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Staged, faked and mostly naked:
Photographic innovation at the Evening Graphic (1924-1932)
Graduate student paper submitted for consideration:
Visual Communication Division
AEJMC 1997 Convention
-- Abstract --
Staged, faked and mostly naked:
Photographic innovation at the Evening Graphic (1924-1932)
The New York Evening Graphic is remembered for its sensational "fake" composite
photos, not for its other photo-illustration innovations. This paper describes a
variety of techniques the Graphic used, including "composographs" and studio
reenactment of news events, and the media reaction at the time, particularly
through Editor & Publisher. The paper finds there was little debate of the
ethics of altering images, but the technique became linked to controversies
over particular sex stories and images.
A student paper submitted to the Visual Communication Division,
AEJMC 1997 Convention, Chicago, IL
Student Paper Competition
Visual Communication Division
AEJMC 1997, Chicago
Staged, faked and mostly naked:
Photographic innovation at the Evening Graphic (1924-1932)
They called the 1920s "The Jazz Age," an auditory image, but the decade was
also a time of visual innovation. For newspapers, the 1920s brought photo-rich
tabloids, photo syndicates and a race to deliver pictures fast -- by special
train, airplane, and eventually by electricity. One of the three New York
tabloids, Bernarr Macfadden's Evening Graphic, had its own way of conquering
time and space with photographs -- by restaging events for the camera and
manipulating images in the art department.
Long before television's Rescue 911, the Graphic reenacted news scenes before
its cameras each day to tell an entertaining story. A half-century before TV
Guide pasted television personality Oprah Winfrey's head on actress
Ann-Margaret's body for its cover, the Graphic routinely used such transplants
on its front page -- and made headlines in the trade press by doing it. This
paper looks at the Graphic's photo-illustrations and the reaction to them by
news professionals of the day. Its goal is to discover whether the Graphic's
techniques, the contents of its images, or both, raised ethical issues among
journalists, and to consider whether such reactions might have discouraged other
papers from making wider use of similar techniques.
Editor & Publisher (E&P), a well-established weekly trade newspaper, was chosen
as a major source of editorial reactions. E&P was founded in 1884 as The
Journalist and is still published today. In this project it serves as a source
of news reports about the Graphic, as a source of reports of newspaper
professionals' opinions, and as an opinion leader itself. Research for this
paper included examining all E&P articles related to the Graphic from 1924 to
1930, as well as articles of that period related to photography in general, and
selected articles from later years. Journalists writing in E&P and other
magazines offered editorial commentary on the Graphic and the phenomenon of
tabloid newspapers in general. Veterans of the Graphic also wrote books and
articles about their experiences at the paper, inevitably touching on the
creative efforts of the Graphic art department.
The Evening Graphic
The New York Evening Graphic (1924-1932) was the third tabloid newspaper in
New York City, following the Daily News by five years and Hearst's Daily Mirror
by a few months. It was eventually dubbed "the porno-Graphic" by its critics and
"the world's zaniest newspaper" by one of its early editors.[5 ]All of the
tabloids were rich in photographs, but the Graphic's mix of photos, fiction,
health crusades, contests, entertainment features, and sensation left little
room for conventional news.
The Graphic is most often remembered for its "composographs," art department
cut-and-paste creations that the paper used when live photographs could not be
taken on the scene -- usually on the scene of a sensational story. They even
reached beyond the grave to show Rudolph Valentino meeting Enrico Caruso in
heaven, as Valentino's widow reported to the Graphic after a seance.[7 ]The
composograph images were staged in a studio, often using Graphic staff members
as models. Faces of celebrities or other people in the news were cut from
previously obtained photos, adjusted for size and perspective, and pasted over
the stand-ins' faces.
The Graphic's publisher, Bernarr Macfadden, tried to reach a mass audience with
a daily paper incorporating some themes from his successful magazines: Physical
Culture's crusades for health and against prudery, and True Story's use of
first-person stories. Macfadden's magazines had pioneered in using posed
photographs to illustrate magazine articles as early as 1919. By 1929,
Macfadden Publications claimed to employ 300 models a week in a photo studio "as
well equipped as a young motion picture plant. Every kind of effect conceivable
can be built on its various stages." In contrast, as late as 1930 E&P treated
the use of anonymous models in newspapers, even in advertisements, as a novelty:
"Presumably the advertiser feels that the photographs of [even unidentified]
real people are enough to personalize the advertisement to a reader."
Restaged "dramas from life"
From the start, the Graphic used the Macfadden Publications studio for a
regular feature called the "Photo Drama from Life," a four-or-five panel tableau
recreating a human interest story with photos and brief cutlines. "They were
posed by professional models and actors and actresses picking up an extra five
bucks," according to Lester Cohen, the paper's contest editor, who supervised
production of hundreds of photo dramas among his other duties.
For example, an early episodes was headlined "Cripple Drowns Attempting to
Rescue Madwoman" [Figure 1], with four photographs showing a woman escaping from
the Wards Island asylum while "William Russo, crippled caretaker, calls to her
to halt," followed by his pursuit, his leap into the water ("undaunted by his
realization that he is severely handicapped"), and a final panel showing her
rescue by a passing boat. The final caption says, "Such is the tragedy of a
hero's death and a would-be-suicide's rescue." Another early Photo Drama
told the melodramatic story of a prison inmate whose singing voice was said to
have convinced a warden to free him.
