Don’t worry, it doesn’t actually look like this – Dawson City looks like Gold Rush disney – but I just happen to like this old bank or post office or whatever it was.
I was taking pictures in a shelter in Vancouver’s downtown eastside today, they serve the homeless, poor, mentally ill and drug addicted population in the area. This morning their kitchen served 388 meals at breakfast and 461 lunches. This seems like a lot.
Two months ago who’d've thought one North African dictatorship would have been toppled by its citizens and another would be in danger of falling? No doubt tip-toes around the White House are getting well exercised these days.
Much conflict photography is failing us, failing soldiers, their families and countries. The same could be said for conflict journalism (and journalism in general) save for a few bright lights such as Sally Armstrong, Robert Fisk & Graeme Smith. Though these journalists have given us a better understanding of life on the other – non-western – side today is a day to remember our own. And there are a few photographers that do this well, that get beyond the tired images of soldiers on patrol in dusty places to expose something deeper, the true repercussions of war. Photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson has a moving body of photographs that takes us in the back door and with a quiet, incisive vision shows the chilling, lonely trauma experienced by many US soldiers and veterans. And he doesn’t show any vets or servicemen.
According to the story the US CDC estimates there are 18 suicides by US veterans every day. And though the Canadian military isn’t stretched or stressed nearly to the same degree as the US military there have been rumblings of discontent from around the Canadian Forces, not least from freshly departed Veteran’s Ombudsman Colonel Pat Stogran.
The monetary cost of war is tallied on a regular basis (apparently $0.5M per soldier per year – not including salaries, benefits or long-term care – for Canada’s Afghanistan deployment) and it often seems that these numbers are the only concepts we understand. What if our soldiers and vets were given all the long-term support they need and deserve? No doubt it would be exceedingly expensive but might that rattle our cages, remind of us the terrible costs and make us consider our next war that much more carefully? Clearly, on some fundamental level, we have forgotten.
I’ve only ever had a passing interest in the fiscal woes of Annie Leibovitz, partly because I’ve mostly grown out of whatever interest I had in her work and partly because anything I’ve seen of hers in recent years makes me feel like she’s been subsumed by the machine she helped create. To me I find this makes her work less interesting (though there’s no denying her past status as a doyenne of the editorial portrait) but the Financial Times has an interesting article that uses her financial story as a springboard to delve into the intersection of photography and the fine art world.
(In my view, not only has she become just another cog inside the celeb machine there has also seemed to be a heightened sense of desperation in some of her work that feels like it’s run parallel with recent economic overextension and insecurity. Things such as questionable photoshop retouching and cannibalizing her own image – getting all meta on us by appearing in ads with Baryshnikov while her own photo book oh-so-subtly pokes out of an LV bag. No doubt she received her usual shoot fee plus a modelling fee; I wonder if she also expensed the books as props… ; )
Apparently the highest grossing sale of one of her prints at auction is a mere £31 200 which is dwarfed by an order of magnitude at print auctions of her now-dead photographer peers like Penn and Avedon. And if we’re talking about artists that happen to use photography that difference becomes several orders of magnitude.
The story describes how Leibovitz, renowned as being headstrong and prolific, has been buckling down recently in order to woo the art world. Much of that effort seems to be aimed at creating a strategic scarcity to her work. But from a collecting perspective photography has always suffered from the curse of its very nature as a medium perfectly aligned with an era of mass reproduction. Certainly the fact that making a basic photograph takes very little training and, more and more, its shear ubiquity as humanity’s preferred method of documenting itself means the supply side far outweighs demand. (The endgame of this can be seen perhaps most acutely in the crash of the stock photography market.)
But photography has paid some dues, as it were…
“Her change of heart says something about the photography market itself – its sense of having had to struggle to be taken seriously, to be categorised as art in the same way as painting or sculpture. “That has been a concerted effort on everyone’s part, a dedicated campaign to transcend the photography market and enter the bigger one where more money is available,” says Boloten.
I must admit to being sceptical of the pursuit of money as the final objective, especially when one needs to increase their print value from $30k to $300k or $3M or more, clearly numbers that are not connected with reality (albeit nice to have).
The unspoken fear is that, unless everyone pulls together, this three-decade effort could falter, an effort that has done more for the value of photography than any individual – even Annie Leibovitz.”
Not only did the total value of the contemporary photography market rise by 285 per cent between 1993 and 2008, according to Art Market Research, but it has been more resilient than contemporary art in the post-2008 downturn. “There has been a surprisingly strong comeback this year,” says Novak. “Photography has always been undervalued but it is less undervalued now.”
(A statement like this 285% needs to be qualified: clearly photography prices had less distance to fall. And a rise of several hundred percent isn’t difficult if you’re coming from so low on the ladder.)
But I wonder about all of this. The art market likes rarefied and rare things. However what photography is particularly good at is reflecting us back to ourselves, who and where we are, showing our commonality and – chicken or egg? – being common itself. We live in an age of ever increasing more-ness but there is a horizon. Somewhere.
For an alternative view on aspects of the art market check out Ben Lewis’s documentary The Great Contemporary Art Bubble.
My mistake, was remembering a book of her dance work but it’s actually a William Ewing book.
Canada’s west coast, MV InnChanter
This is a few months old but I’ve been on blog vacation over the summer. And though it’s not photography related it seems important:
Who knew that photocopiers had hard drives that keep an image of every document you copy?! Since 2002 apparently.
Used to be that before travelling I would zip around to the local postal outlet and make copies of all my documents – passport, drivers license, credit & ATM cards, birth certificate, health card, traveller’s cheques serial numbers (back in the old days), immunization card – whatever would have benefitted from copies to make for speedier replacement or assist in ID’ing me should things go missing. Now I just scan these things but only because it’s more convenient. How often have you photocopied your tax return or some other important documentation at Kinko’s or the corner store? Or what about the copier that’s on the network at your office?
A couple of years ago I photographed a web security guy for a story in a technology magazine, someone that consults to the RCMP and FBI on the issue. He said that the only surefire way to keep on top of this stuff is to track your own credit rating through the credit reporting agencies Equifax and TransUnion. He mails in the request for his free credit report to both of them – every month!
It seems like all those little spills of personal information from retailers, your local health authority or whoever are small peanuts compared to the potential for identity theft that photocopiers represent. Check the CBS News report:
I have a few prints in a group exhibit opening tomorrow night at Centre A, downtown at 2 West Hastings St. (at Carrall).
The images were juried and organized by ISSBC, and Centre A, with the aim “to promote an appreciation of the province’s multicultural spirit and hopes to connect both newcomers to the community with long-term residents.”
The photographs that I submitted are several from a larger series of portraits of refugees I’ve been working on.
Opening, Thursday night, 7-9pm.
I find this whole maternal health charade that the Canadian government is currently involved in kind of hard to take. Of course the opposition parties have goaded the Conservatives on the abortion issue, hoping for some – any! – traction. But that doesn’t seem to be the real issue; it’s just a play for votes.
Shouldn’t we, rather than imposing an ideology and complicating already fraught programs, aim to adequately fund health and education systems capable of meeting the needs of all residents of a program’s coverage area? Give developing nations the money and support to implement comprehensive programs but leave the moral decisions to them.
And where did the current government’s interest in maternal health come from anyway? Other than left field, I mean. Even the Globe & Mail’s queen bee conservative columnist today joked, in reference to the Guergis/Jaffer affair, “Few people have less pull than the status of women minister in a Harper government.”
I’m going through some photos from the last few weeks and found this funny one of restaurant staff taking a moment to watch the cliff-hanger of a hockey game between Canada and the United States for the men’s Olympic gold medal. Some tense moments, to put it mildly.
I heart Pemberton
Police in Vancouver are being super vigilant about public alcohol consumption downtown these days – not only that but quickly breaking up any group seen as being a little rowdy in their Olympic celebration.
Downtown liquor stores have kindly complied with a police request to close early, at 7pm, to maintain order in the city’s core. That request would be an interesting conversation to listen in on. I wonder how it’s framed exactly – it would be a tough pill to swallow in some regards, surely early closure is a loss to the shops of many thousands of dollars.
More to come shortly.
Flags & fists raised, seems to be a common theme when demonstrating ones fervour.
Nothing says BC like a dope-leaf Canadian flag mounted on a hockey stick.
The nightly light show in Robson Square. I’m a skeptic but have been reasonably impressed with the production value of some of what I’ve seen. However, for some reason this show struck me as a bit parochial.
A photograph of the protest march on BC Place during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. The iconography here is by no means representative of the entire protest but the image is representative of the spirit of it.
Well, the games have finally begun and I think most people in Vancouver, or at least most that pay attention to these things – relatively few – are sighing with relief that a large protest march against the Olympics went over with next to no violence. It was the big unknown in the 2010 Winter Games equation – how bad was it going to get?
Credit goes to the protesters who were generally your average “nice” but concerned Canadian citizen and it also goes, in no small measure, to the VPD who turned up in ball caps rather than more intimidating riot gear. It seems our security services are learning from mistakes made in the past, when they’ve met bravado with bravado.
It seemed a good time was had by many, legitimate concerns were heard by the international media (though, good luck finding an article in the foreign press about those issues today) and people made it home safely, save for a few police officers who were hit with flying traffic pylons.
An antipodean photographer who came prepared with ballistic glasses, helmet and mask asked me incredulously about David Eby’s speech, whether it was true that Canadian security forces had indeed been paying visits to the homes and workplaces of anti-Olympic activists in the lead-up to the games. I wonder if the media wasn’t a little disappointed.
That was the big hump that many people were holding their breath over. There will be smaller protests by more and less radical groups but they will be isolated for the most part and probably won’t represent the concerns of most of the people at Friday’s march.
Oops… it’s started already.
The Canadian government is supposed to be back at work on Monday morning after ample Christmas holidays. Sadly, while the world continues to turn and there’s no end of issues that need taking care of, we’ll be without a sitting government until after the Olympics.