Is that a basement?
It’s the time of year when enormous lists of best shows and best books get issued on the net. New people get anointed and existing promise moves further up the totem pole (or not) underpinning careers and sales. But perhaps because we’ve been spending hours trying to book accommodation in far off places, I’ve been thinking about photography’s role in providing evidence and demonstrating value to prospective customers and how the way this hooks the viewer into a strange back and forth dialogue with images.
Photography has long been associated with advertising, but in our citizen-driven age on the sites I’ve been looking at, house owners have provided their own images – sometimes skilfully shot showing off the best features of a room, or an asset like a big tv and sometimes murky or puzzling – why are they showing three photographs of that strange vase?
It’s the effect of this on you as the viewer that intrigues me – peering anxiously into the evidence of other people’s tiny living rooms, trying to decide if that bed takes up all the space in the studio, is that daylight or have all the photographs been taken with flash so we are actually looking at a basement? No curator or art history student could be more diligent with their viewings, discussion and interpretation of what’s going on. The goal isn’t appreciation or finding the space inside yourself for an artist’s vision, but rather the pragmatic shall we click the ‘Book’ button or not? But perhaps that’s not so far away from the outcome sought by a dealer gallery show, getting viewer to the ‘buy now’ decision, in which case an art photograph is both itself and demonstration of a saleable object.
With the accommodation images there is, of course, another stage to the process – when the former viewer walks through the door and reality unfolds. That’s when the mind remembers the images and assesses the room and its features for truthfulness so our perception becomes permanently entwined with virtual reality.
Meanwhile, I am expecting one of those good photo books on Christmas day, but perhaps I’ll be thinking about the process that led to buying it off the net in the first place….