Question for sellers 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 log?
– Does the presence on a galley wall give the image an elevated status?
– Where does their meaning derive from?
– When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increase by the fact that they’re new ‘art’?
Before looking at the value of photography in art galleries, I will first look at whether photography can be seen as art. The debate surrounding photography and art has been going on for over 180 years. In 1853, members of the Photographic Society of London stated that photography was “too literal to compete with works of art”. During the 1960s there was a shift in the way of looking at photography. The idea came around that photography could capture depth and not just what appears. Many people have compared photography to paintings, as both have to be ‘artificially constructed’, for example, they have to be lit, composed and created. Some saw that photography had an advantage over paintings and pother art as it could capture “the affidavits of nature to the facts on which art is based”. Recently there has been a debate among the art correspondence at The Guardian newspaper as to whether photography is art. Jonathan Jones believes that there is no way that photography could be considered to be art. He believes that it looks ‘stupid when a photograph is framed or backlit and displayed vertically in an exhibition, in the way paintings have traditionally been shown’. He described photography in a gallery as ‘flat, soulless, superficial substitute for paintings’. He believes that whereas paintings have a multi-layer to them, photographs have one layer of context. Sean O’Hagen, who is another Guardian art correspondent, disagrees with Jones. He states “Photography is art, and always will be”. He goes on to name several artists who use photography, such as Gillian Wearing, Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman, Edward Steichen, William Eggleston, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. O’Hagen believes the problem stems from people believing that photography is competing against tradition paintings. But this is not the case. He ends his debate by using an image by Awoiska Van der Moten. The image is a long exposure of Le Gomera and La Graciosa, which are volcanic islands. He states that these images show what photography, as art is all about as they are so vibrant that other works of art ‘seemed muted’. I personally believe that photography can be art, it is just different from ‘traditional’ art, but that doesn’t make it any less viable to be hung on a wall in a gallery.
I believe that the presence of a gallery wall does give an image an elevated status. Being in a gallery gives the impression that there is something special about the image; some has made it worthy to be hung as art in a gallery. It makes it look as if it is something different. Depending on how it is mounted it also catches the viewer’s attention, such as Jeff Wall’s image, which as mounted with, backlights.
Their meaning can derive from what the photographer is trying to achieve, but the actual meaning and the perceived meaning are two different things. It is all down to context and how the viewers read the image. Maybe the photographer was trying to achieve one thing but the viewers see it as another, it changes depending on circumstances and who is viewing it.
I believe labeling a photograph as art does increase its value, all you have to do is look at images that have been sold and the figure they have sold for. For example Andreas Gursky’s image of the Rhein sold for $4.4 million in November 2011. Photographs regularly sell for over a million. Photography as art can be an expensive business.
Jones, J. Flat, Soulless and Stupid: Why Photographs don’t work in art galleries. The Guardian. [Online]. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/nov/13/why-photographs-don’t-work-in-art-galleries> [Accessed: 7th of September 2016].
O’Hagen, S. Photography is art and always will be. The Guardian. [Online]. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/11/photography-is-art-sean-ohagen-jonathan-jones> [Accessed: 7th of September 2016].
Prodger, M, Photography is it art? The Guardian. [Online]. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/oct/19/photography-is-it-art> [Accessed: 7th of September 2016].