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Krulwich Wonders: Whose Fingers Are On The Victoria's Secret Model's Shoulder?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - 11:27 AM

Photoshopped magazine cover with hand Photoshopped magazine cover with hand (Jamie Atlas)

It's not like it hasn't been done before; it has. The problem is, it is so easy now, anyone can do it, and we'd never know because the tools are so subtle. I'm talking about doctored pictures — manipulating images, or what simpler folks call "lying." There used to be a saying on the Web: "Pictures, or it didn't happen." No more.

You can look at an ordinary image, video or filmstrip that seems just as real as the room you are in right now, but it ain't.

I recently bumped into a thesis video (hold on, it's waiting at the bottom of this page) created at the University of Illinois. It was prepared and narrated by graduate students. What they did — and they did it so matter-of-factly, and so well, I was ... well, I was startled. Because when I was growing up, the folks who faked the photos got caught. Over and over.

For example, my history teacher in high school showed me Stalin's retouching of Lenin rallying the Soviet troops before they headed off to Poland. There's Lenin, up on the podium, apparently alone.


Lenin speaking to the troops in 1920 after Stalin had ordered that Leon Trotsky be removed from the photo

Wikimedia Commons


The problem, my teacher said, is "Where's Leon?" As it happens, Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev were there that day, too. Both members of the Central Committee, they were possible successors, Stalin's rivals. You can see both of them in the original photo, standing below the podium, on the right. But Stalin didn't want them there. When he became leader of the USSR, they were airbrushed out. Stalin did that all the time. But very often, somebody had the tell-tale original.


Original photo of Lenin in 1920, which includes Leon Trotsky, prior to Stalin ordering Trotsky be removed

Wikimedia Commons

The "gotchas" — when someone exposed the fraud — were so wonderful. In this account from Clean Cut Media, I learned about the time TV Guide ran a cover of Oprah leaning on a huge pile of cash. The cash, of course, was fake.


A 1989 issue of TV Guide featuring Oprah Winfrey's face superimposed on actress Ann-Margaret's classic hourglass figure.

Nick Ut/AP

But Oprah's legs? Well, turns out they weren't Oprah's. The artist put Oprah's head on a copy of Ann-Margret's body.


Actress Ann-Margaret wearing a sparkly sliver, low-cut gown by Bob Mackie

Neal Peters Collection


I could go on and on, but before we get to the video, you have to see this image of a Jessica Simpson lookalike. She's a Victoria's Secret model, lolling alone on a sun-drenched beach. Or should I make that, lolling "not quite" alone, because, as the close-up shows, in the original picture, she had a companion who was apparently almost erased, but not quite. There are four phantomlike fingers still curled around her shoulder.


Photoshopped magazine cover with hand

Jamie Atlas

Mistakes like this aren't going to happen anymore — nothing that gross. I know that because of what Kevin Karsch, Varsha Hedau, David Forsyth and Derek Hoiem do in this video, daringly called "Rendering Synthetic Objects into Legacy Photographs."

Their video is a demonstration, not of state-of-the-art fakery — that would be Hollywood's thing, or the Pentagon's — no, this, I'm guessing, is basic, off-the-shelf technology packaged for ordinary users.

"Our system requires a small amount of input that nonexpert users can supply in only a few minutes," says Ken Karsh. But oh, my — the video begins with an imaginary bulb traveling through a room casting perfectly accurate light and shadow on different surfaces. They roll fake balls across real floors awash in sunshine, plop fake ice sculptures onto piles of sunlit snow — just take a look. (You don't have to watch the whole thing to see what they can do.)



And at the end of the video, when they show you a set of real pictures and faked ones and ask, "Can you tell which of them are real?" I couldn't. And neither could their university friends. At the end they add a chart, "Percentage of Times Users Chose Synthetic Over Real" and their system — proudly labeled "Ours" — did better every time.

Congratulations, Ken, Varsha, David and Derek. But let me talk to you about that photo of all four of you dancing naked on a beach with Vladimir Lenin, Oprah and somebody who looks an awful lot like Jessica Simpson. Explain that.

And, why make fun of guys when, thanks to sharp-eyed NPR intern/photo enthusiast John Rose (who showed this to me), we can make fun of ladies, too! Here, if you dare, is Fotoshop Beauty Regimen by Adobe — a spoof video that erases everything about you that isn't perfect. Just click!


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Comments [12]

April from Manhattan

Mr Krulwich, I'm impressed. You may be the only man alive to look at a Victoria's Secret model's shoulder. Check out, (by the way), "Porno for Women", by a woman's collective in Britain. One picture shows a guy looking at a fashion mag, saying "I don't get why people find these models interesting". Another: "I don't need to watch the Superbowl. Let's go to that Craft Fair you were interested in." Perhaps my fave was a guy taking an empty toilet paper roll off, saying something that would suggest it was his responsibility to put another roll on. Weirder than 3D art by far.

Jul. 14 2012 09:21 PM
Tim Mulligan from 10566

Picked out the "real" on in 1 scan of the page. Note: the canister on the table is sharper/darker in the real onr..

May. 27 2012 05:35 PM
eli from albuquerque NM

n sorry

Feb. 10 2012 12:23 PM
Eli Glickman from albuquerque NM

Hi radiolab!!! I am a huge fa and also 12 years of age!!!! love all of your podcasts!!!!! Thank you guys for all of the stories that we can hear nowhere else!

Feb. 10 2012 12:21 PM
Jerry from Providence, RI

Look at the reflection on the glass. In the computer generated photos, the reflections are just too perfect. Look at the glass in the real image, it's more... messy, cloudy, dirty.
I saw through it right away, but it was the same hunch that Malcolm Gladwell talked about in the introduction of "Blink".
In architecture school, we try really hard to replicate that messy/dirty quality of real life when digitally rendering our designs. But most of us fall back to hand drawing, because computers still cannot simulated all those beautiful, beautiful imperfect moments.

Feb. 09 2012 09:30 PM

"And at the end of the video, when they show you a set of real pictures and faked ones and ask, "Can you tell which of them are real?" I couldn't. And neither could their university friends. At the end they add a chart, "Percentage of Times Users Chose Synthetic Over Real" and their system — proudly labeled "Ours" — did better every time."

Their method did better than other methods of synthetically inserting objects, but people still chose the real picture the majority of the time. Still, it was rather impressive. I imagine it's only a matter of time before such insertion is indistinguishable from reality.

Feb. 09 2012 07:02 AM

I'll echo the fine job does in finding this sort of thing. I must say that I always wanted a Jackalope though...

Feb. 08 2012 10:26 PM
Daniel We Are the 99% from ithaca, ny

Here's an interesting pic of the TIME Magazine Person of the Year: The Protestor. The pic has been edited a bit---and the Occupy Wall Street 99% has been removed. Interesting edit.

Feb. 06 2012 10:54 PM
Richard Move

I'm pretty sure that's Adam Smith's invisible hand.

Feb. 05 2012 08:45 PM

What was the video link supposed to be? I can't see it, what should I search on Youtube?

Feb. 05 2012 08:43 PM
Jason Abbadon from Fort Lauderdale

Check out for dozens of exposed fakes on magazine covers and ads. It's truly amazing the level of deception people encounter on a daily basis- much of it done so poorly that the subject's anatomy become surreal.
Once you know what to look for, every visit to the supermarket will yield another Photoshopped magazine or tabloid cover...damn it, at least put some effort into it!

Where has the craftsmanship in deception gone?

Feb. 03 2012 10:04 AM

The "phantom hand" model above is actually Marissa Miller.

Feb. 02 2012 12:14 PM

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