“PHOTOGRAPH”: let’s move on.
Facebook receives more than 3 million uploaded photos every day, or well over 3,000 each second. But Instagram blows Facebook out of the water like it’s a little floating bug: Instagram sees 40 million photos posted daily.
Buses are covered with photographs, my e-mails are full of them, and I continue to be frustrated with my older sister who writes a couple of quick notes a day, but never once has included a photo because she can’t figure out how to do it on her PC. Send me a picture, I say! I expect to SEE what you are talking about!
So, it’s fun that our photographs have become integral to how we communicate. We have become used to daily uploads, to changing images that keep us “current”, and to capturing any special scene or fleeting moment anywhere, at any time, with our camera phones and handy small digital cameras. My just-completed Snapfish 2012 photobook is a tubby 55 pages as I chronicled more and more of the year’s events photographically, and made stunning pictures, with almost no talent or effort, of the two beautiful Maine cities we live in. Because I live in Portland half the week, my Belfast-based husband and I often send cellphone pics throughout the day to keep connected about the small things. Photographs are woven into our daily lives and I like it a lot.
Except for the fact that I am a photographs dealer.
I believe the time has come for those of us who are in the fine art photographs business – either creating, exhibiting or selling them – to stop using the word “photograph” and here’s why:
1) If we’re all taking and sharing an endless stream of photographs, the value of a single photograph is understandably diluted, and 2) It becomes more and more challenging to convince collectors that investing in a single photograph for their workspace or home is valid.
Using the word “photographs” to sell a fine art piece is becoming a little like bringing coals to Newcastle. For younger collectors especially, committing to works of art they will view day after day for years most likely, is somewhat weird. It’s all about change, the newest new. And then, spending money on an object (“photograph”) that they themselves make easily, is well…even weirder.
At a time when photographs are commanding serious chunks of change at the top of the art market (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathryntully/2012/12/09/the-steady-rise-of-fine-art-photography/) photographs in the lower echelons of fine art are a tough sell because photographs have become ubiquitous and really, really easy for the rest of us to make, and make well.
That said, what has blown open the fine art photographs market for me, at least, is the fact that photographs no longer look like, well, “photographs” only. Clients come to the gallery and look around in wonder, saying “I thought you just sold photographs!” It gets clearer to me every day that it’s time to get the word out that today’s “photographs” are not your father’s photographs. Today’s photograph creators cross every line, mix every process (both digital and historic), approach picture-making from every angle and method and with a no-holds-barred attitude. The results are photo-based art and “photograph” no longer fits.
In fact, creating photo-based art has never been more exhilarating, satisfying, and yes, more challenging. And what I’m finding is that the fine art photographers I know and admire are up for those challenges, and in fact are energized by the infinite possibilities as photography becomes re-defined. By employing digital darkroom techniques, and often combining digital darkroom with historic processes, artists understand their work just gets more and more unique, and they’re right. I can see it on my clients’ faces as they move from one piece to another, one artist’s work to another – every new work is a fresh visual experience because the creative options and combinations are infinite for the creator.
I’ve run into an interesting scenario a couple of times over the last few months: when I or a designer client of the gallery has presented works from gallery artists for consideration to a corporate client, the comment is made that this employee, or that employee’s wife, takes great photographs and maybe they should just frame and hang those for little or no investment. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a semantics problem: photographs, as traditionally defined, are too easily come by today and therefore a free route to take to dress up the corporate walls. Using terms like “two-dimensional wall art”, “photo-based art”, “pictures”, or “images”, sets the tone that the works they are about to see are the result of a creative journey known only to their creators – making the point there is mystery here, artistic vision realized, and hard work.
Like making a photograph used to be.