In addition to this photo-strip technique, the Graphic used sets and models to
illustrate its True Story style first-person articles and other features. In one
case, it combined a photo and drawing to depict an evangelist casting out a
demon. A regular "educational" photo strip, "Antics of Arabella," featured
chorus girls in bathing suits, supposedly demonstrating one of Macfadden's
physical culture exercises while telling a joke in comic-strip word
balloons. [Figure 2]
E&P did not mention the Arabella exercise strip (although it later ran
advertisements for it as a syndicated feature), but it called the Photo Drama
From Life "unique and sensational," and described the technique in a synopsis of
the Graphic's first week of publication:
Some story from real-life is selected and four or five photographs are made to
illustrate it. These photographs evidently are the work of movie actors
responding to some director who has a stock of properties in a studio. "She
killed for love: Will the law forgive her?" is one title; and the excellent
photographs tell the story, aided by ample cut-lines, of a Polish writer who
ordered his wife to murder him, thus to escape a lingering illness. She is shown
shooting him as he lies in bed. "Murderess," said the law, and the final picture
shows her kneeling in the shadow of the guillotine.
The "excellent photographs" were the result of the Graphic's studio setting,
which permitted full control of set, lighting and positioning of models and
props. News photographs of the day were technologically limited -- flashbulbs,
fast films and small 35mm cameras were not yet in anyone's camera bag. Flash
powder and the need for long exposures limited the camera's ability to capture
candid shots. Using Macfadden's studio, the Graphic could deliver quality
images, and could be as creative as an illustration artist could be with pen and
paper. As for E&P's use of the word "sensational," it is a word the Graphic
applied to itself. In its first editorial it promised "to dramatize and
sensationalize the news and some stories that are not new."
For the front page of the Graphic's fourth issue [Figure 3], a staff artist
combined photographs of two convicts with drawings of an electric chair, the
grim reaper and a rising sun emblazoned with the word "justice," and the heading
"Out from the SHADOW OF DEATH." The banner headline was "Boys Foil Death
Chair," with subheads: "Mothers Weep as Governor Halts Execution. Would Have
Kicked Off With Grin. First Story From Two Saved by 'Al' Smith." The
sensationalism or "yellowness" of this display was roundly criticized by E&P:
But the Thursday issue, final edition, has rarely been outdone for yellowness.
An hysterical capital punishment picture and story, fit to create panic in the
hearts of quiet home folk, was displayed. The artist left nothing to the
imagination as regards the terrors of the death chair.
As the Graphic began its second month, it created a front page picture that
foreshadowed its later approach to illustrating the news with manipulated
photographs. [Figure 4] Six men had fallen from a work scaffold on the side of a
steamer. No photographer was present for the accident, but the Graphic
photographed the ship and pasted six white cartoon-like cut-outs of falling men
onto the image of its black hull. It credited the obviously altered image "Photo
The first composographs
When the Graphic combined its need for sensational front page illustrations
with its photo-studio techniques, the composograph was the result. As an
artistic technique, making a single print from two negatives or by
re-photographing cut-and-pasted prints wasn't a new idea -- it went back almost
to the dawn of photography. For news illustrations, hand engravers had combined
scenes from several Civil War battlefield photographs into a single Harpers
Weekly image, artistically rearranging corpses and wreckage. Photo-Era, a
leading photography magazine, presented a detailed how-to article on composites
just nine months before the first composograph was born in the Graphic. While
not suggesting the use of composites in news reports, Photo-Era showed how to
join two landscape photographs, add interesting clouds to a dull sky, and
artistically place a cow in the middle of a field it had never grazed. The
technique, the author said, "increases the range of a capable photographer's
resources and thus enables him at times to express his ideas more
While other papers may have used composites from time to time, the Graphic
made regular use of them and identified them as "composographs," a name it
coined for its first such picture. That first image [Figure 5], prominently
displayed on the front page, showed a partially undressed woman, her back to the
camera, facing a judge and witnesses. The scene took place in judge's chambers
as part of a sensational annulment trial, without cameras present. Mrs. Alice
Kip Rhinelander disrobed to show the color of her skin -- an attempt to prove
that her wealthy husband must have known she was of mixed race. The Graphic's
image was created by Harry Grogin of its art department. He hired a showgirl to
pose as Mrs. Rhinelander and enlisted staff members for other roles, then cut
and pasted together a reported 20 photographs to replace the stand-ins faces
with those of people actually involved in the case. While the patchwork
technique was not explained in any detail, the caption said the image was
"carefully prepared from a description given by one of the witnesses to this
The Rhinelander picture sold thousands of papers, and the Graphic's managing
editor, Emile Gauvreau, became a major proponent of the composographs. In
his quasi-autobiographical novel, Hot News, the narrator-editor took
personal credit for the invention and for launching "a new chapter in the
history of tabloid journalism":
It was now possible to make what appeared to be photographic illustrations of
any scene anywhere without being present.... This treatment of photography
opened up a new field with extraordinary possibilities. Employing the human
figure itself, it was more convincing than a mere drawing.
Gauvreau, Cohen and Fulton Oursler, Macfadden Publications' second-in-command,
claimed the images were intended to catch attention, present the news in
pictorial form, and sell newspapers, but not to deceive. Cohen, who was not
personally involved in their creation, writes:
The Graphic never pretended that these were actual photos; we always labeled
them Composographs and indicated they were made in the Art Department, but the
public loved them for their essential reality and the staff took them with that
humor and amazement that characterize the newspaperman's reaction to the
Viewed today, some of the Graphic's composographs are clearly cut-and-paste
jobs in which one or more figures are slightly out of proportion or shadows
don't match exactly. Others, however, were more realistic. Even competing press
photographers were deceived by at least one composograph, during Frank Mallen's
tenure as picture editor.
