The Value of Photography - and the Photograph

What’s the value of a photograph?

Photography is less important today than it used to be. Photography used to be something that people held dear to them and their families. The smallest of prints of a loved one meant so much to people, photographs like that were cherished and highly valued, not in a monetary sense but in an emotional one. It was also quite rare to have one’s portrait made, the act of being photographed was one to be respected and taken seriously, even if the pose or look wasn’t serious. Being photographed meant something.

A family photo of Jene's.

A family photo of Jene's.

I don't think that being photographed, or people photographing themselves, is highly valued today. It’s actually more the opposite. Photography is taken for granted, that we can photograph anything at any time and then show the world.  Recognition for the photographer has replaced appreciation for the photograph as the main objective when images are put out into the world. 

These thoughts came to me while I was processing a commissioned job for the ACT Heritage Library. In December last year I went with an historian to make copy photographs of prints belonging to 90-year-old Jene Baker. Jene has a pretty sharp memory, and as we went over some of her early photographs she could remember places and dates, and people’s faces even when they were babies. It was very cool to listen to her recount stories of where she used to go to school and who her friends and family were.

Jene Baker looking at her photographs.

Jene Baker looking at her photographs.

On the back of many of the photographs were hand written names and notes of location and date of the picture. I was really drawn to the tactile nature of each object’s history; these very photos had been passed around between family members and friends to look at, scrawled on, and then kept safely in an album for so many years. This felt like real photography, important photography.

The back of one of Jene's photos.

The back of one of Jene's photos.

Recognition for the photographer has replaced appreciation for the photograph as the main objective when images are put out into the world.

The photos that Jene showed us were kept in old-school family photo albums. If you were born in, or before the 1980’s you will have some albums at your parents’ place. I think the most honest photography is kept in these photo albums all over the world. I believe that the photographs in them are certainly the most valuable ones.

One of Jene's photo albums.

One of Jene's photo albums.

Jene Baker

Jene Baker

This reminds me of an exhibition that just today opened at 4A Contemporary Art Gallery in Sydney, Beijing Silvermine. I wont go into details about the exhibition here, but if you are in Sydney and have an appreciation for photography you must go along and see this show. I will definitely make the drive from Canberra to see it. To get some information on the exhibition, have a look at this video. It is seriously incredible.

So where is this leading? All this thought about ‘the most valuable’ kind of photography? I’ve been thinking for a while about the importance of photo albums and how I don't make them. I make edits of my works into portfolios and books, and I like that process, but it is perhaps still looking too far outwards. The other day I went to a paper shop and I got myself a photo album, well, two actually. I have some film waiting for collection at the local mini lab that I use, so when I get it back, I’ll put those photos in my new albums. They won’t necessarily be made to show people, publish or exhibit, but if anyone wants to look at them, I’ll certainly oblige.

Perhaps making personal photo albums is my resolution for 2014!

Happy New Year!