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With all due respect to the Who, we will get fooled again. That’s what humans do. At one time or another, we suspend disbelief about virtually everything. And why not? As social creatures, we’re wired to trust others.

But what about when we know, with absolute certainty, that someone’s trying to put one over on us and rather than resisting, we embrace it? What does it say about the power of denial, not to mention our thirst for entertainment, when we actively seek out and celebrate artfully executed trickery?

A new show at the Met, Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, shines a thoughtful light on the work of men and women who, throughout the history of the medium, have playfully (and, occasionally, with more sinister motives) doctored their own and others’ images. Not content with merely presenting the works themselves, though, Faking It also holds up something of a funhouse mirror to the viewer’s preconceptions of what photography really is—and what it means.

After all, if photographers, printers and others involved in the craft have for centuries been altering the “reality” of what the camera captures—as, of course, they always have, and always will—then where is the hard, bright line between, say, a masterwork of photojournalism tweaked and perfected in the dark room and a photo adroitly doctored to make a political point? Professional photo editors might be able to say, with absolute sincerity, “That hard, bright line exists here.” But for the casual observer, the lay viewer, that distinction might feel like little more than an academic splitting of hairs; what matters is that a picture elicits a response—and with few exceptions, the images in Faking It do just that.

More than a few pictures in the show are memorable for the very reason that they are so obviously, to our contemporary eyes, manufactured. A French artist’s photo made to look like that of a man juggling his own head (slide 8 in the gallery above) might have stunned people in the 1880s; today, not so much—even if we can appreciate the deliberate effort and even the intent that went into creating it. An image of two Soviet premiers seated together, meanwhile, is so clearly an (altered) attempt to consecrate the mass-murdering Stalin as the rightful successor of Lenin that the picture would be comical if we didn’t have such a dreadful understanding of how brutal Stalin’s decades-long reign really was.

Other photos strike a chord for the simple reason that they are, by any measure, beautiful. The dream-like “Orpheus Scene” (1907) by the early fine-art photographer F. Holland Day is so wonderfully moody that, at first glance, it might be the handiwork of the great French Symbolist painter Odilon Redon.

In the end, perhaps the pleasure we take in these pictures derives not from our sophisticated, skeptical, eminently modern sensibility in the age of Instagram, Pixelmator and the rest, but instead can be traced to a simpler, far more elemental source: our capacity, and our longing, for wonder.

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from Oct. 11, 2012 through Jan. 27, 2013.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

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Eastern Europe has become a popular destination for photographers looking for interesting stories in an exotic and new landscape. The antecedents to this trend range from Jonas Bendiksen’s documentation of spaceship junkyards and scrap-metal dealers to Robert Polidori’s large scale images of desolation and despair. Today, these areas serve as a main destination for young photographers—but, among the hundreds of projects produced in the area, only a couple come from a personal and individual point of view.

Irina Ruppert’s intimate knowledge of Kazakhstan and Eastern Europe comes from an experience of emigration and a complex family history. She moved at the age of 7 with her parents and three siblings from Kazakhstan to Germany in 1976, leaving four other siblings behind, carrying intense and vivid memories of her hometown and everyday life in the villages. After the collapse of the USSR in 1993, Ruppert started traveling back home, where she encountered a place full of political change but the same spirit and feelings she remembered from her childhood.

From 2006 to 2010 she photographed different locations in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Kazakhstan. She was most impressed with her hometown and the changes it had gone through since the end of socialism. “It seemed that everything that had to do with the Russian past had been wiped out from one day to the other,” she says. “The Cyrillic alphabet and Russian language were gone. Old Russian statues of Lenin and Stalin were given long beards and their names were changed to those of Kazakh personalities.”

When Ruppert describes her travels in Eastern Europe, she notes feeling immersed in the experience and always feeling at home. “I can smell the food and see that the colors and landscapes are very different from Germany. People’s behaviors are very familiar to me,” she explains. “When I get on a bus and there’s only one person sitting inside, I always sit next. I never take the last seat alone in the back. People in the East are extreme in their feelings and actions; it’s always about being together. I usually travel alone but in the East, you are never alone.”

The work she produced was compiled into a book called Rodina, published in 2011 by Peperoni Books in Germany. Each individual picture in the book displays a different mood and atmosphere; it is the travel diary of a child in self-recognition, immersed in a sea of images. “I want to show my view of the East: a small world of a detached observer who is not judgmental or tendentious.”

Irina Ruppert

Research for upcoming project about Roma people

Nowadays Ruppert travels looking for wolf tracks coming from Eastern Europe into East Germany as part of a new photographic project. She has also recently received a grant from the VG Bild-Kunst to photograph the Roma people in Romania, a series that she will work on this coming summer. A research photograph from that project, which has not yet begun in earnest, is included at right.

Irina Ruppert is a Hamburg-based photographer. More of her work can be seen here. Her book Rodina, is available in the Kominek Gallery in Berlin.

