Look at the work Nicky Bird carried out in the project ‘Question for sellers’.
- Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
- Where does their meaning derive from?
- When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?
Nicky Bird had an interest in old family photographs and was shocked to see many can be found for sale on Ebay for very little money. Why shocked? We all hold our family photograph albums so very dear as a record of our heritage for future generations so why are they being sold off for pennies? It may be that those families no longer exist or a house clearance has uncovered antique photographs. Whatever the reason old photographs are easily attainable without a great deal of effort.
In the guise of research I carried out my own search for old photographs for sale on Ebay and there were lots to chose from. Bird had spoken about photographs being priced as low as 99p back in 2002 and fifteen years on the prices haven’t changed too much. There are auctions starting at £65 for an album or £95 for a job lot but it isn’t necessary to spend this much money.
“Nicky Bird makes work using material from the past, with the aim of examining the contemporary relevance of found photographs. Question for Seller is fuelled by her interest in family photographs that appear on eBay. The artist buys photographs no-one else bids for, with the connotation that they are unwanted, and therefore with no significant value. She approaches the seller with the question: How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them? Their replies, however brief, are as important as the photographs they are selling, sometimes alluding to a part of a discarded family history, or the everyday, where personal photographs have long since lost their original meaning. On the 1st of February 2007, Bird’s one-off physical ‘family album’ – which combined original photographs and eBay sellers’ statements – was valued similarly, auctioned off on eBay for £205.”
Seesaw magazine, 2007
Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
How can it not? We’re talking about unwanted photographs being re-contextualised and exhibited in a gallery. Their status has rocketed compared to where they were. It reminds of these singing competitions you see on television where people, who can sing very well, go from nobody to an international star over night.
Nicky Bird has come along and rescued these old photographs that no one cares about any longer and given them a purpose. We may not know who the people in the portraits are but we know they were part of a family once and were valued. Selling the photographs on ebay is dramatically decreasing their sentimental value and the reason the price is so low on them is they have ceased to hold sentiment. Repurposing has given them a new lease of life so yes, I think their status has been elevated.
Where does their meaning derive from?
What were once visual narratives of family life and history, these photographs original meanings have been lost over time. With the help of Nicky Bird the photographs have a new meaning and we can draw this from their narrative counterpart ‘questions for sellers’. New meaning has been derived from the sellers answers and give us some context behind the image in most cases.
One such example is a collection of portraits of Afro American men and women which on the face of it seem to indicate some sort of historical archive for the family album showing different family members.
The sellers description leads to a much more sinister narrative explaining that they were originally his friends mothers photographs although he didn’t know who the people in the photographs were. He went on to explain that the lady in question ‘wasn’t a saint’ and was ‘active in the community’ of an army town. Suddenly the meaning of these photographs changes given a little knowledge and then we draw the blanks.
When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?
There are plenty examples of a seemingly worthless items drastically increasing in value when it is declared ‘art’. In 2011, Andreas Gursky’s photograph Rhein II sold at auction for a staggering $4.3 million.
Every budding photographer in the world will have images like Rhein II in their early collection only later to discover whilst gaining composition knowledge that this defies the rule of thirds. So how can this bland and unbalanced photograph be worth so much money?
Ken Rockwell writes,
It is valuable because it is art, not just a photo.
Rules are worthless. If he was just a photographer instead of an artist, he would have been crippled by the nonexistent “rule of thirds” myth, and put the horizon someplace else. In his case, the horizon slams right through the middle, which adds to the power by giving a sense of unease. Our minds ask “what’s up with this? This is so barren and empty; where is this place?”
So we know that being an artist and producing art via a photographic medium can increase the value of the photograph.
In Nicky Birds case, the sale of her ‘family album’ from the series ‘question for seller’ must have been very disappointing. Although the monetary cost of the photographs was lower than the final auction sale price of £205, this isn’t a large sum of money. Although the value increased due to its ‘art’ status the final value was no compensation for the extent of the work involved. For all the hard work, years of collecting and hours spend repurposing and exhibiting a higher value should have been placed on this particular art. When all is said and done, art is worth, what someone is willing to pay.
Gone are the days when photography was about taking photographs as Nicky Bird demonstrates you don’t need to use a camera to make a statement using a photographic medium.
The art side of photography is one thats difficult to decipher and doesn’t come naturally to me. I can understand and appreciate other peoples work although the ideas aren’t so forthcoming. The more I learn the more I think about ideas but I’m yet to find ‘the one’.
http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ (Accessed 26/08/17)
http://www.seesawmagazine.com/sellerpages/sellerintro.html (Accessed 26/08/17)
https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/ (Accessed 26/08/17)
https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/11/most-expensive-photo-world/335687/ (Accessed 26/08/17)
https://petapixel.com/2011/11/14/why-gurskys-photo-of-the-rhine-is-the-worlds-most-expensive-photo/ (Accessed 26/08/17)