S pecialists from Sotheby’s Photographs department highlight their favorite works included in the upcoming Classic Photographs sale (October 3, New York). Featuring images by greats from Ansel Adams and Robert Frank to Diane Arbus and Francesca Woodman, this rich selection will be on view at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from 28 September to 2 October.
Jaromír Funke, After the Carnival (Po karnevalu). Estimate $25,000–35,000.
“The costumes in this image are great: the silky fabric, the feather-adorned hats, the large collars and the enormous fluffy buttons. This photograph was taken at a masquerade ball in Kolín, and I would love to see what other guests were wearing that evening.” –Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
“This powerful photo was used for the cover of Woodman’s major retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Woodman’s self-portrait in the decaying building she used for both studio and home is the perfect setting for this mysterious photo in which she crouches in a feminine polka dot dress. Lifetime prints of this captivating image are extremely rare and only one print of it is known to have sold at auction.” –Aimee Pflieger, Specialist, Head of Sale
Lewis Baltz, Santa Cruz. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
“In his series ‘Prototypes,’ Baltz documented the American landscape as its rural expanse quietly receded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to be replaced by cheap construction and haphazard zoning. His photographs of unremarkable structures miraculously capture great beauty lingering in their architectural details, such as the side of this building in Santa Cruz, California. The gridded patterns of the window and the sidewalk cement contrast with the organic sensibility of the hand-applied adobe wall. Shadows of two electrical wires gracefully sweep across the upper band of the image, capturing subtle diagonal lines in a picture otherwise dominated by right angles.” –Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist and Senior Researcher
Albert Frisch, Résultat d’une expedition photographique sur le Solimões ou Alto Amazonas et Rio Negro. Estimate $70,000–100,000.
“It is nothing short of a privilege to offer this remarkable group of 98 photographs of the Amazon, generally recognized as the earliest surviving views of the region. Taken by the little know photographer Albert Frisch between 1867-68, the images chart Frisch’s itinerary from Leticia, Tabatinga, São Paulo de Olivenza, and Tocantins to Fonte Boa, Tefé, Coari, Codajás, and Manaus. There are incredible portraits and landscapes (some of which already hint at deforestation), and I love the photographs of Amazon sea cows. It’s mind-boggling to think about the conditions in which these photographs were taken. Using the wet collodion process meant Frisch traveled nearly 1,000 miles by foot and by row boat with a portable laboratory, equipment, chemicals, and fragile glass plates. Frisch would have prepared the glass plates just moments before exposure, then developed the negatives in the field while they were still wet.” –Emily Bierman, Head of Department, New York
Wilson A. Bentley, Selected Images of Snowflakes. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
“Wilson A. ("Snowflake") Bentley has long been one of my favorite photographers. His pioneering photomicrographs of snow crystals are the reason the world knows that no two snowflakes are the same. Using a system all his own, Bentley waited patiently in the cold for an individual flake to fall, before using a feather to place it carefully in front of his lens. By the time of his death in 1931, Bentley had captured over 5000 individual snow crystals.” –Lucie Kessler, Senior Administrator
Kansuke Yamamoto, Reminiscence. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
“This multi-layered collage is fascinating. The birdcage is a recurring motif in Yamamoto’s photography, in part because he thought of the bird as the most advanced of all beings since it has the ability and freedom to fly. This birdcage, its rusty bars mangled and burned, is overlaid on a Japanese city. One might interpret the image as a grim reminder of the devastating aftermath of the atomic bomb, or as a hopeful sign because a bird is not actually trapped inside the cage.” –Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
Diane Arbus, ‘Widow in her Bedroom, 55th Street, N.Y.C.’ Estimate $80,000–120,000.
