The 'Obama Joker' & The Top Ten Altered Image List

Is posting an altered image of the president to Flickr an acceptable practice? Or should copyrighted photos in general never be altered and published online or in print? If so, why are do so many contrived photos and artwork popping up daily on social networks and in magazines?  Check out this TOP TEN list of altered images that have have sparked censorship controversy over the years, right up till today.

1- Kelly Clarkson

It appears to be OK when magazine publishers airbrush a cover-girl's image. The editor of Self Magazine admitted recently to slimming down the photo of Kelly Clarkson on the cover of their latest issue, even after the clearly altered image caused readers to question the credibility of the publication.

Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of the women’s health magazine, defended the magazine’s retouching of the 27-year-old singer, which she says was undertaken to make Clarkson “look her personal best” on the September issue.

2- Kiera Knightley

Keira Knightley has admitted the curves she shows off in a new Chanel perfume advertisement aren't heaven-scent. In this doctored photo, the Hollywood ingenue poses in the altogether with a bowler hat covering her modesty for Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle.

But since the young starlet doesn't possess the attributes shown here, she has since revealed: "Those things certainly weren't mine."

3- Andy Roddick

In July 2007, Andy Roddick was featured on the front cover of Men’s Fitness magazine, but the image used appeared to have been ‘photoshopped’ to make the tennis star look more muscular. Roddick himself was suspicious and said that he had seen the issue and that “Nadal wanted his arms back.”

4- September 11th

Perhaps the creepiest Photoshopped fake photo was this shot of Hungarian tourist, Péter Guzli, seemingly standing on top of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 as one of the hijacked planes approaches.

This image went viral on the Internet, after the attacks with the claim that it was found in a camera pulled out of the rubble. It was later revealed that In fact, Guzli had taken the picture in 1997 and made the edit for friends.

Peter Guzli - Tourist - September 11, 2001Peter Guzli - Tourist - September 11, 2001

5- Sarah Palin

Obama is not the only politician to have his image altered, this image of 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin looked too good to be true, and it was. Someone had simply Photoshopped the Alaska governor's head onto that of another woman holding what turned out to be a BB gun.

6- Abraham Lincoln

Even our most revered presidents and their memorials have been tampered with over the years. In this photo of a woman taking a photo of the Lincoln Memorial, it appears she caught our 16th President with his pants down!

7- Michael Phelps

This photo of Michael Phelps made its rounds of the Internet for obvious reasons...

However, when People Magazine ran the shot, they decided to eliminate a strategic section of the photo to accent Mr. Phelps's physical attributes versus his physical endowment

8- Madonna

A representative for Madonna has claimed that this recent photo of the singer have been modified. The images of the 50-year-old reportedly present her arms as sinewy with her veins protruding, while the star was recently criticised in a Mirror article that claimed that she was a "walking biology lesson" and has taken her fitness regiment too far.

Madonna bares armsMadonna bares arms

9- Great Pyramids of Giza

In this National Geographic magazine cover story on Egypt by Gorden Gahen, the Great Pyramid of Giza was digitally moved to fit the magazine's vertical format. Tom Kennedy, who became the director of photography at National Geographic after the cover was manipulated, stated that  "we no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn't repeat that mistake today".

Great Pyramids of GizaGreat Pyramids of Giza

10- Barack Obama

After Firas Alkhateeb, a Chicago student and artist gained national fame in August, 2009 for tranforming a picture of President Obama into the image of the Joker villain and Batman's arch enemy from "The Dark Knight" movie, and posting it to Flickr, the photo went viral throughout the Internet within hours.

Barack Obama on FlickrBarack Obama on Flickr

Posters bearing the image, which had been hung around Los Angeles and other cities, were finding a devoted audience among conservatives as a political move to poke fun at Obama. Some found this is an easy way to denounce the president as a Socialist, based on his position to move Health Care Reform legislature forward.

Obama Joker on Socialist PosterObama Joker on Socialist Poster

Altering images is actually a complex area of intellectual property law. While publications currently have the right to "airbrush" or embellish a photo, altering an image without the consent or acknowledgement of a publication (e.g. Obama's cover on Time Magazine) treads the fine line of infringement. Whether removal of Alkhateeb's image from Flikr was in violation of  his "free speech" rights is perhaps something that could be fought out in the courts.

According to posting on, Britain’s Liberal Democrats would like to ban Photoshopping entirely in ads aimed at those under 16, and require all other ads to carry a disclaimer describing the extent of their alterations. They also recommend “media literacy” lessons to teach kids about advertising techniques.

Member of Parliament Jo Swinson says, “Today’s unrealistic idea of what is beautiful means that young girls are under more pressure now than they were even five years ago. Airbrushing means that adverts contain completely unattainable perfect images no one can live up to in real life. We need to help protect children from these pressures and we need to make a start by banning airbrushing in adverts aimed at them.”

However, for the purpose of this TOP TEN list, I think when it is either obvious that an image was altered or it becomes public knowledge by the creator or publication, it should have the right to circulate and not preclude it from being viewed by the public. And I think in a free country, this TOP TEN list is just one way of allowing that process to occur.


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Aug 26, 2009
by Anonymous


"Britain’s Liberal Democrats ... recommend “media literacy” lessons to teach kids about advertising techniques."


Because, you know, parenting, is SO last century.