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If this is what the "art photography" world has come to then I want no part of it. Does the photographer silently chuckle "sucker" when someone buys a print like this? Who would hang this in their home? Galleries seem to want display this kind of junk photography these days so there must be a market. The market appears to be idiots with too much money.

Dave Levingston

Thank you. I've heard many similar comments from friends, both photographers and non-photographers, about the Gursky photo. I've given up on the New York "art" scene that seems to have totally lost its way. It's good to have a person of your stature in the photo community speaking up. I'll be looking forward to future presentations of your new award. It will certainly fill a need in the world of photography.

Cemal Ekin

There is much to agree in your comments Brooks, but should such conclusions be made on the basis of one photograph? Many bring similar charges against other and much better known photographers, Eggleston, Shore, Sternfeld come to mind who tend to focus on the ordinary, banal, along with Wall and his highly staged photographic narratives. Reviewing the body of their work, however, may possiby lead one to understand better what they are doing with their photography and still say "this does not work for me."

As to the price of the photographs, a sale is a two-sided transaction where the price is deermined by the seller, and the decision to accept it by the buyer. Now, I am not speaking in defense of this photograph for, like you, I am not familiar with the work of the photographer. Regarding the pricing eroding the perception of photography, I guess we need to, collectively, offer alternatives to this practice instead of attempting to stop theirs. I know Brooks offers extremely affordable prints of his work, kudos, and I like that. That too is a personal decision, and should not be condemned by the high-art photographers for charging too little. From a marketing perspective, either may be valid in their intended target markets.

What I really like about this photograph is that it prompted a discussion on one of the important dimensions of photography: making your work available for sale, how, to whom, and for how much. There is much to be learned by all who want to sell their art. Thanks for starting the conversation.

Byrle Moore

So are the eyes open or closed, and is the house sleeping or napping. Youm have to admit it's a nice rooster ;o)

Jim Bullard

That pricing model is the result of infection by an "ART" world that has lost all touch with the larger culture. And sadly the photography that is supported by the gallery scene is is banal. They reject any hint of "formalism", meaning any evidence of skill in either composition or communication. I once had a professor of art photography tell me that my work was no good, worse than his beginning students who had never picked up a camera before, because it wasn't esoteric enough.I needed to work harder at making it unclear what I was trying to say with my images. Fortunately there is more to the wide world of photography than that as evidenced by Lenswork. Congratulations for speaking out and keep up the good work.

Brooks Jensen

I was reminded that I'd written an article about this in LensWork #62 called Trolling for Fools. (I'm almost 60 now, so the steel trap memory is more like a bamboo sieve.) The article can be found on my personal website, here:

Carlton Forbes

I am genuinely surprised to find you going after this artist and photograph with such venom. I found this photograph interesting in a sort of 'New Topographics' way, not unlike the work of: Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Larry Sultan, Scott Conarroe, Joel Sternfeld, Liz Kuball, Garry must get the point by now. While I might not pay the price suggested, I think it inappropriate to wonder aloud if anybody would pay anything for it. It might have also been a good idea to check out the artist’s website before damning the work. I just did and found it to offer much to the viewer. I do thank you for this article as I was not previously familiar with Mr. Milstein's work and now am.

Remember that it is all in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and there should be room for everybody. I know you only offered this as an opinion but, I felt, an inappropriately strong one for someone in your position, especially without looking beyond a single photograph.

It can't all be great...even within the pages of LensWork. Some of the stuff printed in it at times is, to me (yes, only an opinion), simply not worth the ink.

Brooks Jensen

I'll bite. It's an open forum and this image/photographer obviously speaks to you. Can you elaborate about what you see that tickles your fancy? I know it can be difficult to verbalize these things, but please give it a try. I'm willing to eat crow if you (or someone else) can be persuasive.

And, BTW, I certainly understand the eye of the beholder and all that line of thinking. It's not so much the work, but the price for the work that gets me going. I just can't get past the comparisons. I could by this photograph or, say, 12 new Kindle Fires, or 6 of the Panasonic M4/3 cameras I just purchased, or 5,000 bars of Irish Spring soap, or 487 sheets of HPR paper to make prints the same size, or 61 years of subscriptions to LensWork. ;-) I simply would never have the gall (nor the ego) to equate my photographs as the equivalent of what else can be purchased with this much cash. Especially not considering that another print can be made so easily.

