Exercise: Question for Seller

Our course manual sends us off to look at Nicky Bird’s project Question for Seller, in order to explore a little into creating new meanings for old photographs. Bird was interested in family photos and purchased collections of photographs on eBay which intrigued her. She made a bid for the collections that no one else was interested and bought them. She always asked her sellers the following: ‘How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them?’

She states that the sellers’ answers are quite revealing: some are simply getting rid of photos that don’t mean anything to them – their family history or relevance has been lost. She then exhibited the photographs in a gallery, hung them on the walls and featured them in an album. At the end of the exhibition the photographs were auctioned off with a starting price of 99p. The album was simultaneously auctioned off on eBay with the bidding closing on the same night.

Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Reflect on the following in your learning blog:

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

  • Most definitely. These were photos that families no longer wanted. Their relevance was no longer felt within the family, or not even understood. Only one person was interested in purchasing the photos. Yet now these “throw-aways” are elevated to the highest echelon of “photographic society” by being exhibited in a gallery. The photographs hang on walls to be seen by many interested people.

Where does their meaning derive from?

  • Because the connotation of these photos is one of discarded and unloved items, viewers will tend to attach their own interpretations to these images, perhaps by relating to their own stash of photographic images that are tucked away in a shoe box somewhere in the attic, or by seeing something familiar in the images that triggers old memories. As Barthes (1980: 107) states: ‘Photography … authenticates the existence of a certain being, I want to discover that being in the photograph completely’.

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’?

  • Yes it is. During the original eBay auction the only bidder was Nicky Bird who probably paid very little for the photos. However, once exhibited in a gallery under the auspices of a well known photographer (Nicky Bird), the photographs took on an intrinsic value as opposed to just being old snapshots. Possibly there were no negatives that accompanied the photographs at the initial sale to Bird, so the photos would be limited editions as well.
Reference List

Barthes, Roland. (1980) Camera Lucida Reflections on Photography.  New York: Hill and Wang

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