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Question: 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’?

By being offered for sale on eBay the monetary value of the photographs may very likely increase depending on the vagaries of the market. The market’s decisions on setting the ‘market price’ are different to the assessment of the photograph’s value as art. For example in 2014 a photograph became the most expensive photograph in history when sold to a private collector for $6.5 million (Segal, 2015), yet this ‘price realised’ says very little about the picture’s value as art (see fig.1.).

Perhaps it is that in the case of the photographs bought by Nicky Bird, the fact of them being bought by an artist for an exhibition placed them in the category of, not so much ‘valuable’ as ‘collectible’. Something that is collectible automatically generates a market and all that ensues from this. Bird combined the collected photographs and their associated narratives into an exhibition and thereby created the art work. It was not the collecting or display that generated the art. For example a person may spend large sums of money to form a vast collection of found photographs; this collection is then many things — a financial investment, a historical resource, a general curiosity – but the criteria for judging it as art are separated from all of these.

The question of the market value of art (art as a commodity) is complex; in relation to photography it arose recently in a debate between the art critic and the photography critic of a national newspaper, with each taking an opposing view (Jones, 2014 and O’Hagan, 2014). Of relevance to the specific question being discussed here (the photographs in Nicky Bird’s exhibition ) is O’Hagan’s response to the $6.5 million paid for a photograph (above):

so what? It’s global capitalism – obscenely rich people with more money than sense. Or taste. For Jonathan [Jones], though, “This record-setting picture typifies everything that goes wrong when photographers think they are artists”. No it doesn’t (O’Hagan, 2014).

Later O’Hagan remarks:

Why damn photography because of the excesses of the auction houses and mega-rich collectors? Do we measure the health of contemporary art by the price paid for Hirst’s vulgar diamond skull? Or a Jack Vettriano? (O’Hagan, 2014)

In conclusion, it may be that once the photographs collected by Nicky Bird were placed on the gallery wall they increased in value both as collectibles and art. However, it likely that this commodity value says nothing about their intrinsic value as art works.


Segel, David (2015) ‘Peter Lik’s Recipe for Success: Sell Prints. Print Money’.In: The New York Times [online] At: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/business/peter-liks-recipe-for-success-sell-prints-print-money.html?_r=0 (Accessed on: 16.05.15)

Jones, Jonathan (2014) ‘Flat, soulless and stupid: why photographs don’t work in art galleries’ In: The Guardian [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/nov/13/why-photographs-dont-work-in-art-galleries (Accesses on: 17.05.15)

O’Hagan, Sean (2014) ‘Photography is art and always will be.’ In: The Guardian [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/11/photography-is-art-sean-ohagan-jonathan-jones (Accesses on: 17.05.15)

List of Illustrations

Lik, Peter (s.d) ‘Ghost’ At: http://www.lik.com/img/phantom.jpg (Accessed on: 16.05.15)