We all have our opinions. But, I would hope that our opinions can be reasoned, discussed, supported by logic and facts, communicated with persuasion, placed in the context of history or culture, etc. I've presented some of my reasoning, perhaps persuasively, perhaps not. I would love to hear more than it is "unlike the work of: Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Larry Sultan, Scott Conarroe, Joel Sternfeld, Liz Kuball, Garry Winogrand."


My knee-jerk reaction was to agree with you Brookes, but after skimming through Jeffrey Milstein's site I now agree with Carlton's comment above. On Milstein's site you see this photo in the context of a series of photos he has about houses in Palm Springs. The photo above wouldn't have been my choice from the series, but the series is a interesting 'topographic' once you flick through a number of the houses. Each house has its own little personality; some more eccentric than others. In the context of the series the photos reveal a light hearted formality.

So in the right context the photo makes a bit more sense. Not $2000 worth of sense, of course. But that's me. I can't afford to spend a quarter of that on a photograph, no matter how famous. If I was a banker, it would be chump change. So even the price has to be seen in context!

And then there's the Gursky photograph. I too snorted coffee out my nose having read the price, then seen the photo. But, flicking through Gursky's portfolio (for want of a better word) I've come to realise that his work is fantastic! Love it. I was familiar with a lot of his work without knowing who the photographer was.

The Art World is insane, and has been for decades. Every aspect of it. I do agree with the Naked Emporer Award in principle, and for the Art World in general, but I think you might have chosen a more worthy victim to launch with.


Brookes, you added you last comment before I posted my original. So I'll add the following...

>I just can't get past the comparisons. I could buy this photograph or, say, 12 new Kindle Fires, or 6 of the Panasonic M4/3 cameras

An argument might be that kindles & cameras etc are not art, they are 'things' or commodities that have a price tag related to the cost of production and the value they bring to the end user. The monetary value of the item is tied up with the utility of the item.

Art is different. Art being bought & sold in the art world, that is. Art has no value, other than the cost of production. You can't do anything with it after you've bought it other than look at it. And yet many millions is invested in art each year. So the rules that govern the value of art are different than those that govern the monetary value of useful things. I suppose art is a bit like gold. Neither has a utility that justifies its high price. But perversely they gain a utility by the very fact they carry a high price; it allows them to become investment vehicles.

Maybe a part of the problem is that there is also a difference between the price an artist initially offers a print for, and the price the market will subsequently attribute to the print once it leaves the artist's control. The offer price is perhaps the measure of the artists ego (less time & materials).

>Especially not considering that another print can be made so easily.
This segues neatly into your famous analysis of limited edition prints. Scarcity creates value.

Gianguido Cianci

Hi everyone, very interesting discussion. Here are my logorrheic 2¢:

I would guess, never having met Brooks, that if the photograph had tickled his fancy, if it had really gotten to him, he might have made a similar point with less "venom". He might have focused on the price more than on the photograph. More importantly, I think the issue of Art vs commodities is not so simple here.

On the one hand is the complication that photography is obviously inherently reproducible. Is the Art contained in the negative/PSD file, or in the print? Is it in Puccini's compositions, or in the performances of his Operas? Photography is NOT like other figurative Arts. You can't make two Last Suppers. If one pays $500 to see Muti conduct, it means that it is Muti's artistry that is valuable. The value of Puccini's Art is pegged at $.99/aria, according to iTunes. Now, photographers often employ printers/photoshop artists to help out. Avedon did. So who's work is worth $1200-$2400 in Milstein's case? And in general for photography? How aware are buyers of these issues?

On the other hand lies the relationship between artist and audience. Most artists seek an audience, I am convinced. But in Art like in Watchmaking, price can be used to endow the (time)piece with apparent value. So the thing that I suspect bugs Brooks is that it seems, at least with reproducible Art, we ought to be over the trick of using price to simulate value. Of course, price can also *reflect* value established by the market. Those market forces (should?) prevail over individual taste. But those forces can be manipulated, especially by insiders who may sell an inkjet pic for what I make in a month.

And we get back to the fact that the photograph in question is not Brooks' cup of tea, nor mine. Two grand of actual cups of tea vs I-don't-think-so...

PS: And while we're talking value, Muti's value is measured in price/ticket, Stevie Wonder's is measured in number of units sold independently of price. Would you prefer affecting millions of people, or only those who can afford it?

