Category Archives: 2 The Archive

Part 5 – Exercise 2 – Nicky Bird ‘Question for Seller’

The brief for this exercise was to answer the following questions about Nicky Bird’s ‘Question for Seller’ series of photographs; groups of old family photographs she had purchased from eBay and which had attracted no other bidders, the underlying premise being that they were unwanted:-

Old Family Photographs

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

No, I don’t think the ‘status’ of the photographs changed: they were still simply groups of old family photographs which may have belonged to a family at one point, but either the family lineage had ceased (through all branches of the family being deceased), or actually they were unwanted, discarded items within a family that still exists, but who, rightly or wrongly, may not value them; either because they didn’t know enough about the various subjects within the photographs (maybe nobody had explained the history through the generations),or maybe simply because they took up valuable space.

Families are generally more fragmented today, with family trees overlapping through multiple marriages; the idea of a single ‘line’ through the generations is less common. Also there is a concerted push to not live in the past, to live for the moment rather than be nostalgic; also to avoid ‘clutter’ and hoard less.

Perhaps as a series created by a photographer, the ‘groups’ of photographs are elevated in status because of the connectedness of ‘discarded family history’, but individual groups of the discarded family photographs would revert to being just that once taken off the walls, out of the exhibition and back to their original state.

Where does their meaning derive from?

I sense the meaning is about how we view our own family histories today. Is it important to preserve them as original photographs, which are somehow sacrosanct, and indefinably linked to the ‘death’ of a lineage?  Or have other ways to remember and document a family history superseded this? The study of family histories on-line is flourishing, encouraged by numerous documentaries of celebrities tracing their ancestors and finding out revelations. Have many of these ‘original’ images been digitally scanned and therefore are still ‘living’, perhaps in a more accessible, informative and useful format?

I know that personally the touch and feel of these old photographs in my own family, is very much part of my ongoing relationship with them in my thoughts and memories. Scanning in the photographs and using them digitally, renders them a bit further away from my original great grandparents/uncles/aunts. After all those original photographs had been handled by them; they had made postcards of some and posted them to show them they cared and were thinking about each other when they were not together. My family now very much reduced down, renders these objects much more extraordinary and precious.

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?

Clearly the fact that the photographs were curated by a well-known artist/photographer renders them more expensive financially as ‘elements’ within an exhibition.  The extended story of them belonging to the series and being part of an exhibition, would, by its nature attach greater worth to them. Perhaps when they are moved around the globe again, losing that extra piece of providence/history, they will once again be reduced to ‘worthless’. It is the legitimacy of that known journey to exhibition status which has, possibly momentarily, increased their worth.


Many years ago I fell upon some images on FlickR which fascinated me and which I complemented the creator of, only to receive a somewhat aggressive warning not to swipe the idea and try and recreate my own versions. It baffled me why the photographer had decided to publish them on the Internet if she was so concerned about her idea being replicated!

Anyhow, when I researched the Nicky Bird series, I immediately thought of these photographs. The idea was to actually put some old images in a freezer, effectively ‘freezing the moments in time’. The images then took on a more ‘final, death-like’ quality having a sheen of ice on them, a possible ‘Cryogenic’ treatment to preserve forever:- copies of the images are shown below:-

I like how the photographs are given even more of an ethereal feel with the frost partially covering the images. This maybe takes the idea of photographic archiving to a whole new level!