Photo Fakery Exposed!

Photo Fakery: The History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation, by Dino A. Brugioni. 
Dulles, Virginia: Brassey's, 1999.

By Richard A. Widmann

Dino Brugioni begins his study of photo fakery with a brief discussion of Arthur C. Lundahl, the first director of the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center. Lundahl always cautioned that the discovery of a photo that has been tampered with "could have the impact of exploding gunpowder." From this initial thought, Brugioni leads the layperson through the explosive topic of photo fakery with the intent that his book will serve as a reference aid to identify photo fakery and manipulation.

   Brugioni, one of the founders of the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center, certainly has the credentials to write such a volume. Interestingly this CIA expert in the field of photo fakery and manipulation also co-authored the CIA report, "The Holocaust Revisited: A Retrospective Analysis of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex."

   In the 1979 CIA Report, which was touted by the media as the only photographic evidence of the Holocaust, Brugioni and his co-author, Robert Poirier, analyzed aerial reconnaissance photography to determine the activities at Auschwitz-Birkenau from June 1944 to January 1945. Although Brugioni has asserted that his interest in the subject was prompted by the television mini-series "Holocaust," others have theorized that the rise of Holocaust revisionism in the late '70's may have actually been the cause.

   Brugioni's first experience with photo fakery occurred shortly after the CIA hired him in 1948. He notes that "it became immediately apparent to me, even as a neophyte in the intelligence game, that the Soviets had embarked on a massive program of misinformation during the war years. On reviewing still photos, I found that the Soviets had used heavy brush techniques to delete details of their weapons. Care had also been taken to portray their leaders in the most favorable light. Reviewing Soviet newsreels, I found that many battle scenes had been deliberately staged; often, dramatic scenes of one battle would be superimposed to show up in films of other battles."

   Photo Fakery takes the reader through a complete course on photo manipulation. Brugioni explains that there are four different techniques for faking photos: removing details, inserting details, photomontage, and false captioning. The last of these varies from the earlier types in that the photo itself is not manipulated, but the context of what the photo is supposed to convey is falsified.

   Examples of the four types of faked photos are presented. A shocking example of the removal of details comes from a Communist Romanian newspaper in which an individual standing in the background of a photo of Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev is simply removed from the photo; a bush fills in the space where this man stood. Another key method is the insertion of details. Brugioni writes, "a good technician can also add details that were not in the original photo. An artist can add in features that may be lacking on the photo." The photomontage is a composite image. Essentially multiple photos are combined to place one object in the context of another.

   The final method of faking is false captioning. Brugioni tells us, "proper captioning of a photograph includes descriptive data regarding the 'who, what, where, when, and why' of the subject or scene. In falsely captioned photos only one or more of these elements is usually mentioned." An example is shown of a FBI photo in which a murder suspect is led to believe that one of his intended victims had been killed. The photo shows a man with what appears to be a bullet wound to the back. Brugioni explains that the photo was actually staged and the blood is nothing more than ketchup.

   Not only does Brugioni reveal the methods of photographic manipulation and show many examples, he also unravels the history of photo fakery. Brugioni explains that "the art of photo faking is as old as photography itself." His book abounds with faked or manipulated photos dating back to the American Civil War. Such photos show corpses inserted into battle scenes and famous Generals added to group shots.

   Perhaps the most interesting chapter deals with "Spotting Fakes." Brugioni explains why photos have been faked, "Photos have been doctored for many reasons: fraud, greed, malice, humor, profit, deception, education, and to sway public opinion, to rewrite history, to sow discontent, and to waste the time of many people." Surprisingly, this chapter, which begins with reasons for fakery including "to rewrite history" and to "sway public opinion," actually concludes with a discussion of concentration camp photos and Brugioni's work on the subject.

   It is important to note that Brugioni in no way claims that any aerial photos of concentration camps are faked-although it must strike many as incredibly odd that they are included in his chapter on "spotting fakes." It also strikes this writer that Brugioni may be involved in a sort of game or challenge to his readers in general and to Holocaust revisionists specifically to discover his own chicanery.

   Concentration camp photos in this chapter include one of Belsen after the British burned the barracks due to fear of an epidemic of typhus and typhoid. It is followed by the same photo run through various stages of computer enhancement to "reconstruct" the camp structures from the ash left from the burned buildings. Another concentration camp photo discussed is an aerial shot of Belzec. Brugioni notes that the photo "revealed the massive pits where the bodies were buried." He also includes one shot of the Birkenau camp from 25 August 1944 and one of Auschwitz I from the same date.

   In his text he notes: "In 1978, photo interpreter Robert Poirier and I discovered World War II aerial photos of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp that had inadvertently been taken on leader film during an Allied reconnaissance mission against the nearby I.G. Farben Synthetic Rubber and Fuel Plant. Using a variety of density slicing and enlargement techniques, Holocaust victims who had arrived in boxcars at Auschwitz could be seen being marched to their deaths in the gas chamber. Others could be seen lined up at a processing center for slave labor assignments."

