It’s a lot like the joke song my mother used to sing, “He was the best president we ever had. He was the only president we ever had.” One of my portraits of Keith Haring obscuring his face (he was still drawing in the subways then and I didn’t want to aid the cops in identifying him) set an auction record (for me: $1,144) today in Berlin. “It’s the highest price ever paid for one of my photos at an auction house. It’s the only price ever paid for one of my photos at an auction house.”
Digital files are impossible to keep corralled. And depending on where I find them, the unauthorized usage is either ok: kids’ fanatical fan websites (I used to pull Neil Young and Joni Mitchell out of Rolling Stone and pushpin the photos to my bedroom wall); or not ok: any commercial usage (Eric Rohmer on the L.A. Times website, Werner Herzog on WYNC’s website–“the intern did it,” sounded as suspect as “the dog ate my homework,” but it was also true).
But I thought I knew where my prints were, particularly 16×20 fiber prints, with my copyright stamp “on the verso, ” but an auction house in Berlin was unexpected.
I’ve often donated ink jet and digital C prints to benefit auctions: Halle Berry, Werner Herzog or Todd Haynes and Christian Bale in boas, depending on the expected crowd. A scuffle broke out once over Herzog and eventually I received an e-mail:
“I was introduced to your work a few years ago at V.’s Benefit Auction. She’s my neighbor and good friend. I too sold a photo in the auction. I also was one of two people in a bidding war for your portrait of Werner Herzog. The other being this scruffy burnout of a kid who in the end had much deeper pockets than my own.
Well, the loss still crosses my mind occasionally and I’ve been meaning to get in contact with you. I just watched “Fitzcaraldo” again recently and thought I’d try and track you down. And although I’m not in a financial position to make a purchase right now, I am a big proponent of the barter system. I swap photos occasionally with other photographers whose work I admire and wanted to know if you’d be interested.
I do mostly documentary work which you can see some of at the website below. If you’re taken by something, I’d love to swap for the Herzog. The idea of him staring me down in my studio would no doubt keep me on my toes. I see it as nothing less than inspirational.”
The photographer, Keith Sirchio, is a top-knotch photojournalist, quick and nimble,
and I immediately accepted his offer and traded for a b&w print of a woman surrounded by her inventory at a gun show.