Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Daily Archives: May 3, 2012

Owning The Scream does not make you an art collector

A question wandering around my head is, “Why is this painting, (not actually a painting but a pastel drawing), worth so much money?” Yesterday The Scream by Munch fetched up $120m in an auction. It can’t be the rarity as there are a number of versions by the artist, much as there could be from a limited edition of prints from a negative. It may reach into the human condition but there are so many photographs that do this, one name amongst many, Steve McCurry.

In Britain there seems to be a view that photography is a lesser art, there is a malaise that encourages people to think a photograph has little value because anyone with a camera (and a little skill) standing in the same place could have taken that picture. This of course is the main reason for the decline in professional photography, “Sheila in accounts has a good camera and she takes nice pictures of flowers so she can take the pictures”. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but I have heard similar. Once I was photographing at a college here in Oxford and noticed a woman who kept appearing behind me with a compact camera in hand. I asked why and she said the college had asked her to take some pictures and she thought following me would get her the best pictures! She explained that she had been asked to take on a role as the ‘in house photographer’ –  she quickly added that they recognised my pictures would be better (I hope so) but that as hers were for the web site or college publications that didn’t matter so much.

I have found that elsewhere in the world photography is considered much more seriously. France, USA, Australia all recognise that to make great photographs it has nothing to do with owning a camera (although this is necessary). As the saying goes “Owning a Nikon does not make you a photographer, it makes you a Nikon owner”.  Paris is full of small galleries exhibiting photography with realistic prices, by realistic I mean they reflect the artistic merit and journey the photographer has gone on to get to that point. Much the same as is taken into consideration when looking at the work of artists from other disciplines. To be a photographer you have to own equipment but it is your personal journey, your vision and your intent to say something that matters which defines the quality of the work.

So with all the fuss about The Scream it is this image, a photograph that caught my eye. I really like the domesticity of the scene, the everydayness, two men who show little reverence for what is in their hands juxtaposed with the obscenity of its price tag of $120m say it again and gasp $120m.This one image sums up for me the ludicrousness of it all and again forces the question, “why not for a photograph too?”

I can’t even tell you the name of the photographer but click on the picture to be taken to the article in The Guardian.

As if by contrast I would like to share the most expensive photograph ever with you. It is by Andreas Gursky and is called Rhine II and sold for $4.3m, a snip, I hear you say; I’ll have two and still have change for a lesser Scream. I think it is possible that one of the reasons photography is the poor cousin of the art world is because of the photographs that are held up as the best that we can do. What do you think?

“At $4.3 million — more than $1 million more than the midpoint of the Christie’s estimate — Andres Gursky’s Rhine II is the most expensive photograph ever sold. Here’s the argument that it’s worth it. But I count myself with Dan Amira: I just don’t get art sometimes. “ From the Washington Post

Seems like I may not be alone.