September 17, 2012

The Lie Agreed Upon

In the late 1970′s when I was very young and very poor, there was one thing that I didn’t feel I was deficient in, and that was my knowledge and wisdom about photography.

In my soul (I must admit this feeling has not abandoned me, even to this day) I felt I understood way down deep to my bones what great photography constituted and what efforts were required to achieve this.

When I would listen to academics, curators and visionary’s talk about photography, I found myself flabbergasted. I usually just wanted to go into a corner and throw up.  These people generally had no idea what they were talking about. It all sounded sincere, intellectually worthy and extremely knowledgeable, but in fact it was just words. It was my opinion they had NO idea what it meant to be a photographer nor did they seem to have any idea what struggles Steiglitz or Strand or anyone else confronted in their quest to realize greatness.

I remember vividly thinking that this was something I knew well. It was in my blood and has remained my life’s quest. I know this probably seems pompous and probably it is, but this how I feel.

Well I have ranted enough, back to my story. In the late 1970′s as I mentioned earlier a number of people began to notice my interest and knowledge in photography and slowly with out me soliciting it, began to ask me if I would purchase photography for them as an investment. This all happened without my realizing it. Somehow by listening to me, certain people began to realize that photography had the potential of a great investment. You must realize this was a time when the Yale Art Gallery would not give Ansel Adams a show because it felt photography was just a craft and not a legitimate art form. Oh, how times have changed.

So without quite realizing how or why, I began to buy photography for a number of people. I would take a commission and as often as I could afford it, a print would be my compensation.

One afternoon I made my way to the Marlborough Gallery (which primarily only sold painting) but I was on a quest to find a Robert Frank photograph, and if I remember correctly, Marlborough must have represented Robert Frank. Some months earlier at another gallery, not only had I found a Robert Frank photograph, but it was the actual picture that was used on the cover of “The Americans.” It was in perfect shape and signed on the back.

I had found out that Marlborough now represented Robert Frank, so with checkbook in hand and my best tweed jacket and tie, I went on a quest to buy.

When I got to the gallery I was met by the curator/director, who will remain anonymous. He quickly showed me the print I was interested in and started to ramble on about its merits, making one mistake after another.

Finally when I could not take all the misplaced ramblings any longer, I asked him if he noticed anything unusual about the condition of the print. He looked at me quizzically. I then asked him to look carefully once again and after further examination he still offered no insight.

I told him the print was extremely yellow and had not been fixed properly and that over time the image would fade into almost nothingness.

With this he looked at me and said, “As long as you have the signature, what does it matter?”

Well I never bought the print nor have I ever forgotten this story. Please remember, if your stock broker, real estate agent, insurance agent, doctor, lawyer, banker knows as little about what they are talking about as this curator did, God help us all.

Comments

9 Comments »

  1. A lot of media editors in my country, Argentine, are like the curator you remember.

    Comment by Hernan Zenteno — September 17, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

  2. By the way. If the print wouldn’t be signed it could have been washed, fixed, processed by a 1:20 selenium toner and washed again after some hypo eliminator without problems. But maybe the image was too faded at the time you meet it.

    Comment by Hernan Zenteno — September 17, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

  3. [...] So without quite realizing how or why, I began to buy photography for a number of people. I would take a commission and as often as I could afford it, a print would be my compensation. via rodneysmith.com [...]

    Pingback by The End Starts Here: “The Lie Agreed Upon” – essay by Photographer Rodney Smith | Wizwow's World — September 18, 2012 @ 9:59 am

  4. God help us all indeed.

    Comment by Matt Buntyn — September 18, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

  5. “When I would listen to academics, curators and visionary’s talk about photography, I found myself flabbergasted. I usually just wanted to go into a corner and throw up. ”

    Because it is ALL subjective. And forever changing. And one man’s junk is another’s treasure.

    Comment by Andy — September 19, 2012 @ 11:30 am

  6. Your story shows very well how the “ART” business functions.
    It’s not the photo/painting/sculpture itself. It’s the “name” on it, the gallery or auction house who sells it, and the big name collectors who own similar pieces.
    It’s just a status symbol for socially insecure nouveau riches, that’s all.
    Even the art critics/historians are in the pockets of the big galleries and collectors, they write what they are told/paid to write , like copywriters in the advertising industry. Saatchi understands this very well.
    How can you step out of this vicious circle ?
    Study your Art History. Do your own Art.

    Comment by Francisco Cabral — September 19, 2012 @ 11:34 am

  7. I would love to hear more about what you understand to be great photography and the struggles of Steiglitz or Strand or you. I think about this often and with our culture so saturated with images of all kinds it becomes so confusing and vague to me. What do all these images mean? anything at all? Do some images have more worth than others and who decides? And of course self focused as I am, how do I create a meaningful image or get closer to great photography?

    Comment by Kristin — September 19, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

  8. I am envious of and fascinated by your innate knowledge and gift for understanding and creating photographs. What a wonderful gift!

    Comment by Sally Watts — September 24, 2012 @ 11:15 am

  9. As someone new to photography, I hope to oned day have 1/4 of your knowledge.

    Comment by Dee — November 3, 2012 @ 1:03 am

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