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The Hoax Photo Archive — Photo Fakery Throughout History
Staged Scene
Orphaned Syrian Boy Sleeping Between his Parents’ Graves.. (Jan 2014) The photo, as captioned, tugged at the heartstrings. So it was no surprise that it quickly went viral. But it was soon revealed to be a staged shot taken by a photographer in Saudi Arabia as part of a conceptual art project. The graves were fake, and the boy was the photographer's nephew. More…
Paper Tiger. (October 3, 2007) The South China tiger in this photo, a species feared to be extinct, turned out to be a paper cutout. More…
“I can promise, this will never get done”. (Created in 2005. Circulating online since 2008.) Artist Alison Jackson uses lookalikes to create images of "celebrities ostensibly caught unawares." More…
Islamic Hostage Action-Figure Hoax. (February 1, 2005) Hostage "John Adam," whose photo appeared on internet bulletin boards used by Iraqi rebels, turned out to be a Cody action-figure doll. More…
The Misleading Steak Premiere. (Late 2002) A government investigation concluded there was a disparity between the amount of toppings shown in this ad, and the amount on the actual sandwich. More…
The Lackawanna Shooter. (Published Sep 20, 2002) A New York Times photographer was accused of staging this photo "like a fashion shoot." More…
The Case of the Moving Pyramids. (February 1982) In what became the first high-profile example of digital photo manipulation, National Geographic moved the pyramids slightly closer together to fit within the frame of the cover. More…
Yeah Eckerd. (1981) The news photographer staged the scene by having a fan write the phrase "Yeah Eckerd" on the soles of his feet. More…
Francis Hetling’s Victorian Waifs. (1974) These photos of Victorian-era street children turned out to be modern frauds. More…
The Bluff Creek Bigfoot. (October 20, 1967) Bigfoot believers claim this is a photo of that elusive North American primate. Skeptics argue it shows a person in an ape suit. More…
The Peppered Moth. (1955) The many biology textbooks that used this image did not reveal that the moths were dead and glued to the bark. More…
Venusian Scoutcraft. (December 13, 1952) What George Adamski claimed was a photo of a UFO looks suspiciously like a lampshade with ping pong balls glued to it. More…
The Kiss at City Hall. (April 1, 1950) Robert Doisneau steadfastly maintained that this photo of a couple kissing on a street in Paris was a spontaneous scene, fortuitously caught on film. Until he was sued by two people who claimed to be the couple in the scene. Doisneau then confessed he had staged the scene using professional models, who were not the people suing him. More…
Red Army Flag Over Reichstag. (May 2, 1945) This photo was both staged and doctored in an attempt to create a Soviet version of the Americans' Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima image. More…
The Master Race. (May 8, 1943) The May 8, 1943 cover of the British illustrated magazine Parade showed an unkempt, dour-looking German soldier with the satirical caption, "Master Race." But the man wasn't actually a German soldier. The photo was actually a piece of British government propaganda. The photographer later admitted the man was "the ugliest Arab they could find in the streets of Cairo... whom they dressed up in a sort of uniform." More…
The Perambulating Skull. (May 1936) Arthur Rothstein took this photo while documenting drought conditions in South Dakota for the Resettlement Administration. But Republican papers noticed that the same skull appeared in other photos by Rothstein and accused him of using it as a "movable prop" to dramatize the drought for political purposes. They mockingly referred to the cow's head as the "perambulating skull." More…
Whopper Hoppers. (circa 1935) Giant grasshoppers were particularly popular subjects for photo fakery during the 1930s. In this image, taken on a farm near Mitchell, South Dakota by an unknown photographer, three men struggle to subdue "the largest grasshopper in existence." The "whopper hopper" appears to have been a wooden model. More…
The Surgeon’s Photo. (April 1934) This is the most famous Loch Ness Monster photo. It was long believed to have been taken on April 19, 1934 by a British surgeon who said he noticed something moving in the water while he was driving along the Loch. The photo actually shows a fake serpent's head attached to a toy submarine, and it wasn't taken by the surgeon. His role was merely to serve as a credible front-man for the hoax. More…
Death in the Air. (Published in 1933; debunked in 1984.) Spectacular images of World War I dog fights were eventually exposed as photos of model airplanes. More…
Mother Cat Stops Traffic. (July 29, 1925) The news photographer arrived too late to capture the original scene, so he convinced the policeman to recreate it. More…
Bloody Sunday, 1905. (1925) Soviet textbooks claimed this was a photo of 1905's Bloody Sunday massacre in St. Petersburg. It was actually a reenactment of that event. More…
The Cottingley Fairies. (1917-1920) Two young girls used paper cutouts to create a series of images of "fairies" while playing in the garden of a Cottingley village home. Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by skeptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognized photos in the world. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were definitively debunked. More…
Pacific Sea Monster. (1906) A group of men show off a sea serpent that washed up on the beach at Ballard, Washington. However, the "sea serpent" looks suspiciously like the trunk of a tree. More…
A Bear and its Hunters. (ca. 1900) A humorous example of a staged scene — a bear joins its hunters for a friendly group photo, somewhere in the Utah wilderness. More…
The Rope Trick. (ca. 1888) A young lady poses on a swing in a photographer's studio. Except, she isn't really on a swing. 19th-century photographers needed subjects to remain stationary to get the proper focus and exposure. So swinging back and forth was out of the question. The swing was actually a prop available from a catalog. The ropes remained rigid and were not attached to anything above. More…
The Martyr Lincoln. (late 1860s) Following the assassination of Lincoln, the Army didn't allow any pictures to be taken of him in his casket. Therefore, con artists stepped in to fill the demand. This image was one of many that circulated purporting to show the dead President, but it's fake. It shows a man lying down, probably only pretending to be dead. But that man is not Lincoln. More…
A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep. (Taken in 1863. Exposed as a fake in 1961.) Civil War photographers used a corpse as a movable prop. More…
Interior of the Secundra Bagh. (March or April 1858) Human bones were disinterred and scattered around to recreate the aftermath of a battle. More…
Street Urchins Tossing Chestnuts. (1857) This may look like a real-life scene caught by the camera, but in fact is staged. Cameras were too slow in the 1850s to record something as quick-moving as a tossed chestnut. So Oscar Rejlander suspended a chestnut in mid-air with a piece of fine thread in order to create the scene. More…
The Valley of the Shadow of Death. (April 23, 1855) Roger Fenton took this photo while documenting the Crimean War for the British government. This image, considered a masterpiece of war photography, shows a simple, but haunting view of a cannonball-strewn road near Sevastopol. But in 1981 historian Mark Haworth-Booth determined that Fenton probably staged this scene, moving cannonballs from the ditch onto the road in order to create a more dramatic image. More…
Portrait of the Photographer as a Drowned Man. (1840) Louis Daguerre was the first to patent a photographic process. But Hippolyte Bayard had independently invented a rival photographic process known as direct positive printing, and had done so as early as Daguerre, but his invention didn't earn him fame and riches. Frustrated, he created a photograph to express his feelings, showing himself pretending to be a suicide victim. More…

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.