“I love Arbus’ portrait of Betty Blanc Glassbury, who was national president of Composers, Authors and Artists of America from 1971 to 1975 as well as an avid collector of Asian art. Jades, fans, Chinese brocades, paintings, and prayer wheels surround her as she poses awkwardly in her cluttered bedroom, but the glowing, rich brocade of her dress brings our eye straight to her.” –Aimee Pflieger, Specialist, Head of Sale
Edward Weston, ‘Church Door, Hornitos.’ Estimate $40,000–60,000.
“I love to imagine Weston traveling around the U.S. as he honed in on a site worthy of his camera. During a 1940 visit to Hornitos—a former mining town in California located just outside the boundaries of Yosemite National Park—the photographer made this architectural detail of St. Catherine’s Catholic Church. The simple structure had been built in 1862. What was it about its front door, hardware, and whitewashed siding that drew Weston to photograph it? Was it the subtly contrasting textures of the wooden planks? The holes left from the removal of old locks and handles? The stark shadow cast on the right side of the door? The whole of these parts forms a quiet, lyrical image rich with subtle details.” –Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist and Senior Researcher
Man Ray, Rayograph. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
“This enigmatic Rayograph – Man Ray’s self-referential term for the photogram – defies easy interpretation. Composed in his darkroom, without the use of a camera, it is the result of Man Ray’s deliberate placement of objects on, or held just above, the photographic paper during exposure. A constellation of spots, possibly sequins; a glowing orb; the mysterious silhouette of a bird-like figure – has the inventive Man Ray drawn in the darkroom an avian embryo waiting to be hatched? Everyone who looks at this Rayograph sees something different. And that to me is the magic of Man Ray.” –Emily Bierman, Head of Department, New York
Ansel Adams, Aspens, Dawn, Dolores River Canyon, Autumn, Colorado. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
“In October 1937, Ansel Adams traveled to the American Southwest to explore areas of New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Winter had already arrived in Colorado’s Dolores River Canyon, where Adams happened upon the grove of aspen trees pictured here. This print, on matte paper with a lush velvety finish, is one of my favorite Ansel Adams images. Once described by John Szarkowski, director emeritus of photography at The Museum of Modern Art, as ‘a fugue of aspens,’ this ethereal image was the first photograph by Adams that caught the eye of Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, who displayed a print of it proudly in their living room for many years.” –Lucie Kessler, Senior Administrator
Robert Frank, ‘Long Beach, Calif.’ (Covered Car). Estimate $15,000–25,000.
“This is one of the most frequently reproduced images from Frank’s The Americans. This photograph is particularly interesting because Frank printed it with gray margins instead of the usual white. Frank would do this by flashing the margins with a brief exposure to light while keeping the image area covered.” –Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
Malick Sidibé, Nuit de Noël (Happy Club). Estimate $15,000–25,000.
“Malian photographer Malick Sidibé’s photograph of a young man and woman dancing on Christmas Eve makes me happy every time I see it. Unable to touch due to strict state restrictions, the couple still shares a moment of intimacy, paying no attention to the photographer.” –Aimee Pflieger, Specialist, Head of Sale
Hermann Landshoff, Selected Images. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
“Landshoff’s mid-century fashion photographs are undervalued gems. He was a disciple of the legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch as well as a mentor to Richard Avedon, who was influenced by Landshoff’s distinctive approach of placing his models in real-world contexts and activities. These two images of fresh-faced American models biking and roller skating were featured in a 1946 issue of Junior Bazaar.” –Kelly Sidley, Associate Specialist and Senior Researcher
Minor White, Nude, San Francisco. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
“I fell in love with this portrait of Tom Murphy the moment I saw it. With his sinewy musculature evocative of Michelangelo’s David, Murphy was a consummate muse for Minor White in his examination of the male nude form and struggle with his own sexuality. White sequenced and hand-bound 32 images of Murphy’s hands, feet and naked body (including a print of the full negative of this image) for The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors, among the photographer’s most emotionally raw projects. A love letter to his sitter, this series was neither exhibited nor reproduced during White’s lifetime.” –Emily Bierman, Head of Department, New York.