Airbrushing was an early method of retouching and coloring photographs which can be traced back as far as the late 1800s. It is a unique process which creates a beautiful matte effect, causing images to look as though they are caught somewhere between photograph and painting. While the technology is still employed today, in the pre-Photoshop era airbrushing was a go-to method of altering and improving images.
At the National Archives, we do not alter, retouch, or manipulate the original records within our holdings. We preserve the materials that are sent to us by government agencies as invaluable historical records. We do, however, have some examples of airbrushed images in our holdings created by the agencies before transfer. For examples of airbrushing in the Still Picture Branch holdings, check out these images from RG 17-HD, the Bureau of Animal Industry!
Images depicting different stages in the airbrushing process: