A new most-expensive photograph ever. And the usual responses from people complaining that they could have taken this and not getting why this is impressive.* That the initial news about the sale included no information about the physical size of this print meant that a lot of the people who picked up on the story also neglected to mention that this is a 6-foot by 12-foot object.
*whether it’s impressive enough to warrant its $4.3 million price is a different debate, but a lot of the responses have been along the “what a crappy photo” lines rather than about the price.
A lot of the responses demonstrate how much of a difference the medium of encountering a work of art has in changing our reaction to it. I’ve previously stated that “photography is one of the few arts which is actually translatable to books or the web.”
I have to revise that statement to be mostly translatable.
There is still a marked difference between a photographic print, a printed reproduction in a book, and a digital reproduction online. Oftentimes, the differences are not particularly important since what makes most photos good is not the craft of the print, the scale of the presentation, or the tiny details in the image. But in some cases, the craft, scale, or details are what makes the piece work. and in these cases, it’s unlikely that a reproduction in a book or online will do it justice.
Gursky is such a case where the typical methods of reproducing photographic works in a book will fail. When I took in the exhibition at SFMoMA I remember thinking that there was no way for the catalog to do justice to the prints. and while this was true, the catalog does a much better job than I was expecting it to. In addition to being a huge book with reproductions which are as large as possible, it also includes full-bleed pages featuring 100% crops of the images too. It’s a wonderful way of showing the amount of detail in the images as well as being a great reminder of how big they actually are.
This is also why I was quick to comment on the Online Photographer post about the news. Anything about the sale has to include the size of the piece.* People are looking at the photo as a digital photo and do not realize that it is a huge art object. This is perhaps another element of the digital “revolution” which I may actually consider to be a legitimate change. As more and more people view photos as exclusively digital items, we start to lose sense of them as being physical objects too.
*Mike’s response to my post mentioning the archival qualities (or lack thereof) of the piece brings up a number of other interesting questions which warrant another blogpost.