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A half-century ago, much of the world was in a broad state of change: We were moving out of the post-World War II era, and into both the Cold War and the Space Age, with broadening civil rights movements and anti-nuclear protests in the U.S. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space, Freedom Riders took buses into the South to bravely challenge segregation, and East Germany began construction of the Berlin Wall. That year, Kennedy gave the okay to the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion into Cuba and committed the U.S. to "landing a man on the Moon" with NASA's Apollo program. JFK also oversaw the early buildup of a U.S. military presence in Vietnam: by the end of 1961, some 2,000 troops were deployed there. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1961. [50 photos]

John F. Kennedy speaks for the first time as President of the United States in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 1961, during the inaugural ceremonies. (AP Photo)

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Chloe Borkett

East of Nowhere

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The frozen conflict zone and ex-Soviet enclave of Trans-Dniester, is a narrow slither of land located along the Eastern Moldovan border – a disputed sovereignty, which for 20 years has been de facto governed but also unrecognized by the UN. This came about in the Soviet Union’s dying days as alarm grew in the Dniester region over growing Moldovan nationalism and the possible reunification of Moldova with Romania. A 1989 law, which made Moldovan an official language added to the tension, and Trans-Dniester proclaimed its secession in September 1990.

So what does it mean to grow up in a country that doesn’t exist? So called independence, was seen by many as a triumph that should have secured a better future, but the PMR government has only made time stand still in this little known region, where its people are subjected to living a poverty stricken, isolated and somewhat entrapped existence. Preserving a deeply Soviet hyper-reality, Lenin continues to stand proud on every town square. Political allegiance to Russia is safely guarded seemingly at a cost to its people as the day-to-day reality of maintaining such cultural and political heritage becomes the complete opposite of preservation. Compared to the west we are spoiled by choice, so what western teenager could imagine living in a landscape absent of entertainment, modern facilities or endless consumer possibilities? Where parental presence is limited, and travel or escape is economically and politically restricted.

To date there has only been a modest response made of the territory. Carrying out an on-going exploration pieces together fragments of history and politics to create a contemporary portrait of the new generation to become a fresh contribution to an under-documented region. Interior spaces and landscapes echo psychological states and social concerns, whilst a non-linear narrative leaves individual stories open to interpretation.

Bio

Chloe Borkett was born in southeast London and has been based in a number of cities around the UK and overseas. After graduating from LCC, she embarked on a 5-year career in the music industry, specializing in online marketing. In early 2003, Chloe retrained as a teacher and moved to Thailand for a period of 3 years.

During her time in Thailand, Chloe had the opportunity to work on various charitable projects. It was here where Chloe began to take photography seriously, cementing her decision to return to the UK to study concerned photography where she is soon to graduate with a degree in documentary photography from the renowned course at Newport School of Art.

With the reoccurring theme of isolation present within all Chloe’s work, subject interests have centered on social issues concerning minority groups and the young, as well as the exploration of underground or alternative cultures.

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Chloe Borkett

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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT

William Daniels

Faded Tulips

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Since late 2007 I have traveled several times to Kyrgyzstan to work on an ongoing project entitled Faded Tulips, a long term social portrait of the former Soviet republic, two decades after its independence, undermined by poverty, corruption and chronic political instability: an explosive mixture.
The “Tulip Revolution” of 2005 brought hope and a promise of democracy to Kyrgyzstan. However, within a few years the situation had worsened, democracy was regressing and the economic situation dire. 40% of the population now live below the poverty line and some studies say nearly half of the population regret the passing of the communist era. Unsurprisingly, a bloody revolution in 2010 plunged the country into a new wave of violence. Two months later, in Osh, the southern capital, the ethnic confrontations between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks ended in an anti-Uzbek pogrom. Up to 2,000 people were killed and 400,000 displaced.

I reached Osh a few days following the clashes. I was deeply moved by the atrocity of the evidence I witnessed, and the scale of the drama. These sudden and violent tragic events cast further light on the ethnic tensions that exist in south Kyrgyzstan, which in turn led me to understand that my long term work on the republic should be completed by an investigation of these tensions, many of which resulted from the original borders of the USSR, drawn up by Lenin decades earlier.

I plan to visit Uzbek and Tadjik enclaves: Sokh, Chakhimardan, Voroukh, and would return to Osh where the situation remains tense. I will also spend some time in the eastern mountain villages, epicenter of Kyrgyz nationalism, and from where many young men came to participate in the massacres.
I will also take a further look into the presence of this radical Islam in which the Uzbeks may take refuge. In Osh, an Uzbek told me “we have been in contact with the Islamists. They will come and defend us. It will be the Jihad. It’s not what we want but we don’t have the choice.”

Bio

William’s work revolves around social issues and humanitarian concerns mostly focusing on isolated or weakened communities. He has worked on many global issues such as the 3 main pandemics -Malaria, Aids and Tuberculosis- the Tsunami aftermaths in Asia, Haiti earthquake aftermaths, and he has been working on Kyrgyzstan since late 2007, among others issues. Recently he covered the Libyan conflict on assignment for Polka magazine.

His long-term work on malaria was exhibited in partnership with the Global Fund on the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, in London, at the European parliament in Brussels, and he published it in the book Mauvais Air. His images appear regularly in French and international press: Time, Newsweek, Le Monde, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Polka and he was Awarded once at world press photo, 3 times at Picture of the year and shortlisted in many international awards such as Anthropographia and Sony Awards.

He is represented by Panos Pictures.

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William Daniels

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