|Potato #1, Toronto, Jan. 2016
A PHOTOGRAPHER RECENTLY SOLD A PICTURE OF A POTATO FOR A MILLION EUROS. Kevin Abosch - an Irish photographer that I hadn't heard of until this week - reportedly sold the still-life print to an unnamed "European businessman" for £758597.73 during a studio visit.
Abosch, whose portfolio apparently includes portraits of Johnny Depp, Yoko Ono, Dustin Hoffman, Bob Geldof, Steven Spielberg and Sheryl Sandberg, said that the print - titled "Potato #345" - was hanging on the wall and that the buyer couldn't resist:
'It's not the first time that someone has bought the art right off my wall,' he told The Sunday Times.
'We had two glasses of wine and he said, "I really like that". 'Two more glasses of wine and he said: "I really want that". We set the price two weeks later.'It's the kind of story that makes most photographers wince while spreading the rather fantastical notion that there's real money to be made in the photo business. My reaction probably wasn't terribly different from any other photographer, and like most of them my first thought after that was "Hey - I'll have a go!"
|Potato #2, Toronto, Jan. 2016
Mr. Abosch said that the potato in his photo was organic, and since we'd taken delivery of potatoes in our organics box this week, Mr. Abosch and I are on par here. Unlike Mr. Abosch, who prefers to shoot against a black background, I chose my more customary rumpled fabric, and got to work on the kitchen table with the back of a roll of primed canvas while the morning light moved across two windows on adjacent walls. Not bad for a couple of hours' work.
Abosch has done a series of potato still-lifes, and his studio told PetaPixel that he "likes potatoes because they, like people, are all different yet are immediately identifiable as being essentially of the same species."
"He has photographed many potatoes. This is one of his favorites."
|Potato #3, Toronto, Jan. 2016
Clearly Mr. Abosch has gotten quite a bit of publicity from the sale of his print, which might lead to suggestions that it was a stunt, especially considering how the final price of the print after two weeks of negotiation worked out to a neat million euros. Not many photographers can command even a fraction of this for prints of their work, and you can't help but wonder about the economics of this transaction, even if you're not a photographer.
Based on his list of subjects Mr. Abosch clearly has a reputation, even if I'd never heard of him until now. The Daily Telegraph story on the potato photo notes that he charges "at least £200,000" for a commissioned portrait, mentions that he was recently invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and features a screenshot from someone's Twitter feed of Abosch talking about the photo at SIME, a "leading digital conference" held in Miami last year.
"We are all the potato," Mr. Abosch is quoted telling his audience.
|Potatoes #1, Toronto, Jan. 2016
If the story is true - and I have to confess to having my reservations - it's an instructive lesson in the arbitrary pricing and income models in my business. Let's take it as a given that Mr. Abosch has a portfolio as star-studded as is claimed. While I haven't shot Tom Cruise or Aung San Suu Kyi, my resume includes portraits of recognizable names like Tony Bennett, Alan Rickman, Bjork, Ben Kingsley, Daniel Craig, Monica Bellucci, Tim Burton, Cate Blanchett, Salman Rushdie, Tilda Swinton and many others besides. Perhaps not quite as blue chip as Mr Abosch, but credentials enough to put my potato photos reasonably within the €250,000 range, if that's your yardstick.
And as I said before, both our potatoes are organic, if that matters to you.
But it's obvious that I couldn't hope to charge a quarter of what Mr. Abosch reportedly got for his potato print - perhaps not even 1/1000th. Probably not even that. The truth is that on the scarce occasions when I have to price a print for a client, I have to carefully factor in the cost of making a print and think hard about how much to add on the top to give myself a reasonable profit. I don't even bother trying to cover my costs in time and labour at this point, so I simply hope for a figure just tolerable enough to get me a little closer to buying a new lens or maybe even updating my camera in the next year or two.
|Potatoes #2, Toronto, Jan. 2016
I can't imagine anyone paying a million euros for a print, though when I allow myself to fantasize about being a rich man, I think it would be nice to buy one of Irving Penn's still-lifes, which have (obviously) always been an inspiration to me. His marvelous "Frozen Foods, New York, 1977" sold last year for US$106,250 - a bargain in my eyes, especially since it's less than a tenth of what Mr. Abosch's potato cost at current exchange rates.
The fact is that no one can really say what a photograph is worth without considering a shifting raft of intangibles, and the fact that photographers are famously unwilling to talk about pricing among themselves doesn't make it any easier. News that a photograph of a tuber by a celebrity photographer who isn't nearly as famous as Irving Penn or Annie Liebovitz (reportedly) sold for a million anythings only distorts the market even further.
Perhaps it's simply a matter of supply and demand. I haven't seen a lot of really good photos of potatoes lately, so maybe Mr. Abosch was just responding to a market shortfall. It doesn't quite seem fair, especially if you believe, as Mr. Abosch clearly does, that there's as much to gotten from a picture of a potato as any portrait of a movie star.
With that in mind I'd like to encourage all my photographer friends to fill that market demand with potato still-lifes and encourage others to do the same. Increased supply will only bring the price down and everyone will be able to afford a really nice photo of a potato by a professional photographer. Since social media seems to be the way to spread the message, might I suggest using the hashtag #millioneuropotato when sharing sneak peaks of our work on Twitter or Instagram?
In the meantime, I have some potato photos for sale for anyone interested, at very competitive prices.