The term connoisseur conjures up a vision of the meticulous art historian studying an unattributed oil painting that has hallmarks of a master’s brush. Or in a similar vein, the seasoned sommelier who pinpoints the origin and vineyard from a glass of wine without glimpsing the label on the bottle from which it was poured.
Connoisseurship and collecting historic photography is not a pairing normally in the front of my mind. But that changed last year when Dominick A. Serrano submitted his compelling profile of Richmond, Va., photographer Charles R. Rees. During the editing process, I called Dom to ask questions about some of the finer points of unsigned portraits of Confederate soldiers attributed to the master photographer. At one point during the conversation, Dom introduced the concept of connoisseurship in context to image collecting.
Since then, I’ve often thought about this connection and have come to appreciate its value.
Merriam-Webster’s entry for connoisseurship is the best definition I’ve found: “One who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a critical judge” and “one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties.” This combination of skills, acquired over time through careful observation and interpretation, elevates the art historian or the sommelier as a trusted source in identifying an oil painting or a bottle of wine of unknown origins.
The same mastery of these critical skills applies in the image collecting world. If you study historic photos and educate yourself on how they came to be, you can, over time, develop your abilities. And perhaps, someday, you too will become a connoisseur of historic photographs. Perhaps you already are! Dom Serrano achieved this status for Rees images. There are other collector-connoisseurs out there who, like Dom, have honed their skills to a high level and apply their knowledge and sensibilities to other photographers and the places they practiced their craft.
These collector-connoisseurs are important to the health and future of the hobby, and to those who appreciate historic images. We need you!
Ronald S. Coddington
Editor & Publisher
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