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

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

    same camera, settings, direction, time of day, physical location 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 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 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @04:14AM (#43012279)

    Daguerrotypes don't have negatives, and Ansel Adams would have had something to say about "just" making limitless copies from the negative.

    You clearly know nothing about the history of photography, nor about printing.

  • 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 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.

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama