Last week Brooklyn Magazine ran an article about how much it would cost to live a New York Times lifestyle. The results? It ain’t cheap. And so when PHILLIPS, an international auction house, banged the gavel for the last time yesterday at their “Photographs” sale in NYC, it got me thinking about the real cost of the Internet’s rapid misappropriation of photographs. Though surely you don’t think much about it, as you so blithely like and reblog and upload and download to your Tumblr account, but all of these images have real value–in some cases an absurdly high real value. So just how much would it cost if you had to physically acquire every image like they did in the olden times? More than you got, boo.
Let’s think of the Internet as the virtual equivalent of plastic. The invention of plastic allowed for all sorts of things, but for the purpose of this piece, it allowed for the replication of higher value goods in immensely cheaper forms. Golden bits and bobs were no longer reserved for royalty, who could afford the cost of real materials, but now everyone could get in on the action, even the plebs like you and me. There are accessory empires built on plastic–and on your accepting of a shoddy reproduction of something actually of worth.
The Internet is plastic. It is immaterial. Vapor. A phantom of the real thing. Instead of real social interaction, you get social media. The smell of an old book has been replaced by the eye-burning glare of your computer screen. Instead of going out into the world and acquiring real things, we are complacent with the faux commoditization of other people’s work. Just like kids playing house, we’re not really doing anything. We’re just pushing air around.
PHILLIP’s auction yesterday was a reminder that this air has (or had, depending on who you ask) weight. These are images that you have seen hundreds of times, but familiarity does not automatically equate knowledge. In fact, the more we see these things, it is likely the less valued they become, at least to a certain strata of the population–the ones who are okay with the proverbial piece of plastic, content with the blind curation of pixels. But there are others out there who still value the real thing. They want the gold. Below you’ll find a selection of work and their respective price tags. You’ll be thankful Richard Avedon isn’t hunting you down asking for royalties on your blog after this.
Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, Los Angeles, California, June 14, 1981
(Sold for $155k)