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Photograph Identification Guide
by David Rudd Cycleback

Chapter 4 : WHAT IS A PHOTOGRAPH, WHAT ISN'T AND HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE


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Not all photo realistic images are photographs and the collector should know the difference between a photograph and non-photograph. The realistic images in a recent glossy magazine, on a modern trading card, cereal box or advertising poster are not photographs but photomechanical prints. While a photograph is made by the subtle interaction of light or other energy with photochemicals, most photomechanical prints involve a printing press pressing ink against paper.

Names for common types of photomechanical prints include lithograph, collotype, photoengraving, giclee, photogravure, computer print, halftone and digital print.

Even when they collect both, most photo collectors consider photographs and photomechanical prints different categories. This is due to aesthetic as much as technical reasons. Typically a photograph will be more expensive than the equivalent photomechanical print. In the genre of photographs the seller should represent a photomechanical print as photomechanical and not as a real photograph.

 

Telling the Difference: "Dots Versus No Dots"

A handheld microscope or strong magnifier will allow one to distinguish a photograph from a photomechanical print.

Close examination of a photograph will reveal great subtly in tones and shades. The tones can be so subtle that it seems as if you can't get the microscope in focus.

Under magnification the photomechanical print will be made up of a distinct pattern of tiny dots or other printed ink patterns. The dots can be all one color or, for a color picture, a variety of colors. Check this out yourself. Take a microscope or strong magnifying glass and examine the pictures in the magazine on your coffee table.


microscopic view of the dot patterns
on modern baseball card

Many cheap reprints are photomechanical reproductions of original photos. However, some photomechanical prints have financial value, such as a Scavullo silkscreen, Alfred Steiglitz photogravure, Richard Avedon giclee or a many sports cards.

While this book is about real photographs, a chapter near the end gives an overview of the different kinds of photomechanical prints.

Guess What. You've just learned how to identify many modern reprints and fakes
If you see an 'antique' photograph, like an 1860s Abe Lincoln cabinet card or 1910 Ty Cobb smapshot, where the image is made up of a multi color dot pattern like on a modern trading card or magazine cover, it's more than probably a modern reprint.

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