E&P's reaction to this Graphic innovation did not use the word "excellent." It
called the disrobing scene "the most shocking news-picture ever produced by New
York journalism," publishing a short story about the photo in addition to
extensive coverage of the Rhinelander case. The "shocking" aspect presumably
had to do with putting an almost-nude woman on the front page, not the technique
used. E&P described but did not reproduce the composograph. It later mentioned,
but did not reprint, the Graphic's second use of the technique, another image
with partial nudity -- depicting a notorious celebrity-filled private (and
unphotographed) party featuring a chorus girl bathing in a champagne-filled
For its third composograph, however, the Graphic switched from sex to crime,
illustrating the hanging of murderer Gerald Chapman [Figure 6]. To accompany a
story about overall press coverage of the execution, E&P not only described but
reprinted the image a few days after its appearance in the Graphic. Under the
composite, the E&P cutline read: "Ghastly 'composite-photograph-diagram' used by
New York Graphic, for which staff men posed." E&P described the scene in detail:
The Graphic's picture shows a man hanging, his face hidden in a black hood,
his arms strapped to his sides, and his legs secured. A group of witnesses were
gathered in the left foreground.
The picture was posed by Harry Grogin, of the Graphic's staff, Ryan Walker,
art director, explained. August Schoenaechler, a staff photographer, played the
role of Chapman. A regulation hangman's noose was fitted about his neck, knotted
under the left ear. He was standing on a box ready for the picture to be
snapped. The box slipped. Had there been any delay in reaching him, Walker said,
it would have been fatal. Members of the Graphic staff took the part of
Like E&P's Rhinelander coverage, this account links the composograph to
newspaper competition on a circulation-building sensational story. As in the
Rhinelander case, editorial comment was primarily on the amount of coverage of
the story by all papers. Despite the use of the word "ghastly" in the cutline,
the E&P story did not condemn the Graphic for running the image, and the trade
paper was obviously willing to reprint the image itself.
Composographs in court
The composograph's honeymoon, if it had one, came to an end the next year
when the Graphic featured another marriage dissolving in court, and another
partially-unclothed bride on the front page. After a dramatic boost in
circulation from a series of Rudolph Valentino composographs, Gauvreau used
the technique regularly to illustrate the separation and annulment suits between
eccentric millionaire Edward West Browning and Frances Heenan, his 16-year-old
Known as "Daddy" and "Peaches," the Brownings had been darlings of the tabloids
since their courtship, and their courtroom testimony apparently hid few details
of their married life. The Graphic created composographs of incidents in the
testimony, adding word-balloons to the pictures, as it did in the "Arabella"
feature. Beneath the most controversial image [Figure 7] was this caption:
When Peaches refused to parade Nude! Frances Heenan Browning wept on the stand
when she described the scene pictured in the composite photograph above. Daddy
Browning stormed and raged, she said, when she refused to prance naked before
him in the bed-chamber. Even the African honking gander which the millionaire
insisted on having around the house became temperamental.
E&P later described this composograph in detail, but did not reproduce it:
The first-page pictures carried daily by the Graphic and the Mirror's
headlines were the most daring that have ever been seen in New York Journalism.
On January 26 the Graphic produced what was supposed to represent the bedroom
scene of the Browning honeymoon. Browning's head was pasted on to the
pajama-clad body of some male model and he was shown raging around the room, a
balloon to the mouth carrying the words "Woof! Woof! Don't be a goof. Facing him
in an attitude of shrinking revulsion was the half clad figure of a woman, with
Mrs. Browning's head pasted onto the body. An elaborate four-poster bed, raised
on a dais, was in the background and walking across the coverlet of the bed was
a gander, with a balloon uttering, "Honk! Honk! It's the bonk!" 
After several days in this vein, the Graphic's handling of the case brought
complaints to the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice which, in turn,
brought charges against the Graphic under a Police Gazette-era statute
forbidding portrayal of crime, bloodshed and lust. The New York Times, in its
report of the complaint, mentioned Macfadden's 1905 and 1907 arrests for
portraying the human form in posters and Physical Culture magazine. Sidebars
said several New York and New Jersey cities were attempting to ban the Graphic
and the Mirror.
E&P and editors it polled at an ANPA convention that week were aghast, warning
that the tabloids' excesses might bring a general call for government censorship
of the press. While not mentioning the Graphic by name in its editorial, it was
clear which paper E&P was talking about. The editorial literally questioned the
composograph creators' sanity:
We have seen some expressions of what is called the "new journalism" that
strongly suggested a pathological condition among those who uttered them. When a
man begins to make type mumble unintelligible words or when he begins to cut the
heads off of photographs of news subjects and paste them on the bodies of
half-clad human figures, thus to create lewd and obscene images, seeking to
justify such abominations by characterizing them as representing scenes from
real life, there is a question whether that individual does not deserve the
kindly ministrations of a psychopath.... If the vaporings of deranged minds are
corrupting the community, as may be the case, it is something that should be
stopped in behalf of the public welfare.
Gauvreau, especially in Hot News, suggests that in dealing with the
publicity-obsessed Browning, he let himself be carried away by his subject,
"playing the Mephistopheles to (Browning's) Faust."
I resolved to develop them and to make them undergo every thrill their
constitutions could stand, with the same slapstick methods and the same
disregard for the feelings of my victims with which a cartoonist determines the
fate of the little people that inhabit his comic strip and animated movies.
Despite the outcry, the New York Special Sessions Court dismissed the vice
charge against Macfadden and Gauvreau. E&P reported on the role of the Browning
composographs in its story of the verdict, quoting at length the testimony of
Macfadden's attorney, including descriptions of the composographs, his admission
that the coverage "might have contraverted good taste," and his conclusion that
the pictures "seemed more in the nature of a burlesque, a Punch and Judy show"
than anything that would promote lust or crime. Justice Ellsworth J. Healy, who
dismissed the case, was quoted saying the pictures and stories, "might be, in
the opinion of some, disgusting and perhaps not what we believe should be
printed," but that he "left the tabloid 'to the good judgment of this city and
their fellows in the newspaper world.'"
The opinion of the publishing world was not positive. In response to a 1927
Forum debate on tabloids, Reuben Maury, editorial writer on the Daily News,
defended his paper in a letter to the Forum editor. He said the News did not use
composite photos, which he called "posed fakes, invented and carried to their
nauseous nadir of perfection by a tabloid which is not the 'Daily News.'"
Stanley Walker, city editor of the Herald Tribune, considered the composograph
as "part photograph and part nightmare, a bastard art form which reproduced the
editor's conception of what took place. It was completely lacking in
Macfadden publications' chief editor, Fulton Oursler, while defending the idea
of composographs, added that, "some of the adventurous young men left alone at
night in the Graphic's art department so abused this novel principle as to bring
the paper under a fire of criticism." A dozen years later, Gauvreau spent
little time on the composograph in his autobiography, calling it "an invention
which still hounds me, and provokes bursts of sardonic laughter from those who
Was it the violation of contemporary morals, newspaper values, or the threat of
censorship that brought on E&P's horrified reaction to the Browning story
coverage, including the Graphic's composographs? As a trade journal, it would
make sense for E&P to be most worried about restraint of trade. After the
verdict, despite its earlier editorial about "deranged minds," E&P continued to
cover the Graphic as if it was a respectable part of the New York newspaper
business community. When the Graphic moved into a new $4 million building, E&P
devoted a full page to the facility, including a description of the photographic
In recognition of the importance of the photographic department to a tabloid,
great care was taken in allotting space to this division. Each of the 18 staff
photographers has his own small dark room for developing his plates, and the
latest camera equipment has been installed for pictures taken in the building. A
dressing room is provided for the principals in specially posed pictures.
The Graphic did not abandon "specially posed pictures" or composographs after
the Browning scandal, but it did use them for less-sensational purposes, in line
with the Graphic staff members' descriptions of the technique as a tool to
"picture actual scenes that otherwise could not be reproduced, giving readers
something different in the nature of a scoop." For example, a June 18, 1928,
composograph showed Macfadden shaking hands with Herbert Hoover after the
publisher flew to the Republican National Convention in a private airplane, then
flew on to Washington to offer Hoover his congratulations. [Figure 8] No Graphic
photographer was along for the ride, and wire photos were not yet commonplace.
Similarly, a composograph could -- and did -- depict the emergency arctic
landing of a Canadian Transcontinental Airways plane on its way to New York as
soon as the related United Press story arrived on the wire.
This more routine use of composographs was not discussed by E&P. Little has
been written about use of composites at other papers, although a 1928 study
reported that news syndicates had picked up the "tabloid influence" in their
treatment of stories and photographs, including "their use of the tragic strip
and the composite photograph and in their fictionalizing of crime stories."
By 1939 a photojournalism text book, with a former city editor of the Graphic as
lead author, could say fake photographs were increasingly rare, and the "real
'composograph'" could only be spotted by "those whose eyes are sharp." The
author gave examples of what to look for:
It may show Hitler and Mussolini clasping hands, or famous athletes or royal
personages in conclave, or the flight of an airplane over some familiar
skyline.... Usually nothing is said in the cutline to indicate that such a
picture is a composograph, and the reader of the very conservative newspaper
might be greatly shocked if he knew it was. Yet the purpose is not so much to
fool him as to give him what he has come to desire: the news in pictorial
As noted above, Macfadden's magazines pioneered studio-photo illustrations. In
Jazz Journalism, Bessie insists the Graphic itself was more of a daily magazine
than a newspaper, and that its techniques were more influential in the magazine
world. Vanity Fair, for example, used composites for comic effect in 1930,
pasting the faces of adult celebrities including George Bernard Shaw, Theodore
Dreiser and Heywood Broun on baby pictures.
In fact, what has been called "the most famous composite" did not appear in the
Graphic. It appeared in 1950 in a role fake images also played in wartime --
propaganda. By splicing two photos, Democrat senator, Millard Tydings, was shown
listening closely to a Communist speaker.
While issues of ethics and the truthfulness of images have been prominent in
recent discussions of manipulating digital photographs, content, including
nudity and bedroom scenes, not manipulation itself, seems to have been the issue
raised by E&P concerning the composographs. Reproduction quality was still
uneven with the printing techniques of the 1920s, so manipulation in the form of
retouching was routine. A New York Times art director could recommend to E&P
readers a "simple presentation of pictures" that included painting out
"superfluous matter" to make an image "more pleasing to the eye."
Similarly, E&P took an amused, nostalgic tone in a 1925 interview with a former
New York American photographer describing a more drastic case of manipulation.
After some Hearst reporters had gotten a news source drunk, the photographer was
called to take a picture of the unconscious man without awakening him. E&P
quoted the old cameraman without comment:
I took about four time exposures of the one side of his face that was visible.
A flash would have waked him. When I got to the office, I reversed the print on
one side and put the two together. I had as good a full face view as you could
wish. Then I painted a pair of eyes over his closed lids, and smoothed down his
rumpled hair. The result was a nicely posed picture.
