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Brisbane photo gallery ends 2022 on a high

The Maud Street Photo Gallery finished 2022 with a bang by selling a single print by Erick and Ian Regnard for $50,000, the biggest sale ever for Brisbane’s only commercial photo gallery.

L’Envie by Erick and Ian Regnard.

The impressive 2.5m x 1.5m large-format print is part of Floating Bits, a series shot by the Mauritius-born twins in 2007 after years of preparation.

‘It’s incredible. After Covid and in Brisbane, a small market, from a couple of photographers who haven’t spent much time here. It was so special. Just incredible,’ Maud Street Photo Gallery director, Irena Prikyl, told Inside Imaging. ‘I think it’s good for photographers to know that images with big price tags can and do sell. It’s positive for the industry, and photographers should not charge below what they’re worth.’

But how much is a fine art photo print worth? It’s a question many photographers grapple with. Some just go with their gut instinct, while others may meticulously weigh up the variables to settle on a figure.

There are straight forward factors such as the raw expenses of producing the work: the camera gear, printing, paper quality, framing. And a few of the secondary expenses like the time and resources spent planning the shoot, travel and accommodation costs, paying models or assistants, and processing and editing.

Finally there are more abstract factors like the photographer’s reputation, whether the work is deemed ‘collectable’, print editions, the secondary art market value, the concept, the story, the execution of the project, the reputation of the gallery and so on.

Knowing the monumental amount of work that went into Floating Bits provides some context to justify the steep price tag. Erick and Ian are probably still out of pocket. But the extra work resulted in a unique collection of photos – there is more going on here than a few underwater model poses.

Sometimes, though, a print’s value is astoundingly simple. If an individual feel moved and connects with a photo and all the above information – the price, secondary value, collectibility – is irrelevant. As was the case with the Floating Bits sale.

The exhibition opening night at Maud Street Gallery. Source: Maud Street Gallery.

 

From advertising to art

Ian and Erick Regnard grew up in Mauritius, a paradise island off Africa in the Indian Ocean, where they became interested in surf photography. As teenagers in the early ’80s their family moved to Perth, and they later established distinguished surf photography careers under the brand Tungsten. This was during the great surf fashion boom, when brands and magazines had limitless budgets to send an entourage of youthful individuals to exotic coastal destinations. During this period the Regnards were ‘producing some of the most respected… surfing, portrait and lifestyle photography in the world,’ according to Australian surf magazine, Tracks.

In 2002, shortly before the surf industry collapse, the twins effortlessly branched out to commercial and advertising photography, and later videography.

‘I think people often struggle to understand how we work,’ Ian told the 50 Grounds marketing blog. ‘On set we alternate as assistant or photographer during the photo shoot; Erick will come over and see something from a different angle or the other way around. We constantly give feedback to each other, it’s like finishing off each other’s ideas.

‘We see a trend of companies using us now directly instead of approaching us through the traditional advertising agency. Clients still use the agencies to conceptualise, but in-house marketers are directing the shoot and are sitting down with the photographer to sort out a shot list and stuff like that. We are now asking clients and ad agencies to bring the ideas early to us so we can tell them whether it is a viable photography concept.’

While serious about their photography business, the Regnards feel there considerable value in pursuing personal projects. Not only to scratch that creative itch, but for other additional benefits such as earning publicity through winning photo contests or exhibiting the work.

Erick swimming with the stingrays on Moorea for the project shoot in Tahiti. Photo: Erick and Ian Regnard.

‘The amount of PR [public relations] throughout the years just with this project [Floating Bits] is quite amazing, and I’ll always recommend photographers to go out and do personal projects,’ Erick said in a podcast with journalist, Nance Haxton, in the Streets Of Your Town podcast. ‘Even if it’s a little bit different that’s how people are going to take notice of you. Working for other people [in a commercial setting] is great, but you’re always doing what they want you to do.’

Floating Bits

After learning about the tiny South Pacific island of Niue, with its remarkable underwater visibility up to 100 metres and diving with humpback whales, the twins came up with an outlandish concept: to capture a model posing underwater with whales on 4×5 large-format Polaroid PN55 film.

‘“We decide to use Polaroid for this project, and specifically PN55 which gives you a positive and a negative at the same time, Ian told Petapixel in 2016. ‘The advantage is that the negative is washed in plain water if need be, so no need to go to a lab when you are in the middle of nowhere!’

The project required more than a year of planning. Firstly, they worked with an engineer to modify the camera so there was enough bellows for a wide range of focus. Newcastle-based underwater camera housing builder, Dave Kelly, then constructed a cumbersome custom housing, which included a 15KG weight to sink the housing.

The custom-built rig. Photo: Erick and Ian Regnard.

