The sixth episode of The Genius of Photography looks at the way photography has been commodified, just like modern art in general has.
We now find photographs being sold for millions of dollars to collectors, who see them as an investment; piracy scams, which is so easy with digital media; and lawsuits over the ownership of valuable negatives.
One of the interesting things about this week’s episode is how many of the photographers talk about limiting the work they do, because that increases the price they can get, which really gives the lie to the idea that selling work encourages productivity, in fact, in many instances, and not just here, it discourages it.
All of this bodes ill for the arts, and the degeneracy I think in all the arts in the West is quite clear because of it. This hasn’t started in the 21st century, of course, it’s been going on a long time now.
When artists were craftsmen their inspiration seems to have been endless, and even after hundreds of years we can see works created by unknown medieval craftsmen and wonder at them; but the work that is produced these days seems so much less in comparison.
Some of the best work in this week’s episode was produced by artists who didn’t know they were artists, like Seydou Keita who worked as a studio photographer in Mali. His work was eventually ‘discovered’ and fought over by connoisseurs in the Western art markets.
We also see the work of Wang Qingsong, who has been photographing the backend of the New China, where he is of course signally ignored; and also the work of Martin Parr, who has taken the camera into the local supermarket and found some interesting subjects awaiting him.