut-and-paste-happy editors and photographers have been churning out photographs that do not tell the whole truth for almost as long as photography has existed, Dartmouth University's Image Science Group reports. The group compiles instances of photo tampering.

The latest incident of photographic manipulation wound up on the front pages of an Egyptian newspaper this month. The Post's Al Kamen gave the newspaper his first-annual Loopy Award for altering a photograph to show President Hosni Mubarak at the White House on Sept. 1, leading President Obama, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on a red carpet. The original photograph had Obama in the lead and Mubarak near the back.

Hosni Mubarak unaltered
From left: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House on Sept. 1. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"The expressionist photo is ... a brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue, his unique role in leading it before Washington or any other," the newspaper's editor-in chief, Osama Saraya wrote in an editorial, according to the Associated Press.

The newspaper is not the first outlet to stumble over "expressionist photography." Time magazine received a huge backlash over an image of O.J. Simpson's mugshot in 1994. The version that ran on the magazine's cover was much darker than the original photograph.

The media industry is not the only one to run into trouble with altering photos. BP recently released obviously altered photographs of their response to the Gulf War. Blogger John Aravosis noticed that a version of this image displayed on the BP Web site had been doctored. "I guess if you're doing fake crisis response, you might as well fake a photo of the crisis response center," Aravosis said.

Photographic forgery stands out, The Post's picture editor Bonnie Jo Mount says, because "in photojournalism, the doctoring of photographs is rare. The wires transmit thousands of images every day and it is very unusual to find a manipulated image. News photographers, like all journalists, have ethical standards. And these standards require accuracy in visual reporting. Manipulating a news image is completely out of line. We're here to report, not to fabricate and editors rely on photojournalists, just like writers, to bring integrity to their reporting."

However it is getting harder for editors to detect alterations. Mount says, "Today's sophisticated imaging software makes it harder than ever to detect the forgery. The Mubarek manipulation is crude and relatively easy to spot -- conceptually and tangibly. Others, like the Iranian missile and the Iraqi soldier are more difficult to detect."

See before and after images of some of the biggest Photoshop disasters here.

For non-news stories, the Web site Photoshop Disasters collates the worst of the advertising and feature photography world here.

By Melissa Bell  | September 22, 2010; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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LOL! This one is easy to spot even if it wasn't for the white line between Mubarak and Abbas. The photo is clearly labeled the White House. One would of expect Obama to walk in the middle in front of everyone else because he is the host and therefore the most important person in the group. Netanyahu and Abbas would stand closest to Obama because they are the next most important as the discussion is about them: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Presidents of Egypt and Jordan, the least concerned of the parties, would be on the outside. Had the meeting been in Egypt, Mubarak would be walking where Obama would be. This is just simple, easily understood Protocol!

Posted by: wavelet | September 22, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

What a funny article. Does it have any political reference? Does it mean anything in Egypt? They dont care about Obama reality. It was just a question of layout. Did you want Obama big? There was no reason to let Mubarak out of the picture. Newspaper-fashions. How to make a good illustration, Mubarak comes first anyway.

Posted by: uzs106 | September 22, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

The Egyptian newspaper that manipulated and published the photo is owned by the government, they always try to satisfy the president so they thought that doing this dirty job will make Mubarak look great.

Posted by: ec0350 | September 25, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

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