Would you buy an Edward Weston original for $10?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by yours truly, Oct 5, 2005.

  1. Let's imagine any one of us could have been heading north along the
    coast of California in 1933. The Great Depression is a reality but
    we are fortunate enough to make ends meet and a little more. Aware
    of trends in contemporary art and interested in photography, it is
    likely that the name Edward Weston is familiar. Passing through
    Carmel, EW's name is spotted on his large mailbox at the side of
    Highway One. The decision is made to stop and see if anyone is home.
    Fortunately Edward is in the yard and after introductions, he offers
    to show his guests some work.

    Do you think you would respond to the work and artist when history
    was still being made and the work was new and challenging? You have
    no idea of the role this photography and EW will ultimately play in
    20th Century art. How you react is entirely up to what you see and
    feel at that very moment. You have the money in your pocket
    but "discretionary income" is a concept that will have to wait a few
    decades before it's time has come. You would feel it going and EW
    would surely feel it coming. Nothing is taken for granted.

    Do you think you would know what you were looking at and would you
    buy a print for $10?
  2. What is the value of $10.00 in 1933 in 2005 dollars?

    But to answer your question: if I liked what I was looking at, probably yes. I buy
    photography I like and can afford today, so assuming I was basically the same person
    back then that I am today , it seems likely.
  3. According to www.westegg.com $10US in 1933 would be worth $135US now. Even in the depression many people would have been able to afford that. Unfortunately many more people would not.

    As I guess you know, given your arbitary $10 choice, in 1935 Edward Weston instigated a thing called the 'Edward Weston Print of the Month Club' which made photographs available for $10 each. I don't know how successful that was. I guess it was higher profile things like the Guggenheim Fellowship that really made Weston's name.
  4. That would be 'arbitrary' of course!
  5. I happen to like some of Weston's work, so I would have been inclined to part with 10 bucks for it if I could.

    I'm tempted to note that as an investment opportunity based around time travel and future knowledge, I'd probably go back to 1933 and buy something like Indiana or maybe mineral rights to the Permian Basin. Then again, I don't have the time to figure out if $10 Westons at today's prices would have been a better investment than $10 in the market.
  6. People were getting forty to eighty cents a day to pick peaches in the company fields and it took a family to make ends meet.



    The above links might give one a clue.
  7. One might find this calculator interesting.

  8. One final thought on the matter, which often get's lost.

    If I were twenty years old in 1933 and had ten spare bucks in my pocket to blow on an unknown's image, the odds are pretty much assured, I'd be dead today:O LOL
  9. Before I get crucified by those who will take my comment about Edward being an unknown out of context, he was not known by the masses driving about Carmel at the time as he's known today.

    An edit feature, as is included on other parts of the forum would be helpful Jeff:)
  10. Just a historical note; In 1933 Edward was working for the WPA.
  11. Thomas,

    you say : " ... not known by the masses driving about Carmel at the time ... ".

    Sounds odd to me; are you sure there were "touristy masses" in 1933, on the California coast?

    The whole question is nonsense in my mind. It projects our current trend of rushing-jumping consumerism back into the time of the depression.

    Reminds me of the following wise-crack: If Jesus were alive today, what would he be famous for? -- For being 2000 years old!

    Come on, Reece and others, history is not today but 70 years ago. It is much more complicated.
  12. "Sounds odd to me; are you sure there were "touristy masses" in 1933, on the California coast?"

    Don't know about "touristy masses" but my comment is in regard to the awareness of the millions of folks who had the potential of traveling up and down the "Coast Hwy" at the time.

    "Come on, Reece and others, history is not today but 70 years ago. It is much more complicated."

    Hence my comment about being dead today and not able to enjoy the print should I have purchased it back in 1933 and the point that Edward was working on the EPA Arts project in 1933.

    "Weston photographed for the WPA Federal Arts Project in New Mexico and California in 1933."

  13. When I was a teenager, I pointed out to my dad (born in 1929) that buffalo nickels (produced until 1937 or '38) were going for $10 each in uncirculated condition. I asked him why he hadn't saved any new nickels from when he was a kid. He informed me that he didn't have any spare nickels to save at the time... I suspect neither he nor his parents would have put out $10 towards a photograph, either.
  14. What I'm really trying to get at is not about the money, inflation or the classic excuse for buying art: Investment. We know how it has turned out for this artist and his work, but in his time he was a pioneer, the medium was not accepted as a valid artform the world over, and stepping up to the plate and making a purchase like this took confidence and making a judgement that was more complex than the ususal exchange of money for a product. You would be purchasing something intangeble that was only accessible through the photograph you choose to buy and a photo was worth 10 cents in your mind before this experience. It isn't an easy question or trapped in time 70 years ago. It applies today as well. The collector can have a profound impact on what happens in the present and future. If the work is new and unknown, the process is more about the work and content than value and investment. In 1933 it was much for daring since there was no easy way to rationalize the purchase other than the emotional response: The art. The reference to the economy is to create the atmosophere that spending the money wasn't trivial. Whatever events conspired to bring you, Edward, and the work together for a viewing is of no consequence. It just had to happen and the opportunity to buy a print for the sake of asking the question.

    I've asked myself this question many times and I can't answer it confidently. In hindsight, it is easy to say, "Sure." I bought an Ansel Adams when he still sold prints to the public. None of my friends were spending their money on something like that and deciding to do it took some thought. It was exciting, I was nervous, but felt I was contributing to something I had a strong
    interest in. I wasn't just talking about doing something or wishing I had when the moment was right. I was actually doing it when it was possible and could contribute to the momentum. In reality it was conservative and had all kinds of ways to rationalize it. I would tell people it would be worth $10,000 in my lifetime. Well, try five years.