After the rig was built, the twins took it for a few test shoots to learn how the camera would perform underwater, particularly focusing and framing.

‘The camera took us about a year to work out how to take it underwater. Nobody would take this camera underwater – it’s hard to use on land. So we were a little anxious about going to Niue with[out testing] it.

‘We were thinking “we’re going to a place we’ve never dived before that’s in the open ocean. We don’t really know how to work this camera”. So we decided to go to Tahiti. I’d swum with stingrays there before. It’s in a calm lagoon, the sting ray is quite friendly, and it’s only two metres deep.

This test shoot resulted in three incredible photos, including the one that sold for $50K, as the stingrays harmoniously glide around the naked model. ‘For a test run it was quite amazing,’ remarked Erick.

Film aficionados almost always highlight how ‘slowing down the process’ is why film photography is enjoyable. There are a finite number of exposures, prompting a photographer to take more time and care with each shot, and the photos require processing to view them.

If film photographers feel affectionate about this approach, then the Regnards’ painstakingly slow process will make them tremble with excitement. They captured just one photo per hour, with only eight in an entire day of shooting.

‘You can only take one shot at a time, then return to the boat to remove the film and process the Polaroid,’ Erick said. ‘Ian was giving me feedback and direction, then we load a new film, put the camera back in the housing, screw it together, weigh it down, and talk to the model.’

Sometimes Erick missed a frame or wasn’t in the right spot for the composition. Other times the model’s posing was perfect but there were no stingrays, or the pose wasn’t right but there were rays. ‘We were up and down like a yo-yo,’ Erick said.

‘I’m a commercial photographer and I’ll shoot 500 to 1000 photos in a day. It was so great to be able to shoot just like eight photos in one day and really take the time to calculate. Make sure you have that right time exactly when you press the button. Even sometimes, three seconds later, an as good or even better moment happens. But that’s the nature of the beast, right. And with the size [of the camera rig] – it was a beast.’

After the successful test shoot in Tahiti, the twins headed to Niue with a model for a few weeks. The underwater visibility was, indeed, stunning. Although days passed and the whales were yet to show up. Instead of twiddling their thumbs waiting for the whales, they began shooting more test pictures in the deep open ocean.

Waiting In Silence. Photo: Ian and Erick Regnard.

‘We started shooting and after the second, third, fourth, fifth day we hadn’t seen any whales, unfortunately. But we were taking all these photos. And at the end of the two weeks, it was a little bit sad and disappointing [we didn’t see whales], but we still had amazing photos,’ Erick said.

‘When we came back home we had a really good look at them and went “wow, we have something special here”, and a friend said “why don’t you put them in a competition in New York”, and we won a category prize of the IPA (International Photography Award). It just kind of shows you that sometimes in photography, you plan for things, but it doesn’t always go to plan although other things can turn up that are just as amazing. You have to go with the flow and do the best you can do with what you have.’

Maud Street exhibition

The end result is a series of large-format prints that have to be seen to be believed, Irena said. The prints have an incredible level of detail and depth, thanks entirely to the Regnards stubbornly inconvenient and arduous photographic process.

‘I wasn’t quite sure how the exhibition would go in Brisbane,’ Irena said. ‘Erick has only just moved here and nobody really knows him here. I loved the images when I first saw them, – just wow, they’re really special. Then I saw the prices, particularly the big ones, and thought “how are we going to do it, this is Brisbane – a small place”. You know, $50,000 for a photograph is a big ask.’

Source: Maud Street Gallery.

On the opening day a woman unfamiliar with the Regnards or their work came in and fell in love with l’Envie. ‘I asked her if she knew the price and she said “I don’t care, I love it. I must have it”.’

Other less expensive prints also sold well.

It’s no secret that operating a photo gallery is tough work and requires passion and dedication to the medium. Irena describes her job as a ‘labour of love with very little or no [financial] return’, which matches what other photo gallery directors have told Inside Imaging. Although Maud Street’s makes significant contributions to the photo industry.

As well as showcasing photography from local masters like Jeff Moorfoot and John Gollings to skilled amateurs such as David Symons, it houses the new Queensland Centre for Photography. This is a valued volunteer-run community hub for Queensland photographers, which includes regular workshops aimed at professional development, a dark room, and other events.

Maud Street’s triumphant conclusion to 2022 leaves the gallery in good step moving forward.

– The Floating Bits exhibition closed on November 27, and Irena has closed the gallery until February to take some much-needed time off.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. BERT HOVELING BERT HOVELING January 17, 2023

    EXCELLENT

  2. John Barrett John Barrett January 22, 2023

    Nice ideas and insights that photographers can refer and follow through it.

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