How to spot a FAKE war photo: Historian exposes the tell-tale signs

How to spot a FAKE war photo: Historian exposes the tell-tale signs that prove not all is what it seems… but can YOU separate the frauds from the real thing?

  • Historian Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, 49, takes images at historical re-enactments using a traditional camera
  • Image of line of what appeared to be German soldiers posing next to a Jeep was taken in 2007
  • Another image showed a soldier sitting at a machine gun, but an old man in modern clothing stood behind 

Looking menacing in their military uniforms, German soldiers fighting in the Second World War stand in a line next to a Jeep – but all is not as it seems.  

The image was in fact taken in 2007 – as evidenced by the motorway gantry in the background. 

Historian Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, 49, is fighting against fake history, and uses it and other images to demonstrate how even photographic evidence can be manufactured.  

Miss Teeuwisse, who captured the photos at various history-themed events, said it was as simple as using an old camera. 

She said: ‘I’ve been a historian specialising in daily life in the 1930s and 1940s for over 20 years.

‘I’ve also done some historical re-enactments and living history myself, and have spent a lot of time on movie and TV sets, in museums and at 1930s-themed events etc. 

‘I made the photos with original 1920s and 1930s cameras, using no Photoshop, no filters and not even artificial light. 

‘I mostly use the basic box camera – one of the first types of camera that was affordable and available to the general public over a century ago. 

Looking menacing in their military uniforms, German soldiers fighting in the Second World War stand in a line next to a Jeep – but all is not as it seems. The image was in fact taken in 2007 – as evidenced by the motorway gantry in the background. Historian Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse, 49, is fighting against fake history, and uses it and other images to demonstrate how even photographic evidence can be manufactured

In another picture, a young soldier sits at a machine gun in an urban battlefield – but an elderly man in modern clothing has crept into the photo behind him and his comrades

‘It’s very simple: just point and click.’ In some of her images, there are clues to be found, but in others, there are no obvious signs.  

One image that does bear a sign is that of a young soldier sitting at a machine gun in an urban battlefield – but an elderly man in modern clothing has crept into the photo behind him and his comrades. 

In a third image, a young girl walking behind a group of soldiers lying on a beach while holding their guns next to an amphibious vehicle is the only possible hint that the image isn’t from World War Two.  

Most of the photos, however, have nothing to distinguish them from the genuine article. 

Miss Teeuwisse, who is based in the Netherlands, said: ‘There are many little details that can help you find out if a photo is genuine or a modern fake, but it can be quite difficult. 

‘Sometimes it’s a hairstyle, glasses, or shoes that are not right for the period; sometimes there’s something not quite right about how the people behave or look. 

‘Sometimes it’s a traffic sign in the background – in most cases all you’ve got to help you be sure is something modern sneaking into the frame.’ 

Otherwise, she added, even with access to the original negative, it would take a photography expert to tell a real from a fake. 

In a third image, a young girl walking behind a group of soldiers lying on a beach while holding their guns next to an amphibious vehicle is the only possible hint that the image isn’t from World War Two. 

Miss Teeuwisse, who is based in the Netherlands, said: ‘There are many little details that can help you find out if a photo is genuine or a modern fake, but it can be quite difficult. ‘Sometimes it’s a hairstyle, glasses, or shoes that are not right for the period; sometimes there’s something not quite right about how the people behave or look’. ABove: Another image showing what look like army officers in the Second World War. One is sitting in a car from the era

This ‘fake’ image is one of the hardest to spot. It shows soldiers appearing to storm across a stretch of land, with houses seen in the background. It could be one of dozens of famous military skirmishes which took place in the Second World War. But the image just shows actors taking part in historical renactment. Miss Teeuwisse took the image took the image using a basic box camera, one of the first photo devices that was affordable in the Second World War

‘We should always have a healthy suspicion of photos, old or new,’ she said. ‘Editing, improving, fixing but also purposefully altering photos to make a political point is almost as old as photography itself. 

‘One of the first photos ever is a fake – photography pioneer Hippolyte Bayard took a photo of himself in the 1830s pretending he was a drowned man. 

‘History is full of fake photos and pictures with descriptions that are incorrect or even straight lies. 

‘But today, even if you don’t have access to an old camera or people in historical clothing, it is not that difficult to make photos that look old using filters and Photoshop etc.’ 

Now Miss Teeuwisse is battling fake history in cyberspace. Using her Twitter account Fake History Hunter, the historian has racked up nearly 100,000 followers by swatting down inaccurate memes about the past. 

In this image, men who appear to be US soldiers are seen standing and sitting in what could be a military base. On a pillar, a holstered gun hangs from a hook. The picture was actually taken at a history event in the UK, and the men are simply actors

Dressed in their pristine uniforms, actors at a history event in the UK appear to be German soldiers posing for a photo in the Second World War. The image was taken by Miss Teeuwisse to highlight how easy it is for photos to be presented as something they are not

What looks like soldiers carrying out an Allied attack on a beach is in fact actors involved in a re-enactment in the UK. Miss Teeuwisse added: ‘People are too trustworthy of what is put in front of them,’ she said. ‘A picture may look a certain way, and the story shared with it may seem to fit, and that’s often enough for people to believe and share it all over the internet’

‘People are too trustworthy of what is put in front of them,’ she said. ‘A picture may look a certain way, and the story shared with it may seem to fit, and that’s often enough for people to believe and share it all over the internet.’ 

She continued: ‘I’ve had to correct celebrities with millions of followers who shared pictures with false information. 

‘But even someone with just a few followers on Twitter or Facebook can one day make a post that goes viral and reaches thousands. 

‘Memes are extra dangerous because the image and the claim are just not that important to the person sharing them. 

‘They just want a bit of attention or to have a laugh, but at the same time their story is spread again and again.’ Keep up with Jo’s efforts via her Twitter account, @fakehistoryhunt, or her website: www.fakehistoryhunter.net 

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