Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022
Sign up to my new series of talks on Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice . Starts on Ap...
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Stop Coveting the Old and Unaffordable.
I re-entered the digital world today after a short break and posted this Parr and Badger Q and A from Phaidon. My favourite bit was this story from Gerry Badger. It exemplifies the smoke and mirrors nature of market forces, both for prints.
Harry Lunn, the US dealer who created the photographic market, once addressed a symposium back in the seventies. He had two photographs. He said, ‘Here I have a print by Robert Frank from the Americans which I retail for $10,000. Here I have another print by Robert Frank from the Americans, the same picture, which I also retail for $10,000.’ Then he tore one in half and said, ‘Now I have this print by Robert Frank from the Americans which I retail for $30,000.’ As Harry always used to say ‘We’re in the business of creating rarity value.’ That’s the art market.
Of course the same kind of smoke and mirrors exists for photobooks. The photobook world is very small and is hugely influenced by hype, market-cornering and absurd valuation claims and counter claims.
I interviewed Martin Parr for the BJP a few months back and he raised the issue of increased prices in the photobook markets in out talk and how he has been accused of cranking up prices. Of course, he says this is not his fault but he would say that, wouldn't he.
But I do think he is fair in rebutting these accusations. I think the one thing that Volume 3 of the Photobook Histories does show is how vibrant the photobook market is, how the history is no longer about the past, but is developing as we speak. I wrote about this a few years back in Doing it by the Book, another article for the BJP, but if anything, the photobook world is even more interesting and exciting now; there is better design, more invention and a wider range of voices (though the ones that are most worth listening to are not always the loudest).
On the Facebook page, I got a complaint about Parr and Badger and the idea that they have put photobooks out of reach of the ordinary buyer. Fukase's Ravens was mentioned as a case in point. You want a copy of Ravens and it will cost you £1,000 give or take.
I have sympathy with this sentiment, but at the same time, where did people hear about Ravens from. From the Photobook History Volume 1 perhaps. And a reprint of the book was made shortly after the first Photobook Histories were made - which was available for around £40 I think - as were reprints of numerous other books. And then you get Errata Editions reprinting books left right and centre. Look there's Drum, there's Ballet, there's The Stage. Fabulous! Shame I don't have any money because that's a few hundred quid gone straight away.
But at the same time, what Volume 3 demonstrates is how many great new books are around. I'm looking at the mess of my desk and I've got Eamonn Doyle, Quan Shen, Ken Grant, Anthony Cairns, Christopher Anderson and Christina Riley sitting on my desk all waiting to be looked at (again) and written about.
So why buy something old and beyond your budget when you can get something new. Especially when it's by Christina Riley and it's called Back to Me. And it's a book about mental illness and depression, which is pretty much what Ravens was about in its roundabout kind of way. Back to Me is more direct. That's why it's published by Straylight, a publisher which makes direct books with direct themes. Straylight is kind of rough and ready but it hits the spot and is much more than a decorative publisher. It makes books about things that matter. And it publishes people who don't get published elsewhere. And Christina Riley is one of those people.
Her book, Back to Me, is about depression, about suicide, insomnia, loneliness, and love. There's a text at the back. This is how it starts;
I rememember driving down hwy 1 south feeling almost certain I wouldn't return. The bottle of wine I planned to drink before jumping was sitting in the cupholder alongside a bottle of ativan and my camera. I cried the whole way to the bridge feeling guilt already for what I hadn't yet done. I stepped out of my car to a cold, foggy blowing skyd. But through all that, stars. I stood there in the darkness and they spoke to me. They were just for me and their message was clear.
It would kill him.
The pictures mirror the text. They are proper rough, old digital rough, filled with grain and noise and printed insignificantly on the page. The book starts with a doorway; we are entering the interior of Riley's mind, and then we are on to a double page spread of her partner and a picture of Riley (I think) holding her wrist up.
We go outside to smudgy winter dawns and pictures in which time stretches out into the preceding hours of a sleep that never came. This a book about dead time, about doing nothing and the slow, dripping torture of doing it. Riley stands in her knickers in a doorway, she looks out from a balcony at the lights of a city and she lies back on her sofa; lying and waiting, the thoughts rolling round in her head in an unending, inescapable cycle.
There's the bridge mentioned above, there's the balcony and there's the wrist. Delusion, death and the otherworld of street lights and noisy interiors mix with tears, sadness and a loss of self.
Thematically Back to Me overlaps with Ravens. They overlap with A Black Dog Came Calling by John Darwell, the work of Lauren Simonutti (who sadly killed herself two years ago) and numerous others.
So if you're looking at books from the past that are overpriced and unavailable, and you covet them, the solution is simple. Stop coveting, stop wanting. Buy something affordable instead. Buy something new. Buy Back to Me.