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Science

How Million-Dollar Frauds Turned Photo Conservation Into a Mature Science 65

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the totally-photoshopped dept.
carmendrahl writes "Photos used to be second-class citizens in the art world, not considered as prestigious as paintings or sculpture. But that changed in the 1990s. As daguerrotypes and the like started selling for millions of dollars, fakes also slipped in. Unfortunately, the art world didn't have good ways of authenticating originals. Cultural heritage researchers had to play catch-up, and quickly. Two fraud cases, one involving avant garde photographer Man Ray, turned photo conservation from a niche field into a mature science."
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How Million-Dollar Frauds Turned Photo Conservation Into a Mature Science

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  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @01:10AM (#43011687)

    There are always idiots who don't understand the new medium.

    Movies, Jazz, Rock, Gaming (Interactive stories).

    50 - 100 years later the new medium is "recognized" as being "legitimate" expressions of the human spirit.

    • by the-build-chicken (644253) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @01:51AM (#43011839)

      It's a bit reductionist to say that it's just because they're 'snobs'....the way it was explained to me by my art teacher is thus:

      There are artists, and there are artisans...artists create art, artisans create craft...the yardstick used [in the art world] to differentiate the two is the ability to reproduce the work given the same skills, equipment and environment.

      Take for example, two metal workers...both with the same training, equipment, environment and requirements...likely it will be difficult to spot too much of a great difference in the resulting product. Same goes for photography...same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location etc...you end up with the same shot (as this article eludes to)....very difficult to tell the difference between two works of craft produced in the same way.

      However....you take two draughtsman (sketch artist, not architectural)...with the same years of experience, give them the same pencil, same paper, same light, same subject.....you get vastly different results. Same for painting.

      Interestingly, before Rodin, sculpture was considered a "craft"....he showed that it wasn't.

      IMHO, the jury is still out on photography...with film it had an small element of art because of the nature of the development process...with digital, it's really hard to argue that it's not a craft.

      The most telling point I think is that, if you talk to a artist (classically trained painter, sculptor or draughtsman) who is also a great photographer...he/she will usually not classify his photography as art, usually as craft....in fact, even the greats like Ansel Adams used to get angry when people called his work 'art'....he saw himself as an artisan and historian more than anything.

      Classically trained artists sound like snobs sometimes because of the wholesale trivialization of their hard won skills....Donald Trump calls contract negotiation an 'art', I've heard some programmers call coding an 'art'...everyone calls what they do an 'art'....go spend 10 years trying to master classical portraiture and you'll see why those classifications are just laughable on all fronts.

      But that's just the view of this programmer, classically trained portrait artist, sculptor and photographer :)

      • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @02:10AM (#43011901)

        same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location etc...you end up with the same shot

        I can't even start with how wrong that is. Much like two bullets fired from a gun clamped in a vise will never hit exactly the same point, so too is a photograph unique. Even something as trivial as precisely how hard the photographer triggers the shutter will effect the quality of the output. And if you aren't satisfied with that, I will find you a robot that can reproduce oil paintings on canvas.
        Every non-trivial arrangement of atoms in the universe is unique. Either uniqueness is sufficient (and every process can be art), or else it isn't and you need a more robust discriminator.

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          I can't even start with how wrong that is.

          There are photographers who've made careers out of recreating famous photos by using the "same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location etc"
          Usually landscapes, since it's not too hard to find the exact spot a picture was taken from and because the pictures usually show some progression of time.

          Much like two bullets fired from a gun clamped in a vise will never hit exactly the same point, so too is a photograph unique

          Unique? The grouping should be close enough that it doesn't make any practical difference...
          much like two photographers using the same cameras and the same settings in the same locations.
          Nobody says

          • by Anonymous Coward

            There are painters who've made careers out of doing reproductions of famous works, as well.

      • by Eskarel (565631)

        I can't tell if you really don't understand photography or if you're just using an absurd definition of "the same shot".

        If put a camera on a tripod and electronically took a shot at 6:15:49.123 on the 1st of Jan and then another shot at 6:15:49.123 on the 2nd of Jan you won't actually get the same shot, even presuming that all other factors were identical.

        Yes two shots taken at exactly the same time on exactly the same day from exactly the same place with exactly the same camera pointed in exactly the same

      • by Anonymous Coward

        But that's just the view of this programmer, classically trained portrait artist, sculptor and photographer :)

        You forgot 'snob'...