The Graphic wasn't the only paper criticized for sensational photos. E&P
devoted its front news page to the story of the New York Daily News photo of
Ruth Snyder's execution -- not a composite, but an unauthorized photo taken with
an ankle-mounted camera. E&P called the "smuggled snapshot" a "breach of
faith" with officials and, as in the Browning coverage, warned that such
behavior by newspapers could lead to public regulation. But it also reported the
The Snyder photo was a sign that reality was becoming easier to photograph, a
trend that continued into the 1930s with the invention of the flashbulb, faster
lenses and films, and smaller, lighter cameras. The new decade's
photojournalism, including wirephotos, Life magazine and other picture
magazines, was based on the reliability of "true" photographs, not the ingenuity
of retouching artists or studio setups. Journalists also became aware that words
and images could "lie" without retouching, simply by photo selection or
interpretive captioning. After a controversial photo made President Roosevelt
look weary and discouraged, a Forum article even called for a law restricting
publication of candid photographs taken without the subject's permission. The
author was forgiving about earlier excesses, possibly alluding to the Graphic:
We went through a period that must have seemed to many like a pictorial
Hallowe'en, but for the most part the pranks were laughed off as the
irresponsible acts of a growing youngster.
Defusing an innovation
In terms of diffusion theory, the Graphic's techniques can be seen as an
unsuccessful innovation -- photos-as-illustration as an alternative to photos as
on-the-spot depiction of events. Neither the Graphic nor E&P took the role of
opinion leader or change agent associated with effective diffusion of
innovation. However, the Graphic's illustrations still can be viewed in terms of
five key aspects of innovations: their relative advantage, compatibility with
existing values, perceived complexity, trialability (the possibility of gradual
adoption), and observability of positive results.
The relative advantage of composites and studio reenactments is their ability
present images regardless of the presence of a photographer at the scene.
However, from the start, the Graphic defined itself as sensational
entertainment, not conventional news, and for the most part it used composites
as a device to put circulation-building, sensational pictures on the front page.
This can hardly be seen as presenting photo-illustration as something compatible
with the values of mainstream newspapers. Even the Daily News pointed at the
composites as an example of excessive sensationalism.
In keeping with the diffusion model, a change agent might promote the
advantages of presenting the news visually, the low complexity of adopting the
techniques, or the possibility of gradually adopting the techniques, especially
with less-sensational stories less likely to violate the norms of the community
or profession. However, the books by Gauvreau, Oursler, Cohen and Mallen give no
indication that the Graphic tried to market its "inventions" of the composograph
and the Photo Drama from Life to other papers.
E&P, except for its reference to the "excellent photographs" in its first
mention of the Photo Drama strips, simply reported the most sensational images
in the Graphic in the context of news coverage of the Rhinelander, Chapman and
Browning stories. The composites were framed, along with the Graphic, within
E&P's larger debate of pros and cons of covering sex and crime news. Once that
frame was established, the techniques were not put in a different context
despite Macfadden's and Oursler's contention was that composographs were simply
a tool to present news in a visual form. Perhaps other editors would been open
to the use of photos as illustration if the Graphic had introduced them less
As for "observability" and positive results -- the short-term result of the
composograph was an observable increase in single-day circulation, but the
controversial Graphic was unable to build a substantial advertising base, and
its sensationalism resulted in the observable and very negative result of the
editors' being brought to court on vice charges, even if the final court ruling
was in their favor. The "observable" results were negative. In addition, the use
of composographs with word balloons and joke-like captions to ridicule "Peaches"
and "Daddy" Browning may have made the composograph itself seem ridiculous.
In contrast to its treatment of the Graphic's photo techniques, E&P did take a
more supportive opinion-leader role in its coverage of another photographic
technology during the 1920s: wire and radio transmission of photos. E&P stories
gave detailed technical information, names of inventors, transmission times and
projected costs. The stories reprinted the experimental images, criticized those
that were not up to newspaper standards, and extolled the eventual benefits of
being able to send high-quality pictures of news events long distances in time
for the morning paper. (Even this support, however, may not have been
sufficient to break all the barriers text-oriented journalists placed before
even the most realistic photographic news reporting, much less the art
department style of the Graphic. )
By the end of the decade, an Eastman Kodak expert was writing a new photography
column for E&P. An early example said improved production methods had led
advertisers to greater use of photographs -- an increase of 533 percent in five
years. The adjectives used suggest the values of photography's boosters:
"Plainly pictures--eye-arresting, attention-compelling, real, modern, accurate
and believable--have arrived in the national advertiser's program." The
Graphic, no matter how eye-arresting its images were, lost sight of "real" and
"accurate" as important concepts in the more cartoon-like of the composographs.
Ironically, its sensationalism may have scared away conservative advertisers
just as advertising itself turned to the use of the posed photographs Macfadden
When the Graphic closed its doors July 7, 1932, with a circulation of 180,000,
E&P returned with a neutral, almost nostalgic, tone to the composographs,
mentioning that "the 'Daddy' Browning series was the most famous."
Where did the composographs go? A 1966 content analysis of New York newspaper
photography from 1890 to 1937 cited the 1920s as the decade of the
composograph. The attention and scorn the Browning composographs brought to
the Graphic clearly played a part in their demise. To the extent that composites
were a tool to cover news events, they may have been rendered irrelevant by
faster film, flash, and wire transmission. Technology made candid and
long-distance photos possible without darkroom trickery.
Today, after decades of photo-realism, digital technology has made possible
almost undetectable photographic illusions. A 1985 magazine cover story on
the subject, illustrated with realistic color photos of a flying saucer
invasion, was significantly titled "Digital retouching: The End of Photography
as Evidence of Anything." A decade after that Whole Earth Review article,
low-cost scanners and Photoshop software for microcomputers have brought image
manipulation within the reach of home computer users and publications of all
kinds, not just those with large budgets and talented art departments. As a
result of such easy manipulation, photojournalists now debate the ethics not
only of digital manipulation, but of posed-handshake photos and other techniques
practiced for years. For the forseeable future, editors and
photojournalists are left with questions more philosophical than technical, ones
unresolved by the Graphic or its critics in the 1920s: Can or should we accept
photography as illustration, not as fact? Do we employ one set of image ethics
for entertainment, another for news -- and can anyone tell the difference?
Note: The printed version of this document includes the following figures from
Graphic microfilm and published sources indicated.
Figure 1: "Cripple Drowns Attempting to Rescue Madwoman," a studio-created
Graphic Photo-Drama, a daily feature restaging brief "true story" episodes. Oct.
Figure 2: "The Antics of Arabella" combined "physical culture" and photo
illustration. Reproduced from Cohen.
Figure 3: E&P noted the "yellowness" of this "death chair" illustration in an
early issue of the Graphic.
Figure 4: The Graphic used paper cutouts ro represne the men falling from a
freighter in this page one illustration.
Figure 5: The Alice Rhinelander courtroom scene, originally a Graphic front
page, shown as reprinted by Mallen, Cohen and others.
Figure 6: The Graphic's composograph of the Chapman hanging was reprinted in E&P
at the time and later by Cohen and Mallen.
Figure 7: E&P carfully described this browning bedroom scene that helped bring
the Graphic to court. Shown as reprinted by Mallen.
Figure 8: "Mr. Macfadden in Speedy Plane First to Congratulate Hoover."
Macfadden actually met Hoover, but the composograph allowed a photo to accompany
the telegraph story on deadline.
Notes and References
1. For a recent discussion of the ethics of restaged events on television, see
"Infotainment," pp. 241-256 in A. David Gordon, John M. Kittross & Carol Reuss,
Controversies in Media Ethics; White Plains: Longman Publishers, 1996. For photo
manipulation in the 1980s and 1990s, see Kittross, "Digital manipulation of
pictures," pp. 289-292, in the same text, and sources noted at the end of this
paper. For sources on the Graphic, see notes 3 and 4.
2. For example, The Forum and The American Mercury. A 1927 Forum series about
tabloids began as an exchange between an editors of the Graphic and the Nation,
but also prompted an exchange of letters by representatives of other papers in
subsequent issues. Oswald Garrison Villard, "Tabloid Offenses," Forum, Vol. 77,
April, 1927, pp. 485-487. Martin Weyrauch, "The Why of the Tabloids," Forum,
Vol. 77, April 1927, pp. 495-501.
3. Lester Cohen, The New York Graphic: The World's Zaniest Newspaper, New York:
Chilton Books, 1961. Emile Gauvreau, Hot News. New York: The Macaulay Co., 1931.
Emile Gauvreau, My Last Million Readers, NY: E.P.Dutton & Co. Inc., 1941. Frank
Mallen, Sauce for the Gander, White Plains, NY: Baldwin Books, 1954. Fulton
Oursler, The True Story of Bernarr Macfadden, NY: Lewis Copeland Company, 1929.
John L. Spivak, "The Rise and Fall of a Tabloid," The American Mercury, Vol. 32,
July 1934, pp. 311-314. Martin Weyrauch, "The Why of the Tabloids," Forum, Vol.
77, April 1927, pp. 495-501. Louis Weitzenkorn, Five Star Final. Samuel French,
Inc., 1931. (Weizenkorn's play and Gauvreau's 1931 novel are fiction based on
their experiences as editors of the Graphic.)
4. Not to be confused with the New York Graphic of the 1890s, an innovator in
the use of photographic halftones.
5. Cohen, The New York Graphic: The World's Zaniest Newspaper.
6. In an article on other New York newspapers expanding their photo coverage in
response to the tabloids, The Nation described The Graphic's approach:
"Delightful studies of young women in frank physical-culture poses appeared on
the front page. What need, with a front page like that, had Mr. Macfadden for
Associated Press and International News Service, without which no daily
newspaper is supposed to have a ghost of a chance to live?" Jo Swerling, "The
Picture Papers Win," The Nation, Oct. 21, 1925, pp. 455-458.
7. Graphic. "Rudy meets Caruso / Tenor's spirit speaks!" March 17, 1927, page 1.
The full front page was reprinted as the frontispiece of Silas Bent's book,
Ballyhoo, the Voice of the Press, NY: Boni & Liveright, 1927.
8. Cohen, p. 95; Mallen, Sauce for the Gander, p. 31.
9. Theodore Peterson, Magazines in the Twentieth Century, Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1972; p. 347, on use of photographic scenes posed by models in
True Story. Macfadden's supervising editor, Fulton Oursler, says True Story
editor John Brennan's family staged the first scenes at their home in 1919; The
True Story of Bernarr Macfadden, p. 222.
10. Oursler, The True Story of Bernarr Macfadden, p. 222. "Slump in testimonial
advertising noted after trade body's condemnation," E&P, Feb. 15, 1930, pp. 5,
11. Cohen, 1961. pp. 16-17.
12. Graphic, Oct. 6, 1924, p. 3.
13. "My power to heal comes from Jesus Christ, Graphic, features section, Oct.
14.For example, "Antics of Arabella," Graphic, July 9, 1929; p. 16.Two women
identified in the caption as being from the cast of the show Whoopee, in bathing
suits and high heels, are shown in three panels that take up the bottom third
of the photo-filled page. The heading: "These Girls Teach You Physical Culture
While They Amuse You." One lies on the floor doing leg lifts as described
briefly in a set of caption boxes, while the word balloons provide the dialogue:
(1)"I hear your boy friend wants to settle down and get a home." (2) "Well he's
got a good start --" (3) "I gave him the gate last night." The strip was
offered in syndication. The full page is reprinted in Cohen, 1964, and the strip
is shown here as Figure 2.
15. E&P, Sept. 20, 1924, p.5.
16. Mallen, the Graphic's picture editor, eloquently described the scene when
his photographer accidentally set off his flash before a crowd of competing
As dense smoke filled the room there was a mad surge toward him from all
directions. The other photographers were leaping at him to tear him to pieces
with cries of bastard, sonovabitch, double-crosser dirty rat....I yelled to the
men that it was all a mistake, that nobody was trying to pull a fast one, that
all would be given prints of the picture.
(Sauce for the Gander, p. 88)
17. Although the last word of the sentence is sometimes misquoted as "news,"
"new" is correct. A facsimile of the full editorial is reproduced in Cohen, p.
18. Graphic. Sept. 18, 1924, p. 1.
19. E&P, Sept. 20, 1924, p.23.
20. Graphic, Oct. 1, 1924; page 1. The ship image, in the bottom right corner,
shares the page with three unrelated photos and two unrelated stories. A similar
technique is described among "vernacular journalistic design" techniques
developed during the transition from Victorian to modern design; see Chicago
Daily News example, p. 37 in John Nerone and Kevin G. Barnhurst, "Visual Mapping
and Cultural Authority: Design Changes in U.S. Newspapers, 1920-1940," Journal
of Communication, Spring 1995, pp. 9-42.
21. For detailed descriptions by former Graphic staff members, see Cohen, pp.
95-136; Mallen, Sauce for the Gander, pp. 28-33; and.John L. Spivak, "The Rise
and Fall of a Tabloid," The American Mercury, Vol. 32, July 1934, pp. 311-314.
See also: Simon Michael Bessie, Jazz Journalism, New York: Russell & Russell,
1969, pp. 184-207; Helen MacGill Hughes, News and the Human Interest Story,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940. pp. 237-239; Robert Ernst, Weakness
is a Crime: The Life of Bernarr Macfadden, Syracuse University Press, 1991, pp.
97-99; Michael L. Friedman, "Macfadden's Graphic," M.A.Thesis, University of
22. Paul Martin Lester, Visual Communication: Images with Messages, New York:
Wadsworth Publishing, 1995; p. 269, shows a 19th century art photo composite by
Oscar Rejlander using 30 separate pictures. Stefan Lorant's "Solved: The Great
Lincoln Portrait" describes how engravers flipped a right profile of Lincoln and
attached it to the body of John C. Calhoun to create a "new" portrait; This
Week, Feb. 11, 1962, reprinted in Curtis D. MacDougall's News Pictures Fit to
Print... or are They? Stillwater, Okla.: Journalistic Services, 1971. p. 120.
See also, Marianne Fulton, ed., Eyes of Time: Photojournalism in America. New
York: Little, Brown and Company, 1988, pp. 22-23, and Kenneth Kobre,
Photojournalism, the Professional's Approach. Boston: Focal Press, 1991, pp.
23. William S. Davis, "The Making of Composite Photographs," Photo-Era 54, March
1925, pp. 132-139.
24. On the morning after a minor earth tremor a Daily News front page had
featured a photo-realistic art department image of Manhattan skyscrapers
toppling in an earthquake, with a caption noting that it was a "what if"
illustration. March 1, 1925, New York Daily News, p. 1. The page is reproduced,
with comment, in Simon Michael Bessie's Jazz Journalism, pp. 106-108. The extent
to which photos or drawings were used in is not discussed.
25. Cohen, pp. 95-102; Mallen, pp. 28-33. A recent text's discussion of the
Graphic misidentifies the 1925 Rhinelander photo as part of the "Peaches" and
"Daddy" Browning series that landed the Graphic in court more than a year later.
(John D. Stevens, 1991. Sensationalism and the New York Press, New York:
Columbia University Press, p. 141)
26. Gauvreau lost his previous job as managing editor of the Hartford Courant
when, he said, a medical-fraud expos proved too sensational for the
powers-that-be. He settled for crusading for circulation with sensation- and
entertainment-oriented newspapers, editing the Graphic for its first five years,
then going to the Mirror. See My Last Million Readers, pp. 92-135
27. Gauvreau. Hot News, p. 38.
28. Gauvreau, Hot News. p. 40.
29. Oursler, for example, in his The True Story of Bernarr Macfadden, says "When
a startling news event occurred, and there were no pictures available, the art
department proceeded to make a pictorial representation of the event. There was
no deception about it..." p. 254.
30. Cohen, p. 96.
31. Mallen, Sauce for the Gander, pp. 73-76. Mallen said he forgot to use the
"composograph" credit on his first day as picture editor, the day actor Rudolph
Valentino died. Graphic photographers arrived at the funeral home before the
corpse. One climbed in the coffin, the other took the picture, and the art
department added Valentino's face. Mallen said other photographers thought the
Graphic had a private viewing.
32. "Graphic's shocking picture; New York tabloid describes with photographs
court disrobing scene." E&P, Nov. 28, 1925, p. 34. Elsewhere in the same issue,
pp. 9-10, E&P surveyed 22 editors on the question, "Was publication... of the
revolting testimony in the Rhinelander annulment case at White Plains during the
past two weeks justified?" The E&P editorial page, referring to the coverage of
the trial in general, said, "This pornographic orgy in print is without a
parallel in modern journalism in the country." (p. 26)
33. Reprinted by Mallen.
34. "When Gerald Chapman, bandit, was hanged," E&P. April 10, 1926. p. 35. The
story also mentions the previous bathtub-party composite.
35. A catalog of the full run of composographs may not exist. Only a limited
selection of Graphic editions could be located on microfilm for this study,
including few images not mentioned by Cohen, Mallen, Gauvreau and other
writers.Cohen reprinted six images in his Graphic memoir. Mallen reprinted five
of those and ten more. Both former staff members apparently had access to
composite artist Harry Grogin's collection, not the full newspaper pages. These
images do not include headlines, captions or dates of publication. Additional
examples appear in Douglas Steinbauer, "Faking it with pictures," American
Heritage, October/November 1982, pp.52-57. Also see note 7, above.
