Deface the Nation: Our Best Political Photoshops

Earlier this month, executive editor Sherri Dalphonse wrote about the time Washingtonian manipulated photos of Ronald and Nancy Reagan for a 1986 story on sunglasses: “Photographer Steven Biver got existing black-and-white photographs of the Reagans, blew them up to life-size, poked holes in the photos to slip on the designer frames I’d chosen–a hip pair of $150 Cooper Vision shades called ‘Revo’ for the President, and a $70 pair of Vuarnet cat-eyes called ‘Doe’ for the First Lady–then took pictures of the result.”

Photos by Steven Biver.

Unamused, the White House had Peter J. Wallison, Counsel to the President, deliver a reprimand to the magazine–surprising, actually, since President Reagan had apparently enjoyed Washingtonian‘s previous photo work.

For our May 1980 cover, we spliced the 69-year-old head of Reagan, then fighting George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination, onto the body of 18-year-old bodybuilder Frank Wilkinson. “Even his political rivals concede that Ronald Reagan retains a youthful buoyancy that stirs the juices of middle-age groupies,” Dom Bonafede wrote in an accompany article.

Starring George Mason freshman Frank Wilkinson as Reagan’s torso. Photos by Peter Garfield and Roger Sandler.

It was the first time we had ever “enhanced” a photo, we wrote in July 1991: “Reagan reportedly loved it and was willing to pose with the cover. But Nancy felt that it might emphasize the age issue that was raised during his hard-fought campaign for the Republican nomination.”

It also wasn’t our last enhanced picture.

The cover of that same 1991 issue was graced by our readers’ pick for Hero of the Year, General Norman Schwarzkopf, whose likeness also made an appearance inside.

Model Jeff Mitchell played the role of Stormin’ Norman’s chest. Photos by Max Hirshfeld and J. Langevin/Sygma.
Photos by Max Hirshfeld and J. Langevin/Sygma

In May 2009, we tweaked a photo of a shirtless, newly inaugurated President Obama, changing his swim trunks from dark blue to red but leaving his pecs untouched.

Photo by Chris/Bauer-Griffin.

When, during the Nixon administration, the technology just wasn’t there, we turned to older methods of poking fun at politicians. A sculpture of Vice President-elect Spiro Agnew made the cover of our November 1968 issue.

Sculpture by Charles Mendez.

Our August 1974 issue was released just days before President Nixon resigned.

Design by Al Shapiro and Drew Babb. Photo by George Hausman.

Months into his Presidency, Jimmy Carter was pelted by a snow ball on our December 1977 cover.

Illustration by Bill Nelson.

And in the middle of Marion Barry’s second term as DC mayor, we thought it would be appropriate to place a halo above his head. In “The Charmed Life of Marion Barry,” reporters Robert Pack, John Sansing, and Debra L. Green quoted one law-enforcement officer as saying, “Above all, remember that Barry lands on his feet. He’s done it time after time.” The Mayor for Life was arrested for crack cocaine possession in 1990.

Photo by Rhoda Baer.

Washingtonian‘s greatest political cover? Probably this one, from February 1990. The bottom cover-line: “Dan Quayle: Did He or Didn’t He?”

Photo by Dan Ford Connolly/Picture Group, retouched by Damon Von Eiff.

Diana McLellan, our Washington editor, had this to say: “One of Vice President Dan Quayle’s biggest assets is his friendly, midwestern grin. Did he get his great smile from an orthodontist? ‘No,’ says a spokesman. ‘He never wore braces. He has had perfectly formed teeth since childhood.'”

Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith (@harrisondsmith on Twitter) has contributed to the Washington Post and Chicago magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].