Harry Whittier Frees.

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Photographer Harry Whittier Frees used no special effects to create his early 20th century versions of LOL cats. He had to be gentle with his subjects, and wait patiently for the perfect moment to snap the pictures. Link to story. Link to more photos. More here. And here. -via Metafilter

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I love Harry Whittier Frees' brilliant work. I had Yip and Yap as a little girl. His work has greatly influenced my work as an animal doll maker.
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But you don't have the cutest picture of all - the kittens in an airship picture! (I love airships and kittens, equally.)

http://www.brassgoggles.co.uk/brassgoggles/?p=473
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1) The last two links to more photos are busted.

2) Special effects in photography have existed as long as photography has. The most common being the double-exposure. That said, it doesn't look like Frees made use of that technique... but it's misleading to say that special photographic effects didn't exist.
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