Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Is it a painting or a photograph? It is a harbor. Ships sit on the beach at low tide. The clouds are puffy and white in the sky. A city can be seen in the background. Lovely cliffs rise up behind. Édouard Baldus, a Frenchman, created the image in 1855. It is a photograph, but the clouds have [been] painted on to the print. The image comes to us from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the way of an exhibit titled “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,” on view through January 27th, 2013. The exhibit contains photographs that have been doctored and manipulated from the 1840s all the way up through the 1990s. The inspiration for the show is explained to us thusly:
Over the past two decades, digital technology has made us all more keenly aware of the malleability of the photographic image, and many lament a loss of faith in the testimony of the camera. What we have gained, however, is a fresh perspective on the history of the medium and its complex relationship to visual truth. Through today's eyes, we can see that the old adage “the camera never lies” has always been photography's supreme fiction.
People like to believe this about photography. They like to believe that photographs are a direct testimonial of visual truth, that the camera never lies. When it can be shown, however, that photographs are always lying, that they are always a manipulation of visual truth, it is supposed to be a great revelation. The revelation of fakery in photography thus gives us a “fresh perspective” and reveals to us that there is no reason to “lament a loss of faith in the testimony of the camera” since there was no reason to have any faith in the testimony of the camera in the first place.
In fact, this reasoning is cockamamie all over the place. That's because photography did not begin as a way to visually record the truth. Photography began as a new way to make paintings.