5a Vernacular

Question for Seller 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 their presence on a gallery wall give these images 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 increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

C&N [1, p.80]
Fig. 1
Question for Seller
Nicky Bird

Q1 It undoubtedly does. This drifts is back towards the is photography art? debate that I began considering at the beginning of Part 5 and to which I must return in due course. The answer to that question (so far) is that after decades of debate, it was decided in the affirmative through museums and galleries exhibiting and selling photographs alongside paintings etc., thereby de facto establishing its parity status. This also legitimised photography-only galleries, a ball which Stieglitz had started rolling as long ago as 1905 with his gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue NY. As noted above, Question for Seller was commissioned by Belfast Exposed which defines itself as ‘Northern Ireland’s premier contemporary photography organisation’. By appearing in the gallery (see fig. 1) , the QfS images become part of an artistic entity rather than unwanted snaps. It remains questionable whether each image becomes an art object in itself: it can be argued that their new status is only conferred by virtue of being parts of the curated entity.

Q2 This has already been touched upon: their new meaning (because it is new and it only exists by association) is bestowed through the process of being chosen by Nicky Bird and one of her criteria was that no-one else wanted them, there were no other bidders: they were therefore judged to be of zero interest and zero value by the ebay cognoscenti.

Q3 In my personal view, not at all. I value and cherish vernacular photographs, but only if I choose and acquire them myself. The fact that these have been chosen by Nicky Bird and shown at Belfast Exposed does not interest me. That said, I would not be surprised to learn that others might want to buy them.

My profound admiration for the Cohen Collection is another matter entirely. The act of curation in this case is done to creative effect.

Fig. 2
from The Fae Richards Photo Archive,
Leonard & Dunye

Some are born with photo archives ,
some assemble photo archives (Cohen and Bird)
and some have photo archives thrust upon them (Broomberg & Chanarin).
 But Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye created their own entirely spurious piece, The Fae Richards Photo Archive, fig. 2, to fill a void they identified in photo-history.
Leonard and Dunye concluded that African-American women were under-represented and set out to remedy that with images of their fictional Hollywood star.

Q. Do you have any archives that you could have access to? Might you be able to use it for
the beginnings of a project? Blog about some ideas that you could come back to some

A. As luck would have it, I have the perfect digital equivalent of the found archive. A year or so ago I spent £30 on ebay on a Canon S120, a surprisingly able pocket camera which came with a memory card that had not been cleared by the previous owner. I have always been in two minds whether should reformat it, but I never have. The contents are the world travels of an aging couple meeting (it is assumed) friends and family. It would be interesting to adopt their personas and create a fictional account of their lives.
It would also make an excellent starting point for a who-done-it.


1. Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.