PMG Connoisseurship, History, Fakes and Forgeries

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Page Information
Date initiated August 2014
Complier Luisa Casella
Contributors Paul Messier

Purpose of Connoisseurship, History, Fakes and Forgeries[edit | edit source]

Connoisseurship in the field of Photograph Conservation encompasses the comprehensive understanding of the cultural history of photography relative to the profession of photograph conservation. Connoisseurship skills are further developed by conservators over time through the extensive observation of photographic objects.
Connoisseurship includes:

  • fluent knowledge of the cultural and material history of photography
  • understanding of the valuation system of photographs and of the market that serves the collecting community
  • research abilities for the material characterization and historic contextualization of an object
  • integration of the photograph conservator into the community of curators, dealers and collectors of photography

This section will focus on presenting cases of photograph fakes and forgeries and how characterization and the work of conservators and conservation scientists was informed or helpful in determining authenticity or help with characterization.

As a definition, it is important to note that fakes are understood as works purported to be something they are not, using the style of materials of a certain time period or author. Forgeries are identical copies of existing works purporting to be the originals.

Famous Fake and Forgery Cases[edit | edit source]

Impact of Scholarly Research[edit | edit source]

Example of backprinting from Paul Messier's Backprinting of 20th century Photographic Papers database

The forgery case of Lewis Hine prints was revealed by the work of photograph conservator Valerie Baas that identified the false prints by demonstrating the UV brighteners present on the papers, the Agfa logo backprinting and the paper fibers were all introduced after the author's death.
This brought the role of the conservator's work to the forefront of authentication.
Conservators since then started developing characterization and analytical tools in two fronts: the development of protocols for the objective analysis of materials though quantification methods; and the compilation of key characteristics into reference databases.

  • Analytical studies and protocols
    • Optical brighteners and fluorescence
    • Paper fiber analysis
    • Manufacturer markings (such as backprinting)
    • Texture studies
    • Elemental composition

Techniques, Equipment, and Materials Used[edit | edit source]

  • Optical brighteners and fluorescence
  • Paper fiber analysis
  • Manufacturer markings
  • Texture studies
  • Elemental composition

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

  • Gernsheim, Helmut. 1986. A Concise History of Photography. Dover Publications, New York, 3rd revised edition.
  • Jenkins, Reese V. 1975. Images and Enterprise: Technology and the American Photographic Industry, 1839 to 1925. John Hopkins University Press,Baltimore,.
  • Johnson, Richard, Paul Messier et. al. 2014. Pursuing Automated Classification of Historic Photographic Papers from Raking Light Images. JAIC. Volume 53 Number 3.
  • Newhall, Beaumont. 1982. The History of Photography from1839 to the present,New York Graphics Society Books, Boston, revised and enlarged edition.
  • Manford, Steven. 2006. Behind the Photo: The Stamps of Man Ray. Carnet de Rhinocéros. Paris. Available online at:
  • Messier, Paul. 2010. Notes on Dating Photographic Paper (2006). Issues in the Conservation of Photographs. Volume 3. p. 98-106. Getty Publications.
  • Messier, Paul. 2008. Impact of authenticity scandals on the field of photograph conservation. PhotoNews Zeitung Für Fotografie, October 2008.
  • Messier, Paul . 2020. "Photographic Papers in the 20th Century: Methodologies for Research, Authentication and Dating". The Classic Platform (available at:
  • Taft, Robert. 1989. Photography and the American Scene, 1839-1889, Dover Publications, Inc., NewYork.
  • Woodward, R. 2003. Too Much of a Good Thing. The Atlantic.

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