Michael J Carl

Brooks, I received the same email and visited the auction site. I viewed the 109 photographs up for bid and found myself wondering in several instances about the price and merit too. But I have to agree with some of the earlier posts that judging a single print can be problematic. Since this is an auction and somebody donated these prints to raise money for the The Photo Review they do not necessarily represent the best work of a photographer and certainly the context can be lost unless one knows the work already. That still leaves the crazy art world prices that are hard to understand. Case in point a post on TOP that discussed a recent auction for a large 1999 print by Andreas Gursky that sold for over $4 million.

There is another issue I have with the auction that I would like to discuss. Since you saw that announcement did you see the magazine issue that included all the photographs for the auction? The auction is quite an event and I would like to attend some day. In the issue though there were a series of photographs of a ten year old Brooke Shields up for auction that I thought were quite inappropriate for the Photo Review to be using for fund raising. Several people made the point to me that the money raised was going to a good cause. But I can't agree with that. Those images taint everyone and every institution that comes in contact with them. Best to leave them in the gutter where they belong.

Ruud van Ruitenbeek

Is this image and its price, and the ensuing discussion, further evidence of the fact that photography has reached a level of sophistication that other forms of art reached a long time ago?

The difficulty is that money is one of the very few ways of expressing value that most of us use. We are probably all agreed that we can value and appreciate anything we like. When we put a monetary value on that appreciation is when it gets controversial. Money has hard, very defined, value for all of us, but $1000 does not mean the same to all of us. Some of us need to work a couple of years to earn that much and for some it is the cost of a good night out.

Chuck Kimmerle

Unlike some of the other posters, I feel it's perfectly fair to criticize an individual photograph if it's being sold separately from a supposed narrative project. If it's standing alone, there is simply no need to try and put it into a context.

I'm 90% with Brooks on this one. The photo is a nothing more than a mug shot of an interesting, but not overly compelling, house. It may be, as someone pointed out, in the New Topographics genre, but that does not, by virtue being similar, automatically make it a great image.

As for my own view, I sorta like the image, but by no means does it warrant that price tag. I mean, really, what does it offer than has not been done before, and done better?


>If it's standing alone, there is simply no need to try and put it into a context.
While I disagree with your point of view, I accept it's a perfectly valid stance to take - but not up to the point of mocking it with an award in a fairly high profile way. If you want to take criticism to the point of mockery, then I think it does justify a bit of homework on the individual work, it's context, the artist and the artist's body of work.

Chris Raecker

Hi Brooks,
The marketplace seems very good at fixing value$$ for a specific good or service for specific buyers and sellers, but, not very good at expressing VALUES. When we buy something, we're not all buying that same thing for the same reasons. We often have different values for the same things. People don't have a uniform sense of value in things for all kinds of good reasons. How can we expect a marketplace to be coherent, when we as a people by nature and nurture are not coherent?

What seems to drive high price points in the art market, is a winner take all mentality. As in the economy in general, number two is first to be last. You must be seen as a break out, a category leader. No middle ground. If you are defined as a category leader, you as an artist will be an emperor, clothes or no clothes. The gallery will make its investment in you many times over. It is leadership that is key. That is the status. That is what is sold. Gursky is a category leader. In a real sense, the market that you rail against is a horse track, not an art market.

Perhaps this has simply been our economy at large, for a long time now.

Cemal Ekin

I will speak only to the pricing issue as a follow up to my earlier post. There are several issues I have read folded into one "price" issue. I will paraphrase each as I see and give you my take on it.

First one is "I will certainly not pay the price" issue. That is a perfectly valid statement and a choice as a "potential buyer" and this decision lies squarely in the buyer. The second is "it shouldn't be priced as indicated." This is not a reasonable position since we do not own the work and the photographer or the auctioneer can set ANY price they wish. Third relates to "how should the price be determined" with an implicit attribution to costs. This may work for commodities sold in markets with perfect competition. However, many products we buy are priced with the "message of the price" being one of the considerations. Now, this sometimes can backfire and sometimes works like magic. There is yet another implied concept with the "price" point, that is the "worth" of the photograph. Brooks measured it in direct barter units in comparison to many products. That is ultimately the comparison everyone makes but all may reach different conclusions. If it is not "worth" it, we do not buy it, that simple. The comparison units may make sense to some readers and not to others. There is no universal measure of the "worth" of something, especially when reduced to a comparison to commodities.

On the aesthetics, and artistic choices, I am with those who place that in the hands of the photographer, leaving the choice to like it or not in the hands of the viewers. It is possible, of course, to write a critique of the work in question but I believe Brooks will approach that with a different style than he used here. The clouding of the view seems to come from the unfortunate mixing of the price, value, art, worth, photography into a few statements with blurred boundaries.

Henkki Zakkinen

My first reaction to this photograph is the same as the reaction to Gursky's: wouldn't buy it for no money. It's the same with most modern art paintings. I have had the emperor's new clothes discussion over and over again, heated at times - there's no use. And no use in the award. People will only accuse you of being bitter and jealous because it wasn't your photograph that sold so extremeley well. Don't misunderstand me, I don't suppose you were, and you have a valid point here. But this is a battle that can not be won, no use fighting it. You say you fear this will hurt photography, will make it look foolish - well, it won't. At least no more then other modern arts and the art market - to me they do look foolish, but then, who am I? And do I care?
Quite often one hears the argument that art can only be understood in context, and there is truth in it. But still, not always that context is easily accessible. I personally gave up trying to understand the context of everything that claims is art just to give it or ma a chance of appreciation. I can't invest that much time. If the one piece that is shown to me doesn't speak to me at all, I just won't bother. Same here with this photo, doesn't interest me, and sorry folks, it is this one piece sold at the mentioned price, not the whole series. No need to pick it out like you did, Brooks, unless the artist himself was a pest about it, which I guess he wasn't. Just don't buy it. Full stop.


You are totally correct Brooks - What a STUPID photograph!

It looks like a photo that anyone doing a 'drive-by' could have taken.

It breaks the common sense rule of, 'don't put the subject in the bulls-eye'.

It breaks another common sense rule of, 'don't take photos of boring subjects and then price them as if they were created by Master Photographers, like Sebastião Salgado, William Eugene Smith, or David Burnett.

And, this photo is frankly, just a boring 'subject': In fact, neither this photo, nor the Gursky photo has a main subject - What's up with that? There's nothing of interest in either one. A viewer's eye has nowhere to go to even begin being interested in these photos.

I would have to say, without a doubt, that this shot is almost as 'maddening' as the dull photo by Gursky that sold for an ungodly amount of money. I don't get it? And, if anyone thinks that the two photos are good and have merit, then somebody's been hit'en the wacky-weed too much.

Believe me Brooks, you are NOT at a loss here, there is no virtue to this photograph, or the Gursky photograph. They are not art. They do not contribute anything to the human condition. They do not tell a story about humanity. They don't tell any story at all. To be blunt: It is about greed, the art community elevating so-called 'talent' that is unworthy of such praise, and selling their work for insane amounts of money in highbrow galleries.

I too, am personally fed up, as you said above, "trying to understand the context of everything that claims is art just to give it or ma a chance of appreciation."

It is about time that people stood up and said that a photo is a 'crap-photo' if it really is a horrid example of photography.

Brooks: This photo, and the Gursky photo both make great choices for your new award! More power to you Brooks - you are AWESOME!


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These images are examples of what I've been thinking of as a new kind of curatorial one-upmanship.

It seems to me that there's a competition among gallery people to prove that they are hipper-than-anyone else by showing works that have less and less visual content, as in, "I'm so hip that I can show a pile (compressed, mind you) of crap. Take that, you visual-content-loving phillistine!"

Brian Kosoff

I agree with you fully about the Emperor's lack of clothing. It seems though that our generation of photographers, those who spent decades mastering skills, have a different perspective as compared to the current generation. Images that we view as ubiquitous snapshots devoid of any depth and real meaning besides one of sheer documentation, images trite 40 years ago, now seem to possess some sort of deeper meaning and virtue. Disposable images now are meritorious, and photography is looking less and less like an art, and more like either a scam run by the art dealers, or so truly democratized that all work is of equal merit regardless of content or quality. In America ninth place wins a trophy, and so it's reflected in our art.

Michael O'Donoghue

Taken by itself the picture is a bit sad. shows it in context - this would make a pleasant collage of images taken in Palm Springs. Shows me what a hopeless place that is and begs the question "What sort of people would want to live here?"

Dan S.

the photograph sucks and Milstein is not a brand so just call it as it is...all you sensitive private school types make me want to puke. No talented rich kids and lawyers and doctors are all now calling themselves photographers because its a cool job or career when you already have your F U money and day job or stocks or trust fund.
I hate this kind of boring photography , right on. a spade a spade.
lowering the bar to collectors and rich marketplace people creates this kind of work.

Kevin Miller

Jeez, Dan S...bile and vitriol is all it takes to constitute a critique, huh?

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