For decades, prank photos have been popular on April Fool’s Day. They typically appear in a newspaper or online with an alarming or puzzling caption like “Wisconsin State Capital Collapses” or “Bicycle Flies Over Amsterdam.”
Before Photoshop, the process of faking a photo was more complex, and could involve multiple exposures, airbrushing, hand retouching, and other composite photo techniques. This usually required a lot of work in the darkroom. Most early April Fool’s prank photos seem crude by today’s standards, but sometimes they were pretty slick–as in the 1926 German photo of a “Triple Decker City Bus.”
Some pranks are evergreen and may even become expected. U.S. political writer Andrew Sullivan, who now writes for New York magazine but for years had his own blog (the Dish), celebrated April Fool’s Day every year by RickRolling his readers. Yes: every single year. Andrew has a New York column scheduled to appear this Friday; check it out to see whether he’ll do it once again.
Where photos are concerned, digital technology immediately made it so much easier and faster to manipulate and retouch for effect. One of the best known of recent years is a photo spoof that appeared in the April edition of Popular Photography in 2005. Dorothea Lange’s famous picture of a migrant mother was given a digital makeover so that she would fit in better with magazine advertising. True, it was a clever commentary on the superficiality of retouching; but it hit a nerve and produced hundreds of comments, both positive and negative. (Many people found it more demeaning to the subject than funny.)
Do keep in mind that a prank is just that. Once a year we are allowed to take some liberties. If you’re the person doing the fooling, be sure you’re not stepping on anyone else’s dignity in a misguided attempt to be humourous.
And if you’re the one who gets fooled, remember to enjoy it. Of course you’re the smartest person in the room! Obviously! So if someone is able to put something over on you on April 1, appreciate their cleverness and laugh it off. You can always start planning right away for next year.