Art or not?

Take a moment if you will to look over this article about the $6.5-million record setting sale of an image from Antelope Canyon in Northern Arizona.  I’m thrilled about the good fortune of Peter Lik (the photographer), but a little less so about the commentary and conclusions of Jonathan Jones in his article.

The author seems to have a burning desire to bash photography as “not being art.”  Really? He is certainly entitled to his opinion and to share it in the forum provided to him by The Guardian.  I don’t have an issue with that at all.  My issue is that he tossed out as many hackneyed (to recycle his own word) expressions as possible in an attempt to slur not only the photographer, but also photography in general as art.  He goes so far as to call the image tasteless.  Again…..really?

All the while, Jones fails to understand a few of the real implications of this sale.

First of all, the sale price that Peter Lik was able to get for his image should be highly encouraging to all photographers.  We all tend to work very hard for our income and it is a good thing that at least one buyer out there is obviously very moved by something newer than the classic Ansel Adams masterpieces.  The takeaway for photographers should be that there are better opportunities than ever our there to market your work.

Jones is correct in his article that one can Google Antelope Canyon and find thousands of images similar to Peter Lik’s image that posted this record-setting sale. In fact, I have shot dozens of my own while in that same canyon.  Although I might be biased, I think that several of mine are perhaps even better than the Peter Lik image.  That said, he did a nice job on the shot.

So what makes Peter Lik’s “Phantom” image worth $6.5-million and my versions of that same canyon worth so much less?  In short, Peter was there and I wasn’t.  Not in the canyon of course (we were both there at different times), but at the sale.  I’ve long maintained that the key to selling an image is to be able to put yourself and your work in front of a client when that client is looking.  It’s harder than you might think and I respect Lik for getting it done.  My images from Antelope Canyon are happily resting in my photo archives and on the website, while Peter’s ended up being in front of the right person when that person was looking to buy.

That timing, coupled with a nice image, equals a sale.   In this case, a very, very big one.  Kudos to you Mr. Lik!

So while Jones is promoting his opinion that photography is not art and never will be art, I strenuously disagree.  To me, art is in the eye of the beholder.  In this case, the beholder was impressed enough to spend millions on the image.  I’m thrilled for Mr. Lik and his family.  I wonder how much Jones has spent in the last few years on what he does consider to be art?

At the end of the day, one can refer to my photography as art, not art or an egg salad sandwich.  If you are a buyer are are interested in spending millions for it…let’s talk.

What do you think?

What people are saying


  1. Marco Rossi said...

    Let’s begin by stating that Mr Jones is an IDIOT, and that his only redeeming quality may be consistency. Few people can look upon the images of Edward Weston or Paul Strand (to name a mere few) and claim they are just photographs.
    Now as far as Mr. Lik and His Gallery’s claim to have sold an image for 6.5 million dollars, while I really wish it to be true, it has become highly unlikely that an actual sale ever took place and what actually took place was an investment in future sales at the Lik Galleries. Mr. Lik is en excellent photographic technician and has an employee or investor who is a master at marketing. The Lik Galleries have never provided verification of the sale, nor the prices and sales verification of the previous 4 images of the same series (the 6.5 sale was the 6th of a series of 7, image one hangs in Vegas) Any reputable gallery would proudly provide proof of such a sale, albeit with the buyer’s name redacted. Furthermore the Lik Galleries will not buy back any images sold even on consignment, whereas most reputable galleries will always take back the work of a “master” on consignment. The title of “master” applied to Peter Lik is one given by the Lik Galleries, and their claim to being reputable is highly suspect in that they display his images on black walls, where just about any gallery or museum will always display Art on white walls. Also if such a sale took place, where are the other sales of this nature, where are the other sales in the lower seven figures that would naturally follow, especially in such a low interest economic environment where investment in bonafide Art, along with prices has gone through the roof.
    Mr Hammond your Slot Canyon images are beautiful and captivating, as are mine, we just carry ourselves about with a shred of dignity that clearly Mr. Lik and his investors have no concern with.

    January 11, 2016 at 5:04 pm | link to this reply to this
  2. Mac Storey said...

    Few people would argue that a work done in pastel of oil paint is a work of art. Just as a painter must master his preferred medium, so must the photographer. In my opinion, the photographer I.e. Artist must adjust the focus of his camera, control his lighting, an perhaps arrange his subject before taking a picture. If all of these variables work in sync, then hopefully enormous she has created a good photography. If harnessing this much skill and precision can’t produce a work of art, the the art world will be at a loss for all of the pleasantly appealing photographs that are captured by the photographer.

    December 11, 2014 at 8:14 pm | link to this reply to this
    • Jeff Hammond said...

      I tend to agree Mac. It seems that there are still plenty of folks out there who are completely committed to a particular form of art. While that is typically a good thing, it falls flat when their enthusiasm for one art medium comes at the exclusion of others. Seems a little limiting to me.

      December 11, 2014 at 10:20 pm | link to this reply to this

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