Nicky Bird’s series, Question for Seller, explores the value and contemporary relevance of old unwanted family photographs. The series is made from old family photographs Bird acquired on eBay. Bird was the sole bidder for each of the lots she acquired. Each seller was asked the following question: “How did you come across the photos, and what, if anything, do you know about them?” Bird exhibited the photographs, accompanied by the sellers’ replies. The replies are as important as the photographs, as they sometimes allude “to a part of a discarded family history, or the everyday, where personal photographs have long since lost their original meaning” (Bird 2016).
Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
Yes it does. What were once unwanted, and considered of little valve, have been placed in a position where they may be viewed by many. The moment Nicky Bird purchased the photographs, their status was elevated from unwanted to wanted. They immediately had increased value. The gallery wall is considered to be the top tier in the hierarchy of forums for the exhibition of art, and by placing the photographs in such a position, further elevates their status, and opens a dialogue on their value.
Where does their meaning derive from?
The meaning of the work is derived from both the sellers’ answer to Bird’s question, and also from Bird’s treatment of the image. By finding and exhibiting the photographs as she has, Bird has altered and given a whole new meaning to the images. Bird describes how “audiences were taken aback by the fact they were all found on eBay, and what their ‘market value’ was” (Boothroyd 2013). The exhibition in a way enables the viewer to draw a parallel between the work and their own family photographs, thus questioning the sentimental value of their own family’s photographs and history. In an interview with Sharon Boothroyd, Bird suggests that the issue for her is how the images “connect with contemporary life, and the questions again lie in the action of finding the photographs, so the context in which they are ‘found’ becomes an important part of the work” (Boothroyd 2013).
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’?
Nicky Bird’s exhibition closed with an eBay auction that gave the viewer a chance to bid for, purchase and take artwork home with them at the end of the night, thus allowing them to assign their own monetary value on the work. Bird felt that the live auction contributed greatly to the overall exhibition as it allowed the viewer “to follow the logic of ‘market value’ right through to the end” (Boothroyd 2013). The value of the photographs showed a definite increase, but what I find interesting is that while the photographs generally remain unchanged, their treatment is what now deems them ‘art’. So, yes, rendering the photographs art has in fact increased their value.
I found this exercise to be quite interesting as it links directly to my last two assignment, both of which feature photographs of family members. The assignments are linked as follows:
Bird, N. (2016) Nicky Bird [online], available: http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ [accessed 18 Jun 2016].
Boothroyd, S. (2013) ‘Nicky Bird’, Photoparley [online], 9 May, available: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/category/nicky-bird/ [accessed 18 Jun 2016].