I enjoyed looking at this work. I liked that it was so firmly rooted in the familiar and I liked that Nicky had simple rules that she worked to – she would only buy photographs where no-one else was bidding, and she asked the same question to every seller and included their replies in the work. I was impressed with how she followed the process through to the logical end and auctioned off some images starting at 99pence; and sold an album of others on Ebay (it went for £205, if anyone else has the same nagging curiosity that I did). For me, this is like returning a caught fish to the sea, or like tag and release of wildlife. It makes me think of a stream or sea of images, always full and always changing.
Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
Absolutely. One of the things I learned way back on the Foundation course, from Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures, was that if something is being shown in a gallery it’s “Art”. Regardless of what normal people think. If the curators/buyers show it, then it’s Art.
Where does their meaning derive from?
For me, their meaning derives from the fact that Bird has made a carefully selected archive of vernacular images from the common well that is Ebay. The answer that goes with each photograph adds a layer of meaning and context to each image. The work leads us to consider the wider vernacular archive and also the journeys that photographs take to reach us, and the journeys that they take when they leave us or when we leave them. These journeys might be related to sentiment or they might be accidental or purposeful transactions.
When they are sold again is their value increased?
I think the answer to this depends on where they are sold and who is selling them. If a gallery sells them, then yes, if the work is perceived as strong enough to be shown in a gallery then I would expect the gallery to sell them at a higher price, as by then they are definitely Art. There’s a video with extracts of the auction that shows this in action – photographs that were bought for 99pence were sold for £6-£12 for example.
I’m not so sure on Ebay. My feeling is maybe, a bit. Nicky sold an album of images from the project on Ebay, for £205. This doesn’t feel like very much considering the number of images that it could potentially contain and the work that went into it. I think Ebay is about a different kind of perceived value. People expect to get a bargain on Ebay but they possibly don’t expect to get a bargain from a gallery and perhaps that changes the relative price expectations.
I looked at her website, at a PhotoParley interview with Sharon Boothroyd, a video about the auction of some of the work and at a couple of other websites. I was touched and intrigued by how she spoke about history disappearing because we have no link to the people who took these images or the people who knew about these photographs. In PhotoParlay we hear about her experience with a contact sheet showing Elvis and a group of well-dressed women, and the only selection marks on the sheet were around Elvis. These words, from the same interview, rang true for me too.
“There is a debt to feminism here – which is about looking out for the overlooked, questioning what’s valued (or not), creating new spaces to listen, reading against the grain and so on.”