Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes, they're beautiful!", "What a marvellous train!", "And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!" They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.
Hans Christian Anderson from 'The Emperor's New Clothes'.
As the last weekend of the Brighton Photo Biennial passes, I am left still considering the strange episode that started the festival, the shooting of a photographic series by Carmen Soth the daughter of the established photographer and publisher Alec Soth.
For those that don't remember, on arrival in the UK with his family, Alec was refused permission to work in the UK and was unable to complete his commission for the Brighton Photo Biennial. Instead of chalking this up to experience, and finding a suitable alternative, it was decided that his 7 year old daughter Carmen should carry out the photography.
Now it could be considered that this was a bit of fun and not to be taken too seriously even if the British tax payer was footing the bill for the juvenile artist. But subsequently the South East UK based Photography organisation Photoworks published a book of the young Carmens photographs...
...and then released a limited edition print available for £150 unframed...
This monetization of the young 7 year old Carmens photographs is the interesting part, it represents the art worlds arbitrary ascribing of value, both artistic and financial to these juvenile snaps. I don't think I am the only one to see the art worlds mask quite obviously slip in this episode, Photoworks were swept along by the big artistic name of Alec Soth and taken in by his solution to the work visa problem without question, instead of using common sense and their own eyes and saying 'The Emperor is Naked' they went along with the ruse, published a book and limited edition prints effectively proclaiming "Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!".
Ironically, in Hans Christian Anderson's fable it was actually the innocence of a child that unmasked the pretense of the Emperor:
"A child who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage and said "The Emperor is naked".
The unique exclusion from art world acceptance that street photographers have long experienced is increasingly becoming street photography's greatest strength rather than its weakness, episodes like the one above, where art photography's institutions and established characters play slight of hand tricks in order to create financial value out of nothing, become publicly transparent. The Street Photographer and the Photojournalist are virtually alone in being unsullied by such games. That integrity is at the heart of street photography, no festival curator, arts organisation or doting photo celebrity father can tell you which street photograph has value, artistic or financial. The value or not of a candid street image is evident, attempts to weave artistic mystery or ascribe artificial monetary value inevitably fail. There is no money to be made which is why I suspect there will again be no contemporary street photographs hanging in the stands of the big galleries at Paris Photo again this year. Symbolically, street photographs will, this year, be displayed outside the Paris Photo venue in shop windows around the Canal Saint Martin area. Maybe it will be the year that we see street photographs exchanging hands for hundreds of pounds inside the venue that we will actually need to be concerned that street photography has lost its way.
It takes great courage as a practicing photographer to stand up and call the art world out like the small child in Hans Christian Anderson's story but as street photographers we are in a unique position as we have nothing to lose.
I leave you with the work of a new undiscovered French based artist, all these images are available as digital C types in editions of 25.