Irish spuds and sour grapes

What do Brooklyn Beckham and a photograph of a potato have in common? They confirm, if we didn’t know it by now, that people buy photographers as much as they buy photographs.

Last week, Kevin Abosch confirmed he had sold a picture of a potato for €1 million (£750,000), a record price for a non-commissioned image by the artist. Described as ‘an organic Irish potato shot on a black background’, a European businessman bought the photograph after having a few glasses of wine with Abosch (yes, that’s a few glasses, not a few bottles).

Abosch is a sought-after celebrity photographer known for his portraits of Yoko Ono, Steven Spielberg, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai, Bob Geldof and Gabriel Byrne, to name but a few. His sitters are characteristically photographed against black backgrounds.

Of the potato Abosch says: “I see commonalities between humans and potatoes that speak to our relationship as individuals within a collective species. Generally, the life of a harvested potato is violent and taken for granted. I use the potato as a proxy for the ontological study of the human experience.” Perhaps it was Mr Abosch who had drunk three bottles of wine.

About the same time as the European businessman was downing his glasses of vino and falling in love with the Gaelic spud, Burberry announced it had hired 16-year old Brooklyn Beckham to shoot its latest social media campaign. The news had seasoned fashion photographers in uproar, protesting that it devalued their skills and experience and showed a lack of respect. Sour grapes? Perhaps.

But to complain that Brooklyn Beckham would never have got the job if it hadn’t been for his famous parents is not only stating the obvious, it’s missing the point. His appointment isn’t about his photographic skills and experience (or lack of), it’s about his 5.9 million Instagram followers (most of whom, with all due respect, probably couldn’t distinguish a Lik from a Leibovitz). Burberry’s Christmas ad, featuring baby brother Romeo, attracted 11 million views within 48 hours of being posted. For a company launching a new product, that level of social media penetration and publicity is worth its weight in potatoes (assuming they’re photographed by Abosch).

The moral of the story? Being able to create great photographs isn’t enough to deliver commercial success, you need to be able to sell yourself as much as, if not more than, your work. Or just be born to the right parents.

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