So first of all, the idea of “expensive” “art” bothers me from the outset. As I’ve written about in a previous post that shall not be named because I’ve named it too many dern times already, I’m not personally of the opinion that art should cost anything. Yes, I know, this makes me a communist and a hippie, but fine. I’ll deal with that in the afterlife should the universe choose to participate in such a thing. However, when our good friends over at Zorgor asked me, “Hey! What do you think about the most expensive photos ever?!” I knew I had to tackle the topic because if anyone’s going to fly in the face of standard thinking on a topic, I have to be first in line. OK, 85,674,675th in line, but who’s counting…
OK (add my best boxing announcer voice here), weighing in at $4.3 million dollars, the most expensive photo in the universe is…. Rheeeeeeeeeeeeein Twoooooooooo….. (crowd goes wild).
OK. Seriously? Come on. So it does have some things going for it. Bold horizontal lines with good layering and those layers appear to be absolutely pristinely even throughout. Not bad. If I’d taken this photo though I’m not sure it would have even made it into a blog post. It’s almost mechanical in nature. Then if you read the fine print and realize, “Extraneous details such as dog-walkers and a factory building were removed by the artist via digital editing” then I just have to make an incredulous expression and walk away. To foray into the vernacular momentarily: WTH? Or, to quote my first reaction to Zorgor, “Garbage.” That was a bit strong, but to my apparently not adequately trained eye, this photo just isn’t… Primary among those “isnts” is that it isn’t worth 4.3 million anything. Worth buying? Maybe. But not at that price.
Moving on we have the second most expensive photo, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96.
A few good things to say here: interesting choices in color. The photo is supposed to represent the artist as a lovelorn young woman and the colors echo that. Chromatic repetition goes well with the feeling of emotional vacuum which I’m sure the artist felt at the time. Point of primary visual interest is the scrap of paper (the personals column) and it’s well placed. Patterns on the skirt and the tiles echo each other and she’s flushed as if she’s distraught or ‘windburned’ by the onslaught what she’s been through. On balance a nice photo. All that said, the idea that it’s a multi-million dollar photo kills me. The model’s expression is… well, unfortunate. She’s modeling, not feeling. The fact alone that it’s a posed photo destroys most of the appeal for me. Real life trumps acting any day. There are plenty of real lovelorn women in the world. Surely one would be willing to have their photo taken for a million bucks. Perhaps they wouldn’t be so lovelorn?
Number three, as of this writing, is 99 Cent II Diptychon.
Like the previous contender, lots to recommend this photo. Immaculate detail with lots of color; an interesting shot. But again, is it a multi-million dollar shot? Again, it’s staged and again, it’s digitally modified. For the things it has going for it, it’s not real. It’s a sad and lonely echo of some reality somewhere that never really existed as we see it in the photo.
Alright, well enough libelous criticism. After writing all this out… well, honestly…? I’m just rather sad. I see these works and I can’t help but say that yes, these are all great photos, but are they any better than the other billion photos that are taken every single day? How much of these photographer’s success is derived from the fact that they have the money to print out 100-foot long prints of their photos and put them up for sale? What could this blogger do with their photos if they had a million bucks to print and promote their work? Or this one? Or this one? Or this one? Or this one? The plain and simple truth is that there are tens of thousands of people out there who are creating great work in the field. It breaks my heart to think that newcomers in photography are looking up at Rhein II and thinking, “I need to take pictures like that! Let me just take this picture I took and edit out some of the reality.” Sad, sad, sad. Oh well. Such as it is.
What say you? Am I ranting or am I right? (or maybe both? but definitely at least ranting.)