      • by antifoidulus (807088) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @02:55AM (#43012045) Homepage Journal
        Is that really the only objection though? Up until photography painting really served 2 different(though sometimes overlapping) purposes:
        1. A visual depiction of reality(or things that at the very least look relatively realistic), for example portraits etc.
        2. As an artistic medium
        Now if you really look at painting as being primarily about the former, then the argument could be made that photography really isn't a "skill", you point the camera at something and hit a button and poof, you have captured reality. To those people photography certainly requires much less skill than actually painting something. However if you consider (post-photography) painting as primarily an artistic medium, one in which you can express your thoughts then photography is art in the very same way painting is art. You are looking for the best way to frame your ideas using real objects as your medium.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Why is contract negotiation not an art? Send in 2 experienced negotiators on a complicated issue and they'll negotiate two entirely different deals. Possibly both deals are equally good in economic terms, but I they'll not be the same. You can increase the odds of them being similar by having them negotiate about simpler issues, but that's like telling your draughtsman to draw a single horizontal line in the middle of the canvas and leave only the thickness of the line to his imagination.

        I think you underes

      • by sjames (1099)

        Give two people the subject and tell them go. They will choose different equipment, different times and angles. Some may apply filters or 'special effects', others won't.

        Some people can take amazing photos using only a disposable camera, others will get a snapshot no matter how high end the equipment and materials.

        Some classically trained artists sound like snobs because they assume that only their field of interest contains difficult to master subtleties that can only be fully appreciated through years of

      • Take for example, two metal workers...both with the same training, equipment, environment and requirements...likely it will be difficult to spot too much of a great difference in the resulting product. Same goes for photography...same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location etc...you end up with the same shot (as this article eludes to)....very difficult to tell the difference between two works of craft produced in the same way.

        I might not be much of a photographer, have been looking at what some others do though. I think a lot of artistry goes into choosing the right time, position, angle, focus, f-stop,...; arranging subject(s), setting up lighting, etc. etc., to get the result that s/he envisions. Also some do a lot of (digital) post-processing these days. I've seen a lot of photographs that are just beautiful to look at. They become more than a realistic representation of a piece of reality: they tell a story to the viewer (de

      • by fatphil (181876)
        It's better to compare the output from two photographers, who each have the same bag of kit, and are in the same environment at the same time. Clearly they have the potential of capturing the exact same photo. You appear to think that photographers have no input in selecting the exact location, exact time, exact field of view, exact depth of focus, etc. for their photo.

        Go on a photo walk some time with some photography nerds - you'll find that almost everyone comes back with something different and unusual,
      • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @06:11AM (#43012623)

        There are artists, and there are artisans...artists create art, artisans create craft...the yardstick used [in the art world] to differentiate the two is the ability to reproduce the work given the same skills, equipment and environment.

        Take for example, two metal workers...both with the same training, equipment, environment and requirements...likely it will be difficult to spot too much of a great difference in the resulting product. Same goes for photography...same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location etc...you end up with the same shot (as this article eludes to)....very difficult to tell the difference between two works of craft produced in the same way.

        There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he happily retired. Several years later the company contacted him regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of their multi-million dollar machines. They had tried everything to get the machine to work but to no avail.

        In desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many of their problems in the past. The engineer reluctantly took the challenge. He spent a day studying the huge machine. Finally, at the end of the day, he marked a small "x" in chalk on a particular component of the machine and said, "This is where your problem is." The part was replaced and the machine worked perfectly again. The company received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service. They demanded an itemized accounting of his charges.

        The engineer responded briefly: One chalk mark $1; Knowing where to put it $49,999.

        It was paid in full and the engineer retired again in peace.


        Lines drawn on paper, or light exposed to film or a sensor are simply physical manifestations, just like the chalk mark. And just like the chalk mark, the value, the art comes in knowing where to put it. Where does the person put the lines on the paper? Or for the photographer, what settings does he use on the camera, where does he point it, what time of day does he take the shot, etc.

        If you're going to claim photography isn't an art, you might as well claim pianists are not musicians. With other instruments, the musician is in direct contact with the sound-generating medium (either the strings or membranes being vibrated, or the air being blown) and can shape it in nearly an infinite variety of ways. But in a piano, the contact with the strings is entirely mechanical, and the keyboard action is deliberately designed to give each note only two degrees of freedom: How quickly is the hammer moving when it hits the strings? And how long is the note held down? The hammer actually detaches from the action just before it hits the string. So now matter how expressively the pianist caresses the keys, none of that gets converted into sound. The only things that matter are velocity and duration.

        Consequently, pianos only have three degrees of freedom - which key(s) you press (frequency), how fast you press it (amplitude), and how long you hold it down (duration). Much, much simpler than a camera. So simple that player pianos have been around since the 1800s. Yet even with that simplicity there is such a broad range of possible expressions that nobody would take you seriously if you tried to claim pianists weren't musicians. Likewise, cameras may be simpler, more discrete to operate than a brush and canvas, but the range of possible expressions is so broad and varied that the final result is indisputably art.

        Artisans or craftsmen build things for their utility, their functionality, their usefulness. Artists create things that are pleasing to look at or listen to (and I would argue smell and taste - I know a few chefs and have watched them work, and I consider them artists). Any artist who tries to tell you otherwise is just an art snob trying to marginalize another artist's work.

