blog: Thinking about Photography
Last week the Times had an interesting article about 65 glass plate negatives purchased for $45 at a garage sale in Fresno. Suspecting that they might be far more valuable than $45, the purchaser then assembled a team of experts to prove that the negatives were recovered from the 1937 fire in Ansel Adams’ darkroom. Value, $200 million. Well it turns out the experts in this case may not have been that expert, the $200 million is a givaway of course. It is still being disputed so we will have to wait on that, but it may remind any of us from the film era of our own stories of lost negatives. We all have them, don’t we, lost negative stories. I have.
In the digital era the problem is slightly different but images can get lost and when that happens its feels like more of a loss than it is because the potential image is an incalculable thing. I don’t need to tell you to make backups and put the hard disk in a separate safe place but there are other ways to lose things in the digital world by simply misfiling them. I try to file everything when I download it but still manage to lose a few files along the way, although, so far I have not lost anything in the digital realm as thouroughly as I lost those lost negatives that I still think about to this day.
Any number of things might go through an artist’s mind in deciding what to charge for work. Give it away or charge a lot? Will a substantial price assert the significance of the work or drive buyers away?
Last week in New York I was reading ArtNews. On page 4 there is an advertisement for Heritage Auction Gallery showing an Annie Leibovitz 14″ x 14″ Cibachrome photographs of Robert Redford. The estimated price is $4,000 to $6.000. It’s number 4 of an edition of 50. The price seems about right for a not great photograph by Annie Leibovitz – and it is Robert Redford after all.
More interesting though is the article in the same issue about the photographer Andrew Moore who takes photographs mostly of urban scenes and collapsed buildings. His prints sell for between $7,000 and $25,000 at the Yancy Richardson Gallery, a terrific gallery in New York. Thats a nice price. An artist could live and breathe with those prices and even have an occasional meal out. Moore is a fine photographer and BAPC member work is as good or better.
New York itself lends a certain weight to work shown. Its in the air. I know that and it allows galleries to charge more. But, that said, we don’t charge enough for our work.
The Internet world does not respect copy protection, to say the least. Images can be dragged off the page by anyone and posted elsewhere, typically uncredited. BAPC members are concerned about this issue as recent emails have shown, but most seem to think it’s still worthwhile to post their images to the net anyway.
Here is why:
1. The Internet is the greatest communication tool going and a great way to get an image out into the world.
2. A web image is typically a reduced version of the original. Printing from this image will result in an inferior print compared to the original and not even close to the artist’s intention. Watermarking an image can further discourage printing. Stock Photography houses like Getty Images do just fine posting vast numbers of images to the web, but they post small versions only. If you want the larger version, you pay a fee.
3. Copying an image to another site or including it in another work of art, as annoying as that is, exposes the work to a greater audience. Worst case, the image is claimed by another artist as their own or is used without credit.
It’s still important to copyright and protect images particularly for print publication use. Professional photographers depend on being paid for each use unless they have sold that right to someone else. But the Internet seems to be a different kind of place. At some point image software may contain an expiration code that disassembles an image after a certain date. Until that happens anything you put on the web can wind up anywhere else.
Photography seems to be all the rage. Shows are rampant. New and better cameras keep being made. Lenses grow bigger and smaller at the same time. Cameras are becoming more intelligent with face tracking and stability controls to deal with focus and shaky hands. Everyone seems to carry a camera in one pocket or another. Even the ancient technology of film is still popular. Everything gets photographed, dogs, cars, red light runners, cats. Pictures are taken of everything, evidence is gathered.
Why do we do this? What needs to be photographed or is important enough to be recorded? What is actually taken. Is there time to see these pictures after they are made, does anyone see them. Mostly not I must report. Maybe it’s the act of taking a picture that people enjoy. It seems to be a defense against time, against confusion and the suddeness of change. The world is forever falling over a waterfall into a past we cannot accurately recreate or remember. There is sense of heightened participation in taking a picture of some event or maybe an important person. As if to say – I don’t know what I am seeing but maybe, if I take a picture of it, I will be able to understand it later.
What does this kind of activity have to do with art? Does the proliferating of photography undermine its artistic possibilities? What role does BAPC play in rescuing photography from this excess of picture taking?
BAPC as an organization has no particular philosophic view on the matter – certainly nothing all members would agree with – but it does have a methodology that promotes the generation of art rather than just more imagery. First we focus on the print. That eliminates 99% of the generated images, just the way a short hike in the national parks leaves 99 percent of your fellow visitors behind. Making a print is physical and requires making difficult choices, which paper to use, how big should it be, how should it be cropped. Next BAPC encourages editing and grouping as a natural consequence of peer reviews.