Question for Seller

Bird finds the source material for this work from eBay in the form of vernacular photographs. She only bids if she is the first bidder and never exceeds the starting price. In this way she assures herself that she is the only person who wanted the item and that it’s auction value is no more than the administrative minimum required by the site itself – effectively unwanted and valueless.

She then sets about imbuing the photographs with meaning by questioning the seller about their origin, the subjects depicted and their relationship, if any, with the seller.

Bird is fascinated by ‘family’ photographs and says:

” Particularly with analogue photographs, the fact you can hold it in your hand, whilst looking at the content, brings home that this is part of someone’s ‘life,’ and connects you to history, even if specifics are missing, and you might not fully understand what you are looking at” [Boothroyd, 2013]

Connection is something she refers to often and notes that it extends its reach to the viewer as well as the maker, going on to observe:

“I am not alone in drawing attention to what hidden histories are lying about in family albums, or the landscape etc. However I think photography is a great mediator of past and present. I hope that the viewer – when they look at my work – does hear the voices and histories of others, but also recognizes their own – and asks questions about what we value in our culture, and what we don’t.” [ibid]

That the status of these photographs is elevated by their gallery showing seems unarguable. Status is conferred by approbation and a selection of individuals who are in a position to bestow this have agreed: we’ll dedicate expensive gallery resources, catalogue printing costs, advertising and professional effort to publicly displaying this work. Since those people have previously done the same for other acknowledged artists, Bird’s work finds itself rubbing shoulders with that of Martin Parr, Elina Brotherus, Wendy McMurdo and Allan Sekula. Elevated indeed.

The work’s visibility is greatly enhanced by its public display and the more well-known a work, the greater its status, at least in the moment of its dissemination. Whether the work retains its status will depend on Bird’s career trajectory.

The meaning of the work is largely determined by Bird herself and the extent to which she trusts their contextual accounts, the eBay sellers. The text looks plausible but she or the seller could have fabricated the background. Unless we recognise the people in the photographs we have little choice but to trust Bird’s accounts. So this is ascribed meaning and as it stands it’s epistemologically rather shaky. It works if we trust her.

As for the enhanced value, eBay is a callous arbiter of worth and price is driven, as in any auction, by the number of bidders. In the case of Bird’s work this turned out to be £205, the hammer price for her ‘Family Album’ from this project.

Boothroyd, Sharon. “Nicky Bird.”, May 9, 2013, Accessed Dec 27, 2017.

Found: Question for Seller