December 3, 2008


So I was reading through some of Jay Ruby's work over the weekend, and it got me thinking about the ways that I have seen people use photographs. A few years back, I had some work represented in a gallery in Carmel, California. It was fascinating to see how the whole system worked, and how photographs were treated. There were several artists represented by the gallery, many of them quite well known. Their prints were all organized in pull out archival drawers, and labeled accordingly. Prints were sold in editions, which were around 35 or 50. Pricing was arranged in a tiered fashion, meaning that earlier prints sold for less, and the more that sold, the higher the price got. Shows were rotated every couple of months. Each show would focus on a select group of all the artists represented, sometimes augmented by rare prints/vintage prints from famous photographers who were no longer alive. On a day to day basis, there were salespeople whose job it was to show prints, talk about artists, and attempt to sell as much as possible. When people walked into the gallery, the salespeople went to work and tried to get people to buy. Sometimes tourists with no money came through the door, and sometimes serious buyers came in...but usually the serious buyers just called on the phone or emailed.

The prints themselves...well, the whole point in the gallery was convincing people of their value. Value was attributed to the prints by a number of factors, including the popularity of the artists, current trends in the market, rarity of the print (or perceived rarity), quality of the print and the methods used to create it, and, of course, little labels that TOLD YOU what it was worth. Much like our monetary system, the value of those prints required a belief in the whole gallery system (and the larger art photography world in which it existed).

The whole mood of the place was quiet, almost solemn. Everything was well-lit, clean, very organized. Prints were handled by salespeople very carefully, as if they were as delicate as snowflakes, which added to the overall system of meaning and value that was being attached to those pieces of photographic paper mounted on 100 percent cotton rag board.

It's a very unique way of treating photographs, and, depending on how you look at it all, pretty strange.

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