Expert Picks: 5 Favourites from the Photographs Sale

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Christopher Mahoney, Sotheby’s Photographs department head selects a few highlights from our upcoming Photographs sale, from the shocking to the serene.


Photographs
7 October | New York

Expert Picks: 5 Favourites from the Photographs Sale

  • Diane Arbus, National Junior Interstate Dance Champions of 1963, Yonkers, N.Y.
    To me, this image demonstrates how attuned Arbus was to artifice. Throughout her work she focussed, to a large degree, on subjects who were actively engaged in creating their own personas. Here, we see two dapper young kids who present themselves, essentially, as miniature adults. It was Arbus's talent that she was able to make such astute photographs of people without diminishing their humanity.
    Diane Arbus, National Junior Interstate Dance Champions of 1963, Yonkers, N.Y. , 1963, printed no later than 1967. Estimate: $250,000–350,000.

  • László Moholy-Nagy, Photogram
    What strikes me about Moholy's work is that it continually embodies his joy in the act of creation. He was also a painter, designer, sculptor, theorist, and critic –