10 Must-See Lots in Sotheby’s Photographs Sale

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From early photographs documenting historic moments, to contemporary images challenging notions of sex and religion, Sotheby’s Photographs auction features material spanning the history of the medium. European Modernism and classic American photographs are well represented in the sale, from photographers such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz. Sotheby’s Photographs specialists Aimee Pflieger and Anais Feyeux selected ten lots that are especially appealing. Click ahead to discover these works and the masters behind them. 

7 October | New York 

10 Must-See Lots in Sotheby’s Photographs Sale

  • Edward Weston, Nautilus Shells. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    “I have not much to offer but colour. I’m really interested for the first time.” In a letter from November 1946 to The Museum of Modern Art curators Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Edward Weston explained his discovery of colour photography. According to him, a few subjects could be expressed in either colour or black-and-white, such as his iconic shells . Weston’s interest in colour came late in his life thanks to an assignment from the Eastman Kodak Company which commercialised a new, highly stable colour printing technique in 1946: the dye-transfer. Paul Strand and Ansel Adams were also commissioned by the firm to explore the new process, which would be widely used by colour photographers until the 1990s.    

  • Alfred Stieglitz, Editor, ‘Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly’. Estimate $150,000–250,000.
    Camera Work is regarded by many as the most important photographs periodical ever published. It exemplifies the period when American photographers took the reins from the Europeans to become the leaders of Western photography. The most iconic photographers of the time were shown in its pages: Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand, among many others. This complete bound set comes from the collection of Arthur Siegel, a former student of László Moholy-Nagy, best known for his association with Chicago’s New Bauhaus and Institute of Design.  

  • Thomas Struth, Crosby Street. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    A former student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Thomas Struth moved to New York in December 1977 as the recipient of a fellowship. Struth had already photographed street views with a central perspective in Düsseldorf when he was a student of Gerhard Richter and Bernd Becher. During his nine-month stay in New York, he made almost 200 black-and-white photographs, all with a central perspective, in various districts of the city and exhibited 45 prints of them, mounted and unframed, at in his first solo show at PS.1 in Queens. This print of Crosby Street , one of Struth’s most famous photographs of New York, may be one of the 1978 exhibition prints. 

  • Hans Bellmer, ‘Les jeux de la poupée’. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    The 1949 book,  Les jeux de la poupée (The Games of the Doll), by Hans Bellmer is widely accepted as one of the most important, albeit blatantly fetishistic, artworks made by a member of Surrealism. Hans Bellmer built his first doll in 1933 and posed it in photographs for years. Later he explained: “I tried to rearrange the sexual elements of a girl’s body like a plastic anagram.” In 1934, he published the first edition of his book with ten black-and-white photographs. Made fifteen years later, this version is more elaborate. It combined fifteen hand-coloured photographs with texts by the French poet Paul Éluard.

  • David LaChapelle, ‘Sermon’ (From Jesus is my Homeboy). Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    In 2003, David LaChapelle created his six-part photograph series Jesus is my Homeboy. In it, Jesus Christ incarnates in twenty-first-century America and is surrounded by multi-ethnic youths of rap and hip-hop culture. Influenced by Michelangelo’s frescos, LaChapelle created mural-size scenes and presented Jesus in a traditional way, consistent with modern portrayals in religious and popular culture, such as the present image . The same year, Catherine Grenier, then curator at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, published an essay about contemporary art, titled Is Contemporary Art Christian?  in which she explained that the Christian iconography was resurging in the more contemporary art field.  

  • Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island (Self-Portrait, Nude Cupping Her Chest). Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    This photograph , created while Francesca Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, is emblematic of several themes that appeared in her photographs until 1981, when she tragically committed suicide. Woodman’s time at RISD was fertile, and she made some of her most interesting work during this short time period. Many of her self-portraits are in raw interiors, where she interacts with shells, flowers, mirrors and other props that would sometimes obscure parts of her body.  

  • Jack Smith, ‘The Beautiful Book’. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    Photographs by Jack Smith, the experimental filmmaker, performance artist and queer cinema pioneer, are rare, as are copies of The Beautiful Book . Featuring a hand-silkscreened cover, The Beautiful Book was assembled in Smith’s apartment by friends and models featured in the book. Several Warhol “Superstars” can be found in the photographs, including Francis Francine, Joel Markman, Mario Montez and Arnold Rockwood. 

  • Youssef Nabil, Natacha and Crown, Cairo (left). Estimate $7,000–10,000. Youssef Nabil, Lonely Pasha, Cairo (right). Estimate $10,000–15,000.
    Youssef Nabil’s rich, hand-coloured photographs capture the golden age of Egyptian film. His distinctive technique of painting gelatin silver prints to soften imperfections, while also using bold, bright colours, walks the line between 19th century and contemporary photography. Offered here are two lots: Natacha and Crown, Cairo  and Lonely Pasha, Cairo .

  • Robert Frank, Jack Kerouac. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    This photograph illustrated the cover of the 1970 paperback edition of Lonesome Traveler by Jack Kerouac. Kerouac and Frank first met in 1957 in New York and would go on to significantly influence each other’s work. 

  • Gabriel Harrison, Edgar Allan Poe. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Gabriel Harrison was an accomplished daguerreotypist who photographed several luminaries of the mid-19th century, including Walt Whitman. Although he held Edgar Allan Poe in very high esteem and claimed to have taken the original daguerreotype upon which the present piece was based, it was actually taken by an unknown artist. Harrison made just a few hand-painted photographs of Poe based on that daguerreotype. The present is one of only three known and the first of its kind to appear at auction.  


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