Composograph

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Henry Grogin, New York Evening Graphic
If the News [New York Daily News] was “a daily erotica for the masses,” it still paled in comparison to its fellow scandal monger, the Evening Graphic, commonly known as the “Pornographic.” In the Evening Graphic, the composograph, the first staged and faked news photo, was born. The occasion for its conception was the Kip Rhinelander divorce trial. Rhinelander, a wealthy blueblood, wanted to annul his marriage, claiming that his wife concealed from him that she was part Negro. She, in turn, insisted that this had been obvious to him even before their marriage. As part of this evidence, her lawyers had her undress to the waist in court. To the Graphic’s dismay, however, the judge expelled photographers from the courtroom before this shocking scene took place.

Ever-resourceful editor Emile Gavereau decided that if he couldn’t get a real picture, he would run the next best thing: a convincing looking composite. He and Harry Grogin, the Evening Graphic’s assistant art director, set up a fake courtroom scene in which a chorus girl substituted for the accused Mrs. Rhinelander. Then, Grogin retouched the picture and superimposed the real faces of the courtroom characters onto posed bodies. Grogin called the faked photo a composograph. Grogin used twenty separate photos to arrive at the one famous shot, but for the Graphic, it was well worth the effort. The paper became notorious overnight and circulation soared from around 60,000 to several hundred thousand readers.

from Photojournalism: The Professional’s Approach (1980)

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