Question for Seller Exercise

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’?

Nicky Birds work genuinely intrigues me. I am drawn to found photographs and their potential. Before getting to the questions in the exercise I want to think out loud about Bird’s work first. The idea of finding images on  Ebay and bidding on those that had no other bids or interest struck me as a very unique starting place to make art. Perhaps Birds background and interest in social history, biography and archeology where her starting points for “Question to seller’. Looking at her other work and particularly’ Beneath the Surface/Hidden Place which links found images from the past with their original location as its is now acts as a sort of conduit across time. There is a sense of history brought to life through the juxtaposition of the old and the current. As her website suggests her: ‘work investigates the contemporary relevance of found photographs.’

I couldn’t help compare this work with elements of Subotsky and Waterhouse’s (2014)  ‘Ponte City’. In this work the artists made images of a giant and decaying brutalist tower block ‘Ponte City’ in Johannesburg. Elements of the work used found photos and then re photographed them in the location where they were originally taken. This idea of an image being used again to make a link across time and in doing so pose question about where the occupants are now is to me highly engaging

Question to seller is though something more than just the image she bid for and won on eBay. As the title suggests she asked the seller about the images, in some cases they know nothing about the origins in others she gleans bits of information about the photographs. It is the interplay between the image and the sellers response that creates the work. there is one final stage and that is reselling the work, that is the image and the responses from sellers on eBay. There is something cyclical and final at the same time. To me the image takes on a new meaning, it isn’t merely a two dimensional artefact, but a small slice of someones history with an accompanying bit of text that may reveal something about the image or indeed offer nothing but questions.

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

I think there has been much written about what ends up in galleries, who chooses it and what this means to its value, beyond a specific question about Birds work. Berger (1972) talks about an elite in the past deciding what was displayed in a gallery as does Sontag, when talking about documentary photographs taking on a new value when shifted from the documentary form to the art form. Barrett (1986) in his work about Photographs and Contexts suggests:

‘The photographs placement in a galleries above all a tribute to the sensibilities of its maker”

All this suggests that there is an elevation in status, although this too will be context specific. An image displayed in a gallery at MoMaA may be perceived to have greater value and status  than an image displayed in a small local gallery? Another valuable will also be the retain and standing of the artist, which in turn my shift the value and status of a work, irrespective of the display space. in summary this is a tricky area with a variety of factors at play all of which have a degree of subjectivity.

Where does their meaning derive from?

In Bird’s work there is a clear interplay between the source of the image, the images, her questions to the seller, the sellers responses and the display of the work with the dialogues with the seller. In this sense the work is far more than just the image. The combination of all the elements create a wider work of art. There are layers of narrative, those within the image those with thin the text and the interplay between all these companies. there is also the individualised and subjective meaning that the viewer brings themselves, particular given the natures of the images a family photographs. We all have our own archive of these. Looking at other families photographs sets of in me thoughts of my own biography as recored in a fragmented set of images all residing on photographic paper in various cardboard boxes in different locations around the country. Fragments held by different family members. The idea of unifying this archive a distant and almost impossible fete!

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’?

In answering the question I first need to explore the notion of value. It might refer to a purely monastery idea and perhaps does in this context give the original source of the material. it might also mean a things intrinsic work?

Exploring the idea of monetary worth, in simple terms the auctioned work raised more money than the original images cost to purchase. The Belfast Photo video suggest the work achieved £205. There has of course been work and activity on the part of the artist and in the value of any work the artist will also be a feature of the monetary value of the work. The cost of art made by sought after artists will be driven by a supply and demand equations, that means that for example, reproducible prints from an original negative by for example Cartier Bresson can fetch $12,000 (source Artnet- Print Price for a copy of Behind the Gare Saint Lazare).

So in simple terms the answer to the question is probably yes, over time depending on Bird’s wonder work this item may go up in value. It may have already been auctioned again, in the cycles that is a feature of many works of art, that of the auction after auction after auction. indeed the work has an allegoric statement to make about art works in general, beyond the individual meaning within this work.



Barrett, T. (1986) Teaching about photography: Photographs and Contexts, Art Education. Found at:

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing, Penguin, London (Accessed May 2017)

Berger, J. (1967) Understanding the Photograph

Sontag, S (uyuy) On Photography, Pengiun, London

Subotsky, M. & Waterhouse, P. (2014) Ponte City, Steidl Verlag, Berlin Bird: Quest to seller:(Accessed May 2017) (Accessed May 2017)

Interview with Nicky Bird, Photoparley, Found at: (Accessed May 2017)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s