This photograph called "Powerhouse Mechanic" (1920)
is by Lewis Hine. Is it real or a fake?
And what about this photograph? Notice that it’s
not exactly the same as the previous photo.
Is it real or a fake?
Both photographs are real, but they are different versions taken by the same photographer. Yet either photograph could be real or fake. It depends on how the photographic prints are represented - for instance, were they printed by the photographer who took the picture, or by someone else?
Most experts could not reliably tell the difference between a falsely labeled photograph until science got involved.
This long article from The Atlantic magazine explains what happened when a theoretical physicist, who was also a major collector of photographs, became suspicious about some prints he'd purchased. He spearheaded a scientific examination to discover whether the photographic prints sold by a reputable photography scholar were real or fake.
"…when a previously unknown Rembrandt turns up for sale, experts are called to verify the claim. Spectrographic tests can be run on pigment, ground, sizing, and canvas to date materials. The provenance of a work is checked. Anyone with access to a specialist's art library can pull down a volume that shows changes in Rembrandt's autograph over his lifetime. Two and a half centuries of classical-art scholarship have given curators an array of reliable tools with which to assess whether a sculpture is a Greek original, a Roman copy, or a latter-day forgery.Too Much of a Good Thing -The theoretical physicist who ignited the biggest firestorm in the history of the American photography market was simply trying to figure out if his vintage photos were genuine. By the time he learned the answer, two of the country's best-known photography scholars had come under a cloud of suspicion, The Atlantic>>
But in the fine-art photography market—smaller than the painting, sculpture, and drawing markets, and only about twenty-five years old—safeguards are fewer… It is still not possible, for example, to date with certainty a Mathew Brady photograph, whereas a drawing attributed to Titian can be subjected to a battery of widely accepted scientific tests.
Moreover, notions of what constitutes value in fine-art photography are notably subjective. When the photography market was born, in New York in the mid-1970s, the concept of "vintage" prints boosted its growth. These were the select few prints—or perhaps the only one—developed by the photographer immediately or soon after he made the negative, and often signed. Although the concept can be seen as little more than a marketing strategy to avert profligate reproduction, most collectors, dealers, curators, and auction houses came to agree that vintage prints should, if all else is equal, be deemed intrinsically more valuable than subsequent prints made from the same negative, whether by the photographer in later life or posthumously."