Exercise – Question for Seller

Question for Seller was a collection of work by Nicky Bird who collected unwanted photographs sold on Ebay and asked the seller how they had come across the photograph they were selling and what did they know about it.

The photographs were exhibited at Belfast Exposed in 2007, and at the end of the exhibition they were auctioned so that visitors could take parts of the exhibition home with them.

The course book asks three questions:

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?T

The images were considered virtually worthless by their sellers, so their status is elevated by their presence on the gallery wall, albeit that they now have more meaning as a collection than they did as as individual photographs. To quote Susan Sontag: When viewed in their new context, museum or gallery, photographs cease to be “about” their subjects in the same direct or primary way, they become studies in the possibilities of photography. (Sontag, 2008)

Where does their meaning derive from?

Again their meaning now results from their presence as a collection rather than as individual images. The addition of the answers to Bird’s question to the sellers adds to their meaning, but their only meaningful existence now is as part of the collection.

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’?

That is a more complex question. It really comes down to what you consider their value to be. For their subjects and the subjects’ families they obviously had great sentimental value if little financial value, as do the photographs in my own collection of old family images. As they have become separated from their subjects by time, that value has dissipated, such that they could be sold for virtually nothing. Much of the value of art however is a result of its provenance. Using these pictures within this exhibition has given them a new provenance which almost certainly has increased their financial value, but their original value as documents and aide memoire is now lost.

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