Pim Milo on charity auctions


General Photography

A Dutch friend send me the link to a speech given my Pim Milo, a Dutch writer (Dutch language only). In his speech, Milo argues forcefully against photographer donating prints to charity auctions. His reasoning is simple and quite interesting: It’s not that he has any problems with charity auctions (quite on the contrary). He has problems with photographers doing themselves a disservice. (more)

A disclaimer first: I can read Dutch reasonably well, even though it takes me forever to do so. So I also looked at the Google translation of Milo’s piece. What is more, in his email my Dutch friend sent me a brief “executive summary.” So the following should be reasonably accurate, but if any Dutch readers finds there are important details missing, please email me.

Milo’s main argument against photographers giving away prints for free is simple: Photographers need to sell prints to make money. So by giving away prints for free, photographers are basically competing with themselves, undercutting their own market. And it gets even trickier once you take the secondary market into account.

Instead, Milo argues, photographers could simply donate cash if they wanted to support a charity.

But how then would you run a charity auction if there’s nothing to auction of? Well, there would be something to sell, namely prints. But instead of asking photographers, Milo argues charity auctions should ask collectors for prints. After all, collectors are the people who are active in the market that auctions are a part of, whereas photographers are not - photographers use galleries to sell prints. The added bonus of asking collectors for prints is that those prints come with a provenance, which, in turn, adds even more value to a print in an auction.

In a nutshell, that’s the idea, which, as far as I can tell, makes perfect sense.

We don’t usually see many discussions about how photography is sold - regardless of whether we’re talking about magazines or blogs. So I figured it might be worthwhile to bring Milo’s thoughts to a non-Dutch readership. Just like Milo, I have absolutely no problems with charity auctions, but I do think that he has a very good point there.