Nicky Bird purchased old unwanted photographs on Ebay, first waiting to see if anyone bid for them and if no-one did he purchased them himself and asked the seller, how they came to own the pictures and what they knew about them?
This is an interesting subject as I had never imagined that family photographs would ever become unwanted / redundant. Their meaning lost, their memories forgotten. That is until a recent event in my own life touched on this very subject. My wife’s Aunt died without issue in 2011, her husband had died the year before and she left her whole estate to her four nieces. When we were going through her things (which was a big task as she left a six bedroom house to be liquidated) I came across two old leather suitcases full of old family photos mainly of my wife’s Aunts family taken in the 30’s and 40’s. No one was interested as Sarah’s Uncle was the family link and if I hadn’t have taken these cases myself they would have been lost for ever. At the time I took them I had no thoughts of photography; but I felt a certain sense of responsibility that these lives should be remembered and these images should be kept. I can’t explain why, I just thought it was the right thing to do. Perhaps it is simply was that we all feel important and deep down wish to be remembered. Photography gives us this chance, even if the name and the memory is lost the image can still tell future generations that we existed, what we looked like, how we dressed, and how we posed, even what the world around us looked like. Photos are more important in this respect than say a painted portraits of a Victorian, for example. The photograph gives a better likeness, it captures the confidence or awkwardness of the subject; thus hinting at his or her character. The camera captures background that can tell a little about that moment in time and perhaps history that the artist may leave out or re-interpret. Sadly many family pictures will disappear over time and the surviving images will become more and more important. Imagine if photography had been around at the time of the first Roman Republic, even if only all that survived was a few family photos of only ordinary citizens our historians would have a field day!
In this exercise I am asked if Bird’s second-hand pictures displayed on a gallery wall elevate their status?
I guess the answer has to be yes, for now they are now the focus of attention and anyone or anything that becomes the focus of attention must by default become elevated in status.
Where does their meaning derive from?
Their meaning derives only from the context of their use if they have lost their original identity. An unwanted family photo of an unknown person, taken under unknown circumstances, perhaps even the location is unknown, then only the meaning that is attached to the picture from the exhibition exists.
When they are re-sold is their increased value because they are now art?
This is a commercial question and one that can not be simply answered with a yes or no. If the exhibition is successful, if the pictures can attract a contemporary historians eye, if the pictures can capture the imagination of art collectors, there is a lot of ifs, if the seller can market these images correctly / cleverly to the right market. Art is very subjective.