Online Auction: 7–14 October 2020 • 2:00 PM BST • London

Photographs 7–14 October 2020 • 2:00 PM BST • London

T his October, Sotheby’s London and Paris Photographs departments join forces to present an exciting selection of works from some of the most celebrated names in photography from the 20th and 21st centuries. The European Photographs auction will give both established and first-time collectors the chance to acquire seminal works by masters of the medium including Helmut Newton, Diane Arbus, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Peter Beard.


Whether through a carte de visite or a selfie, portraiture has always been at the center of photography.

Everyday Intimacy by Wolfgang Tillmans

In a conversation with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Wolfgang Tillmans explained, “It’s an emotional impulse to capture something—to represent a powerful presence as I have encountered it, but also to make a copy of it. I want to preserve it and to say, “This is true, this is important, I want there to be more of this.”

This comprehensive selection of works by Tillmans touches upon all the main subjects in the artist’s practice - from depictions of his friends, such as Dan, to documentations of his ‘banal’ surroundings as in Window Caravaggio, to his later abstract works, Paper Drop Star.

No matter what the subject is, there is an undeniable presence of intimacy and honesty in the works that is extremely enticing for the viewer. As Tillmans puts it, ”My technical approach has always been that I want to approximate my pictures to what it feels like to look through my eyes."

Spotlight on Women Photographers

During the course of the history of art, women have very often been, and still are, the subject matter of the work. However, when the female presence is also behind the camera, there is a shift in the understanding and meaning of the work.

In works such as Ana Mendieta’s Untitled (from the series Siluetas) or Francesca Woodman’s Untitled (Laying Nude), both of which are arguably self-portraits, express a feeling of solitude and fragility that is empowering, although hurtful, it belongs to them.

Annie Leibovitz’s June Omura and Vivian Sassen’s Mimi, could be classified under the spectrum of fashion photography. In these two depictions it is interesting how each artist makes use of their own gaze by cropping and accentuating particular features in the woman’s body, as a means of re-appropriating their own image. This is also the case in the intimate work by Mona Kuhn, Kai And Luzia.

Contrary to the works above, we find Iho Iho from Cristina de Middel’s seminal photobook and series Afronauts. This beautiful portrait is part of the artist’s seminal photobook and series The Afronauts. The project is a pseudo-documentary that blends fact and fiction in order to tell the story of Edwuard Makuka, a Zambian science teacher, who in 1964 decided to train the first African crew to travel to the moon. His plan was to use an aluminium rocket to put a woman, two cats and a missionary into Space.

This selection of pioneering works all challenge traditional roles in the history of art, through their multiple forms and backgrounds.

Into the Wild with Peter Beard

Through collaged photographs, diary entries, colourful sketches, found ephemera and smears of blood, Peter Beard’s work has documented a wide arrange of subjects with unique and iconic eye.

This selection celebrates some of the late artist’s most iconic and captivating works.

Woman into Man, Paris, 1979

As fashion photographers pushed artistic boundaries in the 20th century, they created seminal images that came to define entire decades. Including works by the likes of Norman Parkinson, Melvin Sokolsky, Jeanloup Sieff and featuring sitters such as Helena Christensen and Kate Moss.

Amongst some of the pre-eminent fashion photographers of the 20th century we find Horst P. Horst. His use of light and surreal illusion was unrivalled, resulting in a sixty year long career. During the 1940s, he predominantly worked at the Condé Nast studio in New York, and is where he shot the beautiful portrait of Carmen Face Massage, 1946. This stunning photograph captures Horst’s delicate and intricate approach to composition. As he famously said in 1984, ‘Fashion is an expression of the times. Elegance is something else again.’

Another iconic works is Richard Avedon’s Nastassja Kinkski and the Serpent, exudes a timeless eroticism. Intertwined with a boa constrictor, grappling with temptation, seduction and power, Kinski is clearly referencing deeply rooted concepts in classical art and mythology, most notoriously the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent that tricked Eve to take an apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

Another quintessential photographer in the field of fashion is Helmut Newton. He drew visual inspiration from fashion, documentaries, eroticism and film noir, skilfully and elegantly synthesising the era of the 1980s. For Newton, his role as a subversive photographer was to “seduce, amuse and entertain”. This notion is perfectly captured in the stunning print Man Into Woman, Paris, 1979.

Architecture and The Great Outdoors

Ever since photography became a portable medium, it moved away from the studios and into the outdoors. This resulted in an exploration of nature and the landscape as seen through the works of Ansel Adams and Sebastiao Salgado. In a similar fashion, other artists turned their lenses to document those entities that were occupying the outdoors, architectural spaces, and their relation with the environment around them. Seminal works pertaining to this subject include photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Thomas Ruff and Bernd & Hilla Becher.

Masters of the Medium at Photo London Digital
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