36. Composites of Valentino's illness, death and funeral; Mallen, pp. 72-101.
37. "Shadow of Censorship Menaces Press; Many Editors Revolt at Browning Smut,"
Editor & Publisher, Feb. 5, 1927; p. 5. Also, editorial, titled "Censorship or
--?", p. 12.
38. "Graphic Publisher Is Haled Into Court," The New York Times, Feb. 5, 1927,
39. "Censorship or--?", E&P, Feb. 5, 1927; p. 12.
40. Gauvreau, Hot News, p. 61-64.
41. "New York Graphic Was 'Within The Law.'" E&P July 9, 1927. p. 11.
42. "Strong Words," The Forum, 78 July, 1927, pp. 144-147.
43. Stanley Walker, City Editor; New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1934; p. 72.
44. Oursler, The True Story of Bernarr Macfadden, p. 254.
45. Gauvreau, My Last Million Readers, pp. 111-12.
46. "NY Graphic Occupies New $4,000,000 Plant," E&P, July 30, 1927, p. 9.
47. Mallen, pp. 32-33. Also, pp. 88-89, describing sale of an edition with a
front page composograph of Valentino's funeral procession to the crowd watching
48. "Mr. Macfadden in Speedy Plane First to Congratulate Hoover," Evening
Graphic, June 18, 1928, p. 6. "Arctic Exiles Startled as Bremen Swoops Down on
Barren Isle," Evening Graphic, April 16, 1928, p.3.
49. Douglass W. Miller, "The New York Tabloids," Journalism Quarterly, 1928,
Vol. 5, 1, 37-41.
50. Laura Vitray, John Mills Jr. and Roscoe Ellard; Pictorial Journalism. New
York: McGraw-Hill, 1939 pp. 393-394. Vitray, although not mentioned in Cohen's
and Gauvreau's books, is identified on the title page as a past city editor of
51. Bessie, p. 24
52. "Child Prodigies," p. 179 in Vanity Fair: A Cavalcade of the 1920s and
1930s, Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee, eds. New York: Viking Press, 1960.
53. In the original photo, Tydings was listening, hand cupped to ear, to a
radio. Vicki Goldberg, The Power of Photography, New York: Abbeville Press,
1991. pp. 91-92.
54. "ANPA Meeting Issues," E&P. April 27, 1929. p. 34
55. E&P April 25, 1925, p. 108.
56. Philip Schuyler, "Death Chair Picture Climaxes Press Coverage of Snyder-Gray
Story," E&P, January 21, 1928, p.5.
57. "A Haunting Picture," E&P, Jan. 21, 1928, p. 24.
58. H.L.Smith, "The News Camera on Trial," Forum 98, Nov. 1937, pp. 267-270.
59. See Everett M. Rogers and F. Floyd Shoemaker, Communication of Innovations
(New York: The Free Press, 1971), particularly pp. 34-36 on opinion leaders and
change agents, and pages 22-23 on characteristics of innovations.
60. It also might have made the technique seem expensive. Without reference to
the Graphic, a 1929 article said adding word "balloons" to photographs was
expensive. "Editors warned on high picture costs," E&P. June 1, 1929, p. 13
61. See, for example, stories on AT&T and Telefax wire transmission of pictures,
E&P April 4, 1925, p.16; E&P April 11, 1925, p.28; E&P April 18, 1925, p.57. In
"Speed in Pictures," April 6, 1929, E&P praised the "amazing feats in the press
communication field," particularly as used by the New York Daily News. It
described one day's edition with a radio photo from Paris, a wire photo from
Illinois, a New England photo brought by a courier on a fast train, and others
received by cable and air mail, "the cream of the news in picture form by all
known modern means of rapid transmission." See also: "Perils of desert and sky
braved by news men covering TAT plane disaster." E&P. Sept. 14, 1929, p.5;
"Colorado prison riot a thriller for newspaper men at scene." E&P. Oct. 1, 1929,
p. 18. 9, p. 34.
62. For a recent discussion of the slow acceptance of wirephoto in the 1930s,
see Barbie Zelizer, "Journalism's 'Last' Stand: Wirephoto and the Discourse of
Resistance," Journal of Communication. 45 (2) Spring 1995. p. 78.
63. Thomas, Horace S. "Newspaper Users Turn to Photography," E&P, Nov. 30, 1929.
64. "New York Evening Graphic Quits Publication," E&P, July 9, 1932.The article
also noted that the Graphic had inspired several novels and motion pictures
about the tabloid press.
65. R. Smith Schuneman, The Photograph in Print: An Examination of New York
Daily Newspapers, 1890-1937, doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota,
66. Sheila Reaves, "What's wrong with this picture?" Newspaper Research Journal,
13 & 14, No. 3 & 1, Fall 92/Winter 93, pp. 131-154. This survey of professionals
found a "firm and conservative consensus" against not only composite photos but
more subtle manipulation. See also, "When Seeing Isn't Believing," Life Special
Anniversary Issue, Fall 1988, p. 160.
67. Stuart Brand, Kevin Kelly and Jay Kinney, "Digital retouching: The End of
Photography as Evidence of Anything." Whole Earth Review, No. 47, July, 1985.
68. See Daryl R. Moen, Newspaper Layout & Design, Ames, Iowa: Iowa State
University Press, 1989, pp. 52-53; and Kenneth Kobre, Photojournalism, the
Professional's Approach, 1991, pp. 270-271. Kobre also has noted the echoes of
the Graphic's courtroom days in the first O.J. Simpson trial and its
photo-manipulation controversies, in "Positive/Negative: The Long Tradition of
Doctoring Photos," 1996; available on the World Wide Web as: