New York: capital of photography.



After its Asian week, the Big Apple is preparing for a week of photography sales with more than 1,400 lots being offered between late September and early October. For three days, the “classics” of the photography medium will outweigh the Contemporaries, whose representation is in the minority on the seven planned sessions: three at Christie’s on September 29, two at Sotheby’s on September 30 and two at Phillips on October 1.

The star lots

Besides the hundreds of photographs available at prices starting around $5,000 for signatures as prestigious as Ansel Easton ADAMS, Edward STEICHEN, William WEGMAN and Walker EVANS, the three auction companies have all managed to procure some real gems expected to fetch into six figures.
Let’s begin with the star lot of the Christie’s sale, “Photographs”: Edward Henry WESTON’s Nautilus Shell (1927), a subject as sensual and sought-after as his nudes, and expected to fetch 300 to 500 thousand USD. Weston’s photography of a nautilus shells marked a turning point for the artist as he moves away from pictorial representation to focus on pure form.
This Modernist approach is also at the root of Sotheby’s star lot on September 30: the steps of an amphitheater through the lens of Imogen CUNNINGHAM – another great example of 1920’s photography – where the artist leaves the botanical world to focus on the concentric rhythm of steps. Only two other prints of the same Amphitheater (Mills College) have been sold at auctions before (one in 1979 and another in 2004).
Four similar photos are held by institutional and private collections (the Monterey Museum of Art in California, the Fogg Museum at Harvard, the Lane collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Gary B. Sokol collection in San Francisco). Amphitheater (Mills College) is therefore a rarity and is carrying an estimate of between $120,000 and $180,000. Here, Sotheby’s is basing its estimate on a result the same photo generated 10 years ago. Then, the steps of the amphitheater sold for $180,000. However, the print on offer shortly should exceed that result, especially as another photo of the steps fetched $290,000 on April 24, 2007 (Amphitheater No.2) at Sotheby’s.
At Phillips, Sally MANN’s famous Candy Cigarette has the limelight. This “vacation souvenir” photo – of a girl posing in front of her mother holding a chocolate cigarette – comes from an silver-gelatin edition of 25 prints, in this case offered at $80,000 – $120,000. However, it could fetch a lot more since Phillips de Pury & Company already sold one of these on April 4, 2012, setting a new world record for the artist at $220,000 ($266,500 including fees).

Who are the favorite artists in the New York sales?

The number of photos per artist gives a rough indication of which artists are the favorites of the moment, as auction companies obviously try to adapt their supply to demand. Between September 19 and October 1 in New York, we have counted no less than 58 by Irving PENN, 31 by Edward Henry WESTON and 29 by Ansel Easton ADAMS (including 17 in the Sotheby’s sale of September 30). In addition, Sotheby’s is devoting an entire sale to Weston with a collection of 548 photographs printed and signed by his son, Cole Weston (most printed between 1958 and 1988, none after 2003). The collection is estimated at between 2 and 3 million dollars.
There will also be 26 photographs by Richard AVEDON, 25 by Robert MAPPLETHORPE, 24 by Robert ADAMS, 18 by Berenice ABBOTT (most estimated in the $5,000 – $10,000 range), 16 by Peter BEARD and 14 by André KERTÉSZ.

But the photographer with the biggest volume on offer over the next few months is unquestionably MAN RAY with 270 lots in a Sotheby’s sale in Paris on November 15, the largest offering of Man Ray’s work for 20 years, including photographs but also films, paintings and Surrealist objects… all direct from the artist’s estate. Man Ray’s record in the photography medium was set at $1 million on April 4, 2013 (Untitled Rayograph, 1922, Christie’s New York). In fact, the prices of works by Modern photographers have never been as high as they are today.