   A close examination of these two photos in comparison to the 1979 CIA report on Auschwitz-Birkenau may generate some suspicions. Neither picture in Photo Fakery matches that in the CIA report. The photo of Birkenau in Photo Fakery might be the same photo that is labeled No. 4 on page 9 of the CIA report. The Auschwitz I photo is closest to Photo No. 2 on page 7 of the CIA report.

   In Fakery the Birkenau photograph is cropped very differently (if it is the same photo). The captioning and labeling is also different. In Fakery much more of the Women's Camp is shown and the "Gas chambers" are at the very far right of the photo. Actually it is impossible to see the extreme right of Crematorium II or Crematorium III. The photo goes right into the binding of the book. Therefore the Undressing Room of Crematorium III which is clear in the CIA report is not shown at all in Fakery. In Fakery there is a label reading "Gas Chamber Crematorium" which points to the thick line which may be a fence or hedgerow behind Crematorium II. The label in the CIA report that reads "Engine Room" and points to Crematorium III is now labeled simply "Crematorium." The label in the CIA Report that reads "Prisoners on way to Gas Chambers" now reads "Group on way to Gas Chamber."

   Although the labels are different and the cropping is very different, the "prisoners" themselves match up exactly. Therefore it appears that Brugioni chose to use the same photo in both books but to alter its appearance in the more recent one. The odd "Zyklon openings" in Crematorium III clearly visible in the CIA report are now off of the photo entirely. It's not that they don't appear, it's that the photo is cropped to exclude them. The four "dots" that line up behind Crematorium II are still visible in Fakery. Note that the photo under discussion appears to be the same photo in John Ball's Air Photo Evidence on page 40. The new book crops it from "Prisoners undergoing disinfection" and cuts off at the vents of Crematorium II and Crematorium III.

   The Auschwitz I photo is similar to Photo 2 from the CIA report. However in the CIA report it is claimed that the photo is from 4 April 1944 while in "Fakery" it is labeled 25 August 1944. Also, the photo in Fakery is on an angle. In the CIA report the barracks are straight up whereas they appear at an 11:00 angle in Fakery. All of the photo labels are different. Otherwise the photos cover the exact same section of the camp. This photo is similar to the one in John Ball's book on page 44. However the photo in Fakery is upside down and cropped to only show the far right of this view. Actually there are details in Fakery which go further to the right than the photo in Ball's book.

   Considering the photographs in Fakery in relation to John Ball's Air Photo Evidence is important. Ball theorizes in his book that a number of the photos in the CIA report have been faked. The particular method of fakery that he identifies is the adding of details. In Ball's work he concludes that "every mark which the authors of the CIA report used to conclude that homicidal gas chambers were in operation on the August 25th photos had been added to the photos after they were exposed in 1944."

   One should wonder whether it is plausible that Brugioni altered the presentation of the photos in his new book due to the revisionist work of John Ball. In personal communication with Ball, he explained confidently, "I sent Brugioni my book in 1993 so his cropping has been done to cover up my expose of the drawn-on marks."

   The most obvious example of photo faking by Brugioni is in regard to the "prisoners" in the Birkenau photo. John Ball is convinced that these marks were drawn on the photos. Recall that Brugioni admits that a good technician can add details to photos. We must also remember the fourth method of photo faking identified by Brugioni-false captioning. Brugioni claims in his CIA Report that the marks are "prisoners on [the] way to gas chambers" and similarly in Fakery as a "Group on way to [the] gas chamber."

   A good understanding of false labeling should make the reader question if indeed that group is on its way to the gas chambers or in fact are they merely on their way to the barracks or for that matter out for a morning jog. A single photograph of course can not reveal where the prisoners were headed. Only a long series of photos or a film could reveal such information. Surely an expert such as Brugioni knows this. But then again he himself admits that photos are doctored to "rewrite history" and to "sway public opinion."

   Brugioni concludes his book by noting that "when a photo is manipulated in any way, truth is compromised; when truth is compromised, distrust begins." He is also quick to comment that "Communist and other nations often rewrote history by removing people and events from photos, despite the fact that copies of the original photos were usually available throughout the world." It's intriguing to wonder if this book might be a secret challenge to revisionists, or perhaps a private struggle of conscience for its author.

   We may never know Brugioni's motives for writing such a revealing book on photographic fakes, nor his motive in writing the CIA report on Auschwitz over 20 years ago. Perhaps Brugioni has considered Lundahl's warning that the discovery of a faked photo "could have the impact of exploding gunpowder." Is Brugioni having second thoughts about his CIA report? The answers to these questions may be explosive indeed.