Want to see a super early example of a photo being faked through compositing? Look no further than this circa 1902 photo, titled “General Grant at City Point.” It appears to show General Ulysses S. Grant posing on a horse with a large number of soldiers in the background, but it’s actually the combination of three different photos.
The photo, which is found in the Library of Congress’ catalog, is attributed to photographer Levin Corbin Handy, the nephew (by marriage) of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. Handy worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shooting portraits and offering his photo services to the US government.
Here’s a look at the original photos that were used to create the image above: the head is from an 1864 portrait of Grant by photographer Edgar Guy Fowx:
The horse and rider’s body is from an 1864 portrait of Major Gen. Alexander M. McCook:
Finally, the background is an 1864 photo of Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher’s Hill, Virginia:
NPR writes that after Brady died in 1896, Handy inherited a collection of negatives from the renowned photographer and began to license images to various publications. To satisfy demand for the photography, he also created new photos that blurred the line between real and imagined.
And that’s how we ended up with this bizarre composite photo of General Grant posing on someone else’s horse on someone else’s body.
P.S. This example of historic photo fakery was featured in the exhibition Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop at the Met from 2012 through 2013. The show has also spawned a new book with the same name.