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Canon Australia’s innovative auction raises $22K selling ‘blank’ photo paper

Every blank piece of photo paper has the potential to become a piece of art — but would you buy it while it’s still blank? Canon recently held an experimental auction that sold 10 blank frames based only on the artists’ descriptions. Those 10 blank pieces of photo paper became pieces of fine art photography after the sale with the help of an on-site printer.

Dubbed Sight Unseen, the experimental auction sold all 10 images, raising $22,000. After viewing the blank canvases with the artist’s name and description cards, auction participants listened to the artists describe their work — some with specifics like a kitchen still life, and others with a more vague idea of the artist’s latest series. Participants then bid on the work based solely on that description.

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The experimental auction, conducted by Canon Australia, promoted the company’s professional photo Prograf Pro-1000 printer, which of course turned those blank pieces of paper into actual photographs before the bidders left the building.

Watching the blank paper become a photograph was likely part of the draw. “There’s something magical that happens when a photograph is printed,” Canon Australia wrote when releasing the video of the auction. “What started out as a figment of imagination, or an impulse, or a flash of inspiration, becomes real. Moments ago, it was merely a blank paper. Now, it’s a work of art.”

Canon says the experiment was to prove that every piece of paper has potential for becoming artwork. Eleven Australian photographers participated in the experiment — and each buyer watched their image print alongside that photographer. Photographers Toby Burrows, Stephen Dupont, Simon Harsent, Gary Heery, Ted O’Donnell with Vicki Lee, Anna Pogossova, Jackie Ranken, Graham Sherarer, Eugene Tan, and James Tolich participated in the innovative program.

While spending an average of over $2,000 on an image without actually seeing the photograph isn’t likely to become a common occurrence, the event is intriguing to watch.