    This whole thing is about interacting with what is going on now and how much effort we invest in our awareness of the world around us. It is how this sort of decision requires confidence in one's judgement without seeking validation from other people or sources. It is about taking action when that commitment can be of influence. It isn't simple or easy. It is a challenge, intellectually and in a practical sense, much as the content of Weston's revolutionalry images suggested.
  15. Is anybody out there interested in buying any of my prints? Oops I forgot. They're not for sale right now..
  16. Too bad, John. I've got this ten spot burning a hole in my pocket!
  17. Rats Reece! I found out that using the semiglossy paper, time spent on taking the picture, time spent getting it ready for printing and the cost of the ink...$10.00 is not quite the break-even point.
  18. probalby not (assuming $10 then money, and $135 now money). I see work for more than about 50 dollars right now and I have a hard time convincing myself to get it. I own a few posters. and for now I don't have that much spare money (spare money I do have I use to buy lenses or things I can use). but if it was a really good work that affected me right (like ruth orkins 'american girl in italy') and the print quality was nice and the mounting/framing was nice quality too, and I happened to have the money with no other priorities set aside for it, and I felt particularly frivolous that day, then yea, I would buy it.

    but the problem is I might not have stopped/slowed long enough to look at a mail box if it were a nice day for a drive and I happened to be driving that stretch of road. I would have been looking for the next curve,, you know judging my entrance angle and speed, getting ready to get back on the accelerator for the next stretch,, no time to look at letters on mail boxes.

    one image that I can think of (I saw a silver gelatin print of one the other night) that I thought was beautiful was the one of the nautilus shell from the side


    this is the picture.. it was great. I would pay for that.
  19. There is something missing in this assumption. Suppose I am a 1933 ...or whatever... person, but how am I to know what the perceptions of this 1933 person were? No, this is unanswerable.
  20. Well Sergei, I don't think it is unanswerable. Part of the point of this is to appreciate the sort of perspective and attitude of someone looking at contemporary art and the ability to react to something without any preconceived notions or validation. That is the same now as then. And reading peoples' references to artists and work from the 20th Century, there is a tendency to take the formalist photography like Weston's for granted. It may seem obvious now, but all work of that magnitude is quite challenging to encounter at some point. Reading the Daybooks shows how important sales were to maintaining even his modest lifestyle. A friend of mine did buy a print from EW later on for $25 and he was well aware of how important the work was. After EW passed on, Brett and Cole were selling bundles of EWs, 25 mounted and signed prints bound with string, for something like $500. My friend passed that up. Around the same time the elusive Mr. Lane from the East Coast called on the boys and pretty much cleaned them out of the best of each image they had, and from all facets of EWs artistic evolution. That collection has only recently been shared with the public in the form of several books and a travelling museum exhibition that knocked everybody out when it blew through town. It was such a stunning and complete representation of Weston's vision that simply does not exist in any other collection anywhere. I admire the work a great deal and I didn't realize just how great his work is till I saw that show.

    I have to change or at least qualify my position of the answerability of this premise Re your comment, Sergei. It is not easy to answer for many reasons: The money, the radical nature of the work and tenuous status of Photography as Art at that time, and the mentality of the consumer then and now. Living artists will probably be around for a while and the work can be bought later on, or whatever. Even better if they are dead and certified. In a consumer society, it is funny that some things like art are suspect as a pragmatic expenditure but the same person might not think twice a half hour later and plop down the ten spot on a new Victrolla in Carmel.

    Anyhow, I would have loved to have met him and had what was surely an unforgettable experience with a great artist and his work. And even now it is hard to miss his mailbox on Hwy 1. It is still the same, huge box large enough to hold mounted 8x10s and has "Weston" in large black letters on the side. It isn't a fast section of road and unless you were unable to take your eyes off the incredible Charles Greene designed home on the other side of the road, you would catch it.

    I'll take it one step further and beyond the forsight of buying a print when it is still warm from the mounting press, I wish I had been passing through and happend to be well enough off that I would see the work, his stuggle, worn out camera, lens of unknown origin and without any maker's name on the barrel, and the rest of it and bought him a new camera, best lens, a thousand sheets of film to go in new holders, cases of Haloid paper, stacks of Strathmore, and fifty pounds of Amidol and a ton of Sodium Thiosulfite. And then cut him loose and ask for so many prints of his choice each year for so long and maybe end up with a couple hundred bitchen E Dubs. Oh that 20/20 hindsight..... Then there is the time that Brett gave a friend's son a vintage Pepper 30 because he really liked it....
  21. Maybe a roundabout way of asking the question is: are you purchasing or collecting anyone's
    work who is alive today ...that you are aquiring because you think they will be an historically
    significant figure in the history of photography and the work will become much more
    valuable in 50-100ish years?

    I think it is an intersting discussion but as much as my hindsight would love to have me
    appear to be a savy investor ...there is no way that I would have purchased a print during the
    depression when the vast majority of the US was working like dogs just to survive.
  22. I once bought a CD and T-shirt from a band I didn't really like much, just so I could be sure they could eat that day. Something about rewarding people for putting themselves out there, sink or swim. I don't like watching people sink just because they can't swim :)

    Personally, I think many people, if they like his work tday, would like it in the 30's. Many artists and would-be artists were gainfully employed (WPA, et al) in the 30's due to an awareness of the value of art in society. I fail to see how someone who is a fan of Weston's work today would conclude they would not buy a print then.

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