        • by MojoRilla (591502)
          Although I understand your point, the story is apocryphal.

          See Snopes [snopes.com] for examples that attribute the same story to Tesla and Edison, as well as anonymous engineers, mechanics, and plumbers.

          Also, pianos also have dampers (felt pads that lower onto the strings when the key is released) and petals, which control the action of the dampers. Furthermore, the vibration of strings on the piano can effect other string especially with the damper petal down. So a bit more complicated than you make out.
      • by sFurbo (1361249)

        Same goes for photography...same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location etc...you end up with the same shot (as this article eludes to)....very difficult to tell the difference between two works of craft produced in the same way.

        However....you take two draughtsman (sketch artist, not architectural)...with the same years of experience, give them the same pencil, same paper, same light, same subject.....you get vastly different results.

        For photography, you mentioned all of the things directly influencing the end product. For drawing, you mentioned all of the things indirectly influencing it. If two draughtsmen made the same movements with the pencil, the resulting sketches would be identical. If you asked two photographers to make a picture of the same model, the photos could be as different as the two sketches you mentioned.

      • It's a bit reductionist to say that it's just because they're 'snobs'....the way it was explained to me by my art teacher is thus:

        There are artists, and there are artisans...artists create art, artisans create craft...the yardstick used [in the art world] to differentiate the two is the ability to reproduce the work given the same skills, equipment and environment.

        Take for example, two metal workers...both with the same training, equipment, environment and requirements...likely it will be difficult to spot too much of a great difference in the resulting product. Same goes for photography...same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location etc...you end up with the same shot (as this article eludes to)....very difficult to tell the difference between two works of craft produced in the same way.

        However....you take two draughtsman (sketch artist, not architectural)...with the same years of experience, give them the same pencil, same paper, same light, same subject.....you get vastly different results. Same for painting.

        Interestingly, before Rodin, sculpture was considered a "craft"....he showed that it wasn't.

        IMHO, the jury is still out on photography...with film it had an small element of art because of the nature of the development process...with digital, it's really hard to argue that it's not a craft.

        The most telling point I think is that, if you talk to a artist (classically trained painter, sculptor or draughtsman) who is also a great photographer...he/she will usually not classify his photography as art, usually as craft....in fact, even the greats like Ansel Adams used to get angry when people called his work 'art'....he saw himself as an artisan and historian more than anything.

        Classically trained artists sound like snobs sometimes because of the wholesale trivialization of their hard won skills....Donald Trump calls contract negotiation an 'art', I've heard some programmers call coding an 'art'...everyone calls what they do an 'art'....go spend 10 years trying to master classical portraiture and you'll see why those classifications are just laughable on all fronts.

        But that's just the view of this programmer, classically trained portrait artist, sculptor and photographer :)

        Pretty much wrong on so many levels. I can see the logic behind this, but all you need to do to figure this is false is spend a good deal of time actually trying to produce good photography. For another example, go on a photowalk with a bunch of people and go into a confined area. Out of the hundreds of photos taken, I would be my life savings no two are exactly the same even if the camera settings are the same. In the end, it's WHO is making the image, digital or not, not HOW it is made that matters.

    • by zwei2stein (782480) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @03:33AM (#43012157) Homepage

      50 - 100 years is about time to:

        * forget fads and kitch no-one will remember
        * filter out crap and crud withing medium or genre
        * discover enough nuances and develop artisty to level where we can appreciate works for what they are

      This is all very necessary.

      Take a look at any "popular" lists like "10 best movies of century" or "20 best book authors" - they will nearly always contain disproportionate amount of recent stuff which is worthless and only got there because it is still fresh in memory and talked about, but which will be completelly forgotten and left out of those lists ten years later.

      There are always idiots who think that recent pop and kitch is unrecognized art. Time needs to test the art.

    • Which is why I got in early and bought all the midget porn I could find.
    • Snobs? Snobs??

      Despite any rambling otherwise, this has solely to do with Investment Value. IF you want to have a MARKET in Artsy Photographs you will need to have a system that buyers and sellers believe in and have near-certainty about the merchandise.

    • by Stan92057 (737634)
      Except this isn't a new medium
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @03:08AM (#43012089)

    I can't help but noticing the illustration in TFA [getty.edu] shows a researcher analyzing... a dirty daguerreotype. Surprise surprise...

  • Yet another article making the most ridiculous claims ever.

    Photography was not art until the 1990s? Are you fucking kidding me?

    Who's in charge over there, anyway? Jesus H. Fucking Christ, they must be about 20 years old and taking correspondence courses from the University of Phoenix.

  • If the copy is just like the original, just treat it the same way you would the original.
    There is no point going into forensics to find something that you cannot see.

Those who do things in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice are to be avoided at all costs. -- N. Alexander.

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