Photographs

Specialist Picks: 5 Contemporary Photographs

By Sotheby's

A head of the upcoming Photographies auction in Paris on 10 November, Contemporary Art specialist Anne-Hélène Decaux shares with us her five favourite works by artists such as Irving Penn, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Robert Mapplethorpe, Walead Beshti and Pieter Hugo.

BERND & HILLA BECHER, WATER TOWER TYPOLOGY, 1977-1990. ESTIMATE: €80,000–120,000. 

"This work by Bernd & Hilla Becher is one of my favourites in the sale, as I believe it resonates as one of the most important contributions to contemporary photography. Working side by side, the couple's serial views of water towers have not only inspired their former pupils of the Dusseldorf School of Photography  (Candida Höfer, Andreas Gursky, Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff, Elger Esser and Thomas Struth) but a whole generation of artists with their formality, objectivity and the rigour of their approach. They are therefore as prophetic as they are legendary."  

IRVING PENN, CIGARETTE NO 86, 1972. ESTIMATE: €18,000–23,000.

"Primarily known for his fashion photography and celebrities’ portraits, I consider the cigarettes series as the most “artistic” in Penn's career. Penn's approach to still life evolved over decades from the 1930s to the end of his life. Creating a frontal but elegant composition in this cigarette assemblage, Penn transcends discarded waste into beauty. An impressive room is dedicated to the cigarettes series in Penn's current exhibition at The Grand Palais. Pure genius." 

ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE, CALLA LILY, 1986. ESTIMATE: €70,000–100,000. © ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE FOUNDATION. USED BY PERMISSION.

"Mapplethorpe’s Calla Lily is one of the most significant series ever made by the artist, in which flowers become an erotic transcription of beauty, desire and the human body. Here, the flower is used as a cipher of femininity in a nostalgic feel conveyed by the black-and-white."

WALEAD BESHTY, 2 SIDED MIRRORED PAIR A & B, LOS ANGELES, NOVEMBER 23RD 2007. ESTIMATE: €20,000–30,000.

"Beshty's work is bridging Contemporary Art and Photography, embodying so many forms that prove his mastery. By bending the photographic paper like an origami and exposing it to different lights, the artist orchestrates a colourful performance of lights. It is a therefore a camera-less process image in the tradition of Moholy Nagy and Man Ray."

PIETER HUGO, JATTO WITH MAINASARA, OGERE-REMO, NIGERIA, FROM "GADAWAN KURA - THE HYENA MEN SERIES II", 2005-2007. ESTIMATE: 15,000–20,000.

"This is one of the most celebrated and striking works of South Africa's leading photographer Pieter Hugo. Gadawan Kura ("The hyena handlers") series depicts a group of itinerant minstrels/performers who use animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. It is to me one of the most outstanding shots addressing the complex political realities of race and identity in African societies of this century."

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