The website Dangerous Minds picked up my story Prison Yard to Paris Photo LA: How an Art Market Hustle Put a $45K Price-Tag on Prison Polaroids about the rapid inflation of price of a few hundred lost Polaroids.

I am not surprised by the art market capitalising on this subculture within its general thirst for vernacular photographs. I do urge caution though; the people who made and are in these photos are not the ones profiting from their cultural appropriation.

There are two general and conflicting positions on this matter.

The first position, expressed by Dangerous Minds says it’s a good thing for folks who were inside because they can potentially make money.

“Whether the art market is fetishizing African-American gang members or not, the likely result of the exorbitant price for these photos will be to incentivize owners of similar collections to make them public, which is good news …”

Potentially. Maybe.

Even if someone in the photos is impartial and happy to let their image loose on the market, are they likely to have the connections to buyers and the desire to negotiate a deal? My thinking is that the art market benefits those in it and the dealers will be the ones with the luxury of time, network and collateral to leverage most profit from exchanges of collections such as the Los Angeles Gang and Prison Photo Archive.

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The second position on all of this, by contrast, at the World’s Best Ever blog post from which Dangerous Minds sourced the story has an alternative view. One comment reads:

“also we paid for them pic someone stole them from poppy or pj and east coast has nothing to do with new york its in la and who gives you guys the right to post or flicks some of us or out and would like to forget about that time in the 80s.”

Who gives you the right? Who gives us the right?

Who polices this stuff? Nobody. Who is responsible for these images being on the market? A uncoordinated group of individuals. Who is responsible for these images being on the Internet? I am. The original Harpers Books listing from which I sourced the images was deleted after sale. I had to use Google cache and Wayback Machine to source the jpegs, after which I gave them a permanent home under an article with good SEO returns. Otherwise, these images would’ve been and gone. But my intervention allowed them to be copied, shared and has made them quite permanent on the web.

What gave me the right to condemn these images to permanence and deny the subjects their right to forget?

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