Announcing the Naked Emperor Awards
First, let me say that I like — and support — Stephen Perloff and his Photo Review. It's a good resource and he's doing good work for photography. I interviewed him for LensWork Extended #85. However . . .
An announcement arrived today via email regarding their annual fundraising auction. Consider the following photograph from their email — and its price.
Jeffrey Milstein: Sahara, Twin Trees, 2007/2011, archival pigment print, 1/10, with signature card, 16"x22" ($1,200–$2,400)
I don't know Jeffrey Milstein and I've never heard of him. Perhaps that's my loss, but be that as it may, here is another example of the idiocy I see so often in the photography marketplace. Look at this photograph. Really. Someone will need to explain to me its virtues. I'm not a newbie at this, and I can see nothing in this photograph that makes it noteworthy at all. Perhaps that is its supposed accomplishment — its subject is banality itself? If so, is that worth $1,200 - $2,400?
At the risk of offering an opinion that is only that — my opinion — this is a really stupid photograph. (How many times does this composition appear in the photo albums of our grandparents all over America?) What is it about so many photographers today that they make these kinds of banal, uninteresting, uninspiring, meaningless photographs — and then price them at $1,200 - $2,400? Seriously, do any of you reading this know anyone that would pay anything for this photograph?
Again, I don't intend this comment to insult Jeffry Milstein; I'm sure he's a nice fellow and working hard at his passion. Good for him. But, I have stood by for years now and watched without commenting on this silliness in pricing and the marketplace for fine art photography. Over and over and over . Okay, once or twice I've commented. (See podcast #0040, The Inkjet Print of a Booth for $650 from 2004. There may be a couple of others.) But with the recent $4.3 million paid for that ridiculous Gursky photograph this week, I've reached my breaking point. I am happy to the take the heat from the few defenders in order to voice the thoughts of the many by calling attention to the absurdity that infects the world of selling photographs. Or to be precise, offering them for sale. I doubt many of them actually do sell — this one included, hence it is a remainder from the auction that is now being offered for silent auction bidding.
I guess I am incensed about this because I have no doubt that this kind of image marketing and pricing hurts photography. I mean that. In the larger circles outside the New York art market, this kind of absurdity makes photography (and therefore, we photographers) look foolish. We become the laughing stock of "regular people" — and by that I don't mean redneck hicks and the uneducated masses. I mean the vast majority of hard working people who know a thing of beauty and inspiration, know when a piece of art is an expression of accomplishment and when it is piffle on parade, know and attend the arts and culture events in society by the boatload. These people wouldn't step into a photography gallery if you paid them because they know without even entering that they'll see overpriced banality on the walls while the "gallerist" insists the naked emperor is adorned in jewels. If the galleries want to play that game, well, they are free to do so. I am also free — to call the naked emperor a naked emperor.
So, I am instituting (for my own amusement and hopefully yours) The Naked Emperor Awards, to be awarded to photographs whose banality and offering price are wonders to behold.
Congratulations! The first Naked Emperor goes to Sahara, Twin Trees for its $1,200 - $2,400 auction price — with apologies to Jeffrey Milstein and Stephen Perloff. I am somewhat discouraged that we need a Naked Emperor award at all, but if it's needed I am happy to be the one to pass them out. Stay tuned, I have no doubt there are more to come.
Brooks' workshop Finding an Audience for Your Work is available on disc for $99 plus s&h. As one of the membership benefits, this workshop is available in its entirety to members of LensWork Online via streaming video.