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Almost as soon as the science of photography was perfected for use by the general public, artists and others began to manipulate the images. Beginning with daguerrotypes, photographers used double exposures to create humorous effects.
Photo manipulation was soon employed in numerous ways, as early photography had several limitations. Correct exposures in landscape photography often led to the sky being overexposed, for example. To circumnavigate this, photographers combined two images, each section with the correct exposure.
“Spirit” photography used multiple exposures to depict the medium or subject with ghostly presences in the same image.
Photo manipulation could illustrate concepts, such as the proposal to allow airships to dock at the top of the Empire State building.
The advertising industry used it to improve the appearance of products.
The artistic community also took up photo manipulation, for instance, with the creation of narrative images. Later it was adopted by the constructivist movement in Russia in the 1920s, and then again by the surrealists.
Particularly controversial was the use of photo manipulation for political purposes or propaganda. Notable dictators such as Stalin erased political opponents from the historical record, or fabricated meetings that had never taken place.
Today the photographic medium is digital, and photo manipulation is easily within the reach of the computer literate through software like Photoshop. Prior to 1985 it was not so simple. Photographs were retouched by hand using paint or ink, pieced together in the darkroom from separate photographs. Airbrushing as a term is still in use today, though the technique originated much earlier.
All these required a degree of artistic skill and, for some, access to a darkroom.