May 2011 Archives

Lacrosse Ballet


(Postcards, Posters)

In competing for control of a small object, the ballet of lacrosse unfolds.

(Click on ballet to view.)


TechLAX-IMG_1066p.jpgCopyright 2011 Malcolm Ryder


The interestingly subversive blog post online at Buzzfeed called "The 15 Most Expensive Pictures Ever Taken" offers up, seemingly for free, reproductions of several million dollars worth of celebrated pictures.

Of course, the "free" pictures on the website are assumed to have none of the key qualities that cause the "originals" to be worth millions of dollars, so it's interesting to consider the identifiable value of the website's pictures (which of course "share" the images with the originals) as compared to the "originals" which, obviously, are neither present with most of the website's viewers, nor likely to ever have been or to ever be!

The web pix value is easy: publicity. Making interesting stuff widely known is enriching for individual members of all audiences. We can forgive slight distortion or gimmicks in the publicity, such as the quaint idea that these pictures were merely "taken" when without exception each one was very carefully made

(The titles of the pictures below will have to suffice as your link to the pictures, but this information should be good enough to get you to the pictures through ordinary search engines if not to the Buzzfeed site itself.)

But prices in the millions? Seriously? What could the value criteria really be? Assume that being a picture, not just an image, starts the bidding. And the different prices would have to be adjusted for the different value of the dollar at different time periods. Still, at any period, these buyers had enough money to buy almost anything else.

Meanwhile, thanks to the internet, all these images can be seen at almost no cost, unless you count the price (pro-rated) of the internet connection, etc., and furthermore, thanks to the net, the ubiquity of different but similar images is an established condition. Yet that still has virtually no impact on the price of these pictures.

Noting all that, assume that all of these fifteen big ticket pictures came back to the table, starting from scratch to be sold again. Who cares? The buyers.  What do they care about these pictures? What are the criteria? What's happening?

Here's what's happening:

- Fetishism: including style, sex, or nostalgia

- Preservation:  including documents as artifacts of scholarship, archaeology or events

- Subject's historical importance: including things, people, or concepts

- Innovation: including artistic or intellectual

- Tokenism: including totems, souvenirs, and models

- Scarcity: including market availability


So. Of the fifteen expensive pictures cited, here's the breakdown, with related pros and cons of their prices.


15. Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol (1987) - $643,200

Con: Theatre shots. What's the big deal?

Pro: Fetishism, historical significance


14. Eugène Atget, Joueur d'Orgue, (1898-1899) -  $686,500

Con: Posters. What's the big deal.

Pro: Preservation, tokenism, scarcity


13. Gustave Le Gray, The Great Wave, Sete (1857) - $838,000

Con: Salons. What's the big deal.

Pro: Innovation, scarcity


12. Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, 113.Athènes, T[emple] de J[upiter] olympien pris de l'est (1842) - $922,488

Con: uhhh... nothing.

Pro: Preservation, historical importance, innovation, scarcity


11. Peter Lik, One (2010) - 1,000,000

Con: Summer camp; romance movies. What's the big deal?

Pro: Fetishism


10. Edward Weston, Nautilus (1927) - $1,082,500

Con: Advertising. What's the big deal.

Pro: Fetishism, preservation, tokenism


9. Richard Avedon, Dovima with elephants (1955) - $1,151,976

Con: absolutely nothing. Circuses?

Pro: Fetishism, innovation, tokenism


8. Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy) (1989) - $1,248,000

Con: Hollywood. What's the big deal?

Pro: Historical importance, tokenism


7. Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe Nude (1919) - $1,360,000

Con: Art class pastels. Well, not really.

Pro: Fetishism, preservation, innovation, scarcity


6. Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands) (1919) - $1,360,000

Con: Centuries of hundreds of thousands of unexhibited drawing studies. What's the big deal?

Pro: Preservation, innovation, tokenism


5. Edward Weston, Nude (1925) - $1,609,000

Con: hmmm. Maybe nothing.

Pro: Fetishism, preservation, innovation, scarcity


4. Dmitry Medvedev, Kremlin of Tobolsk (2009) - $1,750,000

Con: Resort advertising. What's the big deal?

Pro: Fetishism, historical importance, tokenism


3. Edward Steichen, The Pond-Moonlight (1904) - $2,928,000

Con: Watercolors. What's the big deal.

Pro: Preservation, scarcity


2. Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001) - $3,346,456

Con: Store surveillance videos, highway billboards. So what's the big deal?

Pro: historical importance, tokenism


1. Cindy Sherman, Untitled #96 (1981) - $3,890,500

Con: several thousand shots from any number of movies or tv shows during the '60s or the '90's. So what's the big deal.

Pro: fetishism, tokenism, scarcity


The easiest reason to not be excited over the pictures (con) would be that they are too much like something else. That said, quasi-scientifically, the Avedon and the Weston nude seem easily to outpace the other pictures with their singular appeal, not borrowed from any comparable other sources but achieved on terms completely within their visual frames. Interestingly, they are almost devoid of any dependence on great timing, and they don't mimic any other techniques of visual representation. Furthermore, they are highly reflexive, in that their presentation of their subject is dominated by an explicit intent to make the image more important than the subject while still being about the subject.

Really, most of the pictures have some of those characteristics, but the importance of that commonality is simply that they all qualified for the heavy competition for good reasons; whereas amongst buyers, the "winning" pictures emerged because of other reasons -- the reasons listed with the titles above. It's not so much that the buyers got the best pictures: it's that the pictures got the best buyers.





Decommisioned military sites are re-purposed as necessary. In this documentary landscape image, the distillation of the environment offers a description that catalogs evidence without proofs, featuring the implied design of intentions versus the actual forms of incidents.

The importance of the picture to the imagery is that the imagery is so recurring, that showing it once is the same as seeing the place repeatedly -- before, now, and again. That takes the picture beyond being "descriptive" to being "prescriptive", particularly for those who have never seen the place before.

In surveying the property, some viewers will see the "potential" in it while others will see the deficiency. The shot of the place is sensitive to timing: right now the place could go either way, and in the picture it will always be that way.


Treasure Island, CA

(Copyright 2011 Malcolm Ryder)