The Met Embraces Fakes

The Photo Blog
Oct. 23 2012 9:00 AM

The Met Embraces Fakes

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Filip Dujardin
Untitled.

Filip Dujardin/Gift of Filip Dujardin and Highlight Gallery, 2012/Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Filip Dujardin creates the Barbies of the architectural world; structures that appear startlingly perfect, but in reality could never stand. If the building above was forced to contend with the laws of physics, it would topple over, upsetting the tiny woman sitting peacefully below on the bench. (She is one of many superb details that are better appreciated at full-size.) The image is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the exhibit, "After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age.”

110 Junction
110 Junction

Matthew Porter/Vital Projects Fund Inc/The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In a time when the phrase photo manipulation often connotes something evil, this exhibit offers a refreshingly positive take on faking it. Thankfully we are not subjected to airbrushed images of actresses or altered shots of politicians, just digitally empowered reality bending. Manipulation, here, is a liberator.

Portrait (Hals)
Portrait (Hals)

Jason Salavon/Vital Projects Fund Inc/Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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The text on the wall, written by curator Mia Fineman, explains that Dujardin worked as a traditional architectural photographer for many years.Then one day, he realized he could design his own buildings, rather than limit himself to documenting structures created by others. Since then, he hasn't gone back to reality.

Photo manipulation, as presented in the exhibit, is a way for artists to transcend boundaries of genre; Jason Salavon uses open-source programming language to turn photos, including Playboy centerfolds, into impressionistic images that resemble the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age. Bradley Rubenstein creates eery portraits by digitally inserting dogs' eyes into yearbook photos.

Robert Polidori Dashashwemedh Road, Varanasi, India
Dashashwemedh Road, Varanasi, India

Robert Polidori/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The 49 States
The 49 States

Matthew Jensen/Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010.

For those who leave the exhibit nostalgic for the days when a photo was just a photo, the companion exhibit across the way carries visitors back to the beginning of photography.  "Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop," however, does not offer much "pure" unadultured reality. Mock moonlight, skin smoothing, and scene altering were all the rage long before the word digital existed. The exhibit makes a clear case not only that photography has always been about faking it, but also that this is a key piece of what makes the form great.

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Behold is Slate's brand new photo blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @beholdphotos and on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

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