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Friday, 25 March 2011


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It's my understanding that Walter Rosenblum's "forgeries" of Hine's prints were discovered as a result of the detection of OBA in the modern paper the modern fakes were printed on.

You can find the whole story at the Atlantic Monthly link. It really is worth a read.


Paul Messier was here, in Chicago, last fall and gave a presentation about his investigation to a small group at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Atlantic article covers the overall story nicely but necessarily thinly. The technical analyses required to make the ultimate determination was a story right out of PBS's Nova series. Really a fabulous story to a geek like me.

I forget the writer and his works, but some English author did say that the rare editions of his books were the second ones.

Not having the staff of an Avedon, I'll have to have my second assistant forward a comment for this article.

Folks talk about limited editions, who printed the photo and when it was printed etc. I've been wondering what photography would be worth if the artist made just one print? You know one Whistlers Mother = one Migrant Mother?

Sure I know it's apples and oranges but once the final print (I'm thinking silver print) is perfected the artist could stop there. Sure make scans and sell commercial rights to the image if you wish but there would still be just one print. (thinking out loud) Imagine owning the only copy of Weston's Pepper #30.

"For 99% of us, limiting editions of photographs is, sorry to say it, stupid."

"This argument doesn't preempt the desirability of limited editions, but it might temper it somewhat."

So, am I right in assuming 'desirability'
is strictly to make a profit?

"So, am I right in assuming 'desirability' is strictly to make a profit?"

The evolution of the discussion was 1. I said limiting was stupid, 2. a number of people countered that galleries and fine art buyers often insist on limiting, and here 3. I'm saying that it might even be counterproductive even though it's required for gallery representation.


There's a more readable version of that article here. You've linked to it before (here) but the piece made a stronger impact on me today than last time, perhaps because it's part of such a strong series. I wonder about the effect the case has had on Walter Rosenblum's career. The various bios I just read online don't even mention it (no surprise) but it would be interesting to know. Rosenblum appears to have made some astonishing decisions, given his background and standing.


If you have watched the "Genius of Photography" series this forgery incident by Rosenblum is covered in a segment of one of the 6 part videos. Their report was that the fake prints were at least confirmed by the detection of OBAs.


" . . . an Edward Weston print made by Edward himself is more valuable than a print made later by his son Cole, even if Cole's is the better print."

No doubt true, but isn't there something faintly ridiculous about this when we are talking about reproductions within a purely visual medium?

Well, that's another thing Vestal used to complain about--that collectors preferred his older "vintage" prints to his newer prints that he felt were better. I don't know if he still feels the same way now that he's getting lots of money for his prints finally.


Having not seen it before yesterday on TOP, I've been looking at that "Powerhouse Mechanic" photo off and on over the last day. Something doesn't seem right about it. I think it is too posed. If the man had really been straining, there'd be muscles showing in the upper shoulder/top of back for a clockwise wrench, or muscles showing in the lower shoulder/lower back for a counter-clockwise wrench.

Gosh, I'm picky, but "posed" photos never do much for me, particularly if then contaminated with the opinion of art experts.

Well worth a read indeed! That's a terrible story that definitely throws some light onto not only the dodgy dealings of the Rosenblums, but just the dynamics of the business / market.

The million dollar I-defrauded-you-but-I-can-buy-you-back fund was particularly unsettling. Who do these guys think they are?


Does anyone have a more definitive value for the total number of prints made by Adams of "Moonrise". I've heard three numbers over the years, i.e. a very definitive-sounding 476, Mike's comment of 800+, and the Wikipedia listing of 1300. Adams probably didn't have a definitive count himself, but there does seem to be a large discrepancy in values I've seen reported. Is there a more authoritative guess, and if so, by whom?

For those of you eager to follow the conversation, bright enough to contribute, but unfortunate to never have run across the abbreviation before... OBA is a stand in for Optical Brightening Agents.
Just, coff, sayin'.

James, I believe you are right. The clue for me is the way the spanner (wrench) is not square to the nut as it should be, but at about a 40 degree angle to it, angled towards us. The spanner would slip off the nut as soon as the mechanic pulled on it. Skinned knuckles if he was lucky, and a spanner in the mouth if he wasn't. However, I do like the shot.*

*Disclaimer: I am not an art expert** : )

**Expert: Ex as in 'has been', spurt as in 'a drip under pressure'.

A fascinating read- and a very sad one...

Thanks for the input from Charlie. At one point he even answered the question, "Isn't there something faintly ridiculous about [paying more for a print by Edward Weston than one made by his son] when we are talking about reproductions within a purely visual medium?"

As Charlie said, "There will never be any more prints made by Ansel Adams, because he's in no position to make any and will never be again." Exactly. With any physical memento--FDR's cigarette case, Jackie Kennedy's clutch purse, Churchill's ashtray--the fact that an item was handled by a now-deceased Famous Person makes it more valuable than an absolutely identical item that was not touched by famous hands. Photographic prints are no different; if anything, their value-discrepancy compared to copies is even greater than with ashtrays and handbags, because a signed vintage print means The Great One actually spent some moments of his or her storied life making it.

P.S. From the first time I saw it I've always assumed that "Steamfitter" was posed. It's a superbly composed photo to me, but the awkward angle of the wrench, the perfect angle of his arms, the fact that all of the other nuts are in position and fastened, and most of all the several-second exposure it probably required make its "posed" nature a given in my mind.

But is that a surprise? I don't think that it was ever presented as being any less posed than any other indoor people-photos were in the 1920s. Indoor unposed photos are so common nowadays that modern eyes assume such photos were always possible, but because of technical limitations, until after mid-century indoor photos that were not posed were actually quite rare.

I would guess that everyone who saw "Steamfitter" for the first 20-30 years after it was made would have known instantly that it was posed, because they knew that virtually every other indoor people-photo of the era was posed.

"a signed vintage print means The Great One actually spent some moments of his or her storied life making it."

Well, that, but not JUST that. It also means the "Great Ones" also *approved* it--that is, got it just the way they presumably wanted it to be. It's not so much that Adams touched something that makes it valuable, but that he SAW it, meaning it more reliably embodies his intentions than a "synthetic" later print by someone else can.


But if you really want a nice picture of "Powerhouse", toodle on over to Shorpy ( http://www.shorpy.com/) and he will sell you a nice reproduction at a very reasonable price.

I have no iron in that fire, just posting as a public service.

>>It's not so much that Adams touched something that makes it valuable, but that he SAW it, meaning it more reliably embodies his intentions than a "synthetic" later print by someone else can.<<

Okay, that makes sense for Adams' work, but what about Cartier-Bresson? As I understand it, he didn't print his own photographs but rather preferred to have them done by a trusted lab. If the same printer at the same lab were to make one of C-B's prints the same way today would it still be "synthetic?"

My guess is that the answer would be yes, which means that the value is derived less from the photographer "seeing" or printing it than "approving" it by signing it. As further evidence, it's a common practice for many lesser-known photographers to charge more for a signed print than for one that is otherwise identical but unsigned.

A late comment: I just received in the mail a print from a known nature photographer (a gift fom my wife). It's a small print and it's numbered - a low double digit number out of roughly 1000. It's been available for a few years. So rather than feel I got something "limited" I feel I bought something very few people want ! Not that it bothers me, but it doesn't accomplish anything positive in this case.

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