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Would You Buy A Photo Sight Unseen?

Is it reasonable to bid for a photograph before you see it? Read on!


Would you buy a photograph without seeing it first? Most people do as high profile Australian fashion photographer Georges Antoni pointed out. In fact, our professional photography clients are doing it all the time. Photographers are hired based on their reputation, so why wouldn't you purchase a photograph without seeing it first - as long as you knew who the photographer was?

This was the concept behind the Sight Unseen charity auction, held at Sun Studios in Sydney, masterminded by Canon's Chris Macleod and supported by eleven luminary Australian and New Zealand photographers.


Here's how the evening proceeded: During a five-course degustation menu at Sun Studios in Sydney, the exhibiting photographers were invited to present their photograph for auction. The auctioneer was Peter Mocherie and bidding was based on reputation and the photographer's story. However, it wasn't until after the image was purchased that it was printed by Sun Studio's Selena Simpson and placed into a frame on the gallery wall.

Over $22,000 was raised for the I-Manifest Charity and thanks to the photographers Toby Burrows, Stephen Dupont, Simon Harsent, Gary Heery, Ted O'Donnell and Vicki Lee, Anna Pogossova, Jackie Ranken, Graham Shearer, Eugene Tan and James Tolich. Bidding was brisk and exciting and for the final two prints, especially so since Canon threw in one of the imagePROGRAF Pro-1000 printers being used to produce the final prints.


Sun Studio's stella printer, Selena Simpson at work!


The Value of Prints

Apart from being a very enjoyable evening, there was an underlying purpose to the event: the value of the photographic print. In a world that is drowning in digital images, the process of print making allows us all to elevate important images to make a statement.

It shows that photography is more than just a rudimentary means of communication, rather an artistic discipline that retains its value in an increasingly virtual world.

What will be left to history, prints or digital files?

One thing is certain, the digital technology we are using today will be very different in 10, 20 and 100 years. Looking back on digital history, there are few recording media (if any) that still work today because technical obsolescence seems to be a necessary and unwanted side effect.

In comparison, we still look at, archive and value prints. In fact, serious photographers understand that as good as digital displays are, they are fleeting and tenuous.

It isn't until you have printed your photograph that you have some sense of stability and longevity, to say nothing of the marvellous textural and optical qualities that are found only in a print.


Photograph by Tony Irving.


From Instagram to Print


Tony Irving is well known on Instagram for his strong, colourful photography. A much admired ‘influencer', he shares his skills and craft with tens of thousands of followers, but at the Sight Unseen event, he appeared to be a little in awe of the exhibiting photographers. "It's awesome and it's inspiring. Of course I've heard of these photographers and seen their websites, so I feel really privileged to view their prints in the flesh, so to speak.

Prior to the exhibition, Tony had been lent a Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-1000 and was talking like a child in a lolly shop, allowed to buy anything he wanted!

“I printed some images from a recent trip to Iceland and it was just fantastic to see my work in a new way. Unlike most of the photographers here tonight who started in the darkroom with film, I began with a digital camera and posting images online. Making prints is a journey in the opposite direction.

“And it's very rewarding to see your photographs printed. The image is larger, you can hang it on a wall and you tend to look at it for a longer period of time. You also have control over how your photograph looks, whereas on a computer screen, you're at the mercy of the monitors and devices your viewers are using.

“Online, images are so fleeting. They're liked for a couple of days if you're lucky and then they are gone, whereas when you make a print, it stays. It's a piece of art. That's the next step I'm looking forward to.”

Tony is already selling his work online. People see his photographs on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr and Tony arranges to have them printed by a professional lab or bureau. “I was pleasantly surprised because the quality of my work held up much better than I expected when making prints. I know there's a whole world of expertise when it comes to printing, and I'm looking forward to learning how to do it all with my own printer. However, even if you don't print yourself, getting someone to print for you needn't be such a big step.

“And prints seem to be experiencing something of a revival because for some of the photos I post, people tell me they need to be displayed up larger and put on a wall. They are talking about prints as something you make from special photographs. I think photographic prints as works of art are making a come back.

“I recently went to the World Press Photo exhibition where I was really moved by the power of the image. Certainly the subject matter was powerful and often tragic, but it also had to do with the way the photos were presented as large prints.

“I think exhibitions remind us of the power an image can have in creating atmosphere or telling a story. Many of those photos from World Press Photo are still in my mind, even though I saw them several months ago.

“There are two things that drive me. One is to share with people the beauty of the natural world, but it's also important to have a story behind your images. Often it's the story associated with the image that creates the emotion. Sure, composition, lighting and technique are all important, as is post-production, but none of these can create the story or the emotion if it's not captured in the first place.”

“The second thing involves connecting with other people. For me, Instagram is as much about relationships as it is images. I've met many wonderful friends through commenting and chatting. And now I am learning how to make prints, I plan to use my Instagram and Facebook pages to promote my website and print sales as well.”


Photo by Jackie Ranken.


Jackie Ranken

It must have been nerve-racking for the photographers exhibiting their work to stand up and present a photograph that couldn't be seen. However, as Georges noted, with the calibre of photographers, the standard of photography was never in question and their art was vindicated at the end of the evening when there were 12 amazing prints hanging on the gallery wall.

Explained Jackie Ranken just before her print went to auction, “Once a print is on the wall, it lives its own life. Of course, our photographs are just blank pieces of paper at this stage, but it's the potential and the excitement surrounding the process of bidding for something unseen that makes it so exciting.

“However, it's nice to let go of your ego. I think ego is what holds a lot of people back from putting their work out there, unsure of what others may say.

“I guess all of the photographers here tonight have a reputation, so people know the kind of work we produce, but still there is no guarantee the person buying their print is going to like it! However, because it's a print, it has a value.

“For me, the print is all about its tactility. I can see it in dim light with a glass of wine in my hand, or in the morning under bright sunshine and it will look different each time. I can hang it on a wall or keep it in a drawer and over time, it talks to me. It becomes my friend and I don't want to let it go.

Jackie Ranken in her new light darkroom.


"A screen image doesn't do this in the same way. Sure, my Eizo monitor is fantastic. It's also great to keep an editing screen like this separate from my emails and daily chores, so when I'm working on my photos I appreciate it all the more. For post-production, I turn off my phone and turn on the music, just like we used to when working in the darkroom. The making of an image for printing requires time and separation from your day to day work. It's a different head space – a creative space.”

Peter Eastway Uses

Peter Uses

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