A Melody Worth Capturing: Photographs of Legendary Musicians

By Kelly Sidley
A fascinating selection of music-related images are highlighted in Sotheby’s upcoming Photographs auctions on September 27 and October 3 in New York. From opera to rock ‘n’ roll, these pictures capture legendary performers such as Marian Anderson, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.

Harry Gordon, 'Poster Dress' (Bob Dylan)

Harry Gordon, 'Poster Dress' (Bob Dylan), 1967. Estimate $1,500 – 2,500.

This disposable paper dress was conceived by graphic designer Harry Gordon and originally sold for $2.98 when it debuted in 1967. Ill-fitting, easily-stained and flammable, these garments were not as practical as they were fashionable. Released in the same year as D.A. Pennebaker’s celebrated documentary Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, this version features an image of the legendary singer/songwriter. Rumor has it that Dylan was so displeased by Gordon’s use of his image that the remaining stock of dresses was withdrawn from the market.

Karlheinz Weinberger, Untitled (Rebel Youth)

Karlheinz Weinberger, Untitled (Rebel Youth), 1961. Estimate $7,000 – 10,000.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, Karlheinz Weinberger was a quiet Swiss factory worker during the week, but on the weekends he transformed into an underground documentarian of the Halbstarken, or the ‘half-strongs.’ This name was given to rebellious youths in post-World War II Germany, Switzerland and Austria who mimicked the iconic American rock n’ roll style of Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando and James Dean in their clothing, hairstyle and makeup. Weinberger was virtually unknown to the art world before his death in 2006; over the past decade, his photographs have amassed a cult following.

Annie Leibovitz, The Rolling Stones, Philadelphia

Annie Leibovitz, The Rolling Stones, Philadelphia, 1975, printed in 2010. Estimate $10,000 – 15,000.

In 1975 Leibowitz was invited by The Rolling Stones to be their tour photographer. She traveled with the band, documenting their concerts and creating publicity images for the group. This dynamic image captures the indefatigable Mick Jagger mid-jump as Keith Richards plays his electric guitar.

Annie Leibovitz, 'John Lennon and Yoko Ono'

Annie Leibovitz, 'John Lennon and Yoko Ono', 1980, printed in 1984. Estimate $30,000 – 50,000.

Leibovitz took this portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono entwined on the floor of their bedroom just hours before the musician was shot and killed outside their New York City apartment. Rolling Stone magazine had originally commissioned the photo shoot in advance of the release of their joint album Double Fantasy, but this iconic image was ultimately featured on the cover of the memorial issue dedicated Lennon.

Richard Avedon, Marian Anderson, Contralto, New York, June 30, 1955

Richard Avedon, Marian Anderson, Contralto, New York, June 30, 1955, 1955. Estimate $80,000 – 120,000.

Avedon took this portrait of Marian Anderson in his studio in June 1955, shortly after she had become the first African American to sing with the New York Metropolitan Opera. In marked contrast to this triumph, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) had prohibited the black singer from performing at Constitution Hall in 1939. After Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and denounced her own membership to the DAR, Anderson instead sang to a mesmerized crowd of 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial.

Louis Faurer, N.Y.C. (from Selected Images of New York and Philadelphia)

Louis Faurer, Selected Images of New York and Philadelphia, 1940-65. Estimate $8,000 – 12,000.

Faurer – a prominent member of the New York School of street photographers in the 1930s, '40s and '50s – captured a musician playing his accordion, with collection cup attached, on a Manhattan street in 1948. His photograph encapsulates the impromptu nature of street music the world over.

Malick Sidibé, Nuit de Noël (Happy Club)

Malick Sidibé, Nuit de Noël (Happy Club), 1963, printed in 2015. Estimate $15,000 – 25,000.

Malian photographer Malick Sidibé took this image on Christmas Eve in 1963, three years after the end of French colonial rule. He recalled this period of expansiveness: ‘We were entering a new era, and people wanted to dance. Music freed us.’ Although we can’t actually hear the song playing as the couple dance together, Sidibé ingeniously visualized the music through their bowed bodies and gliding feet on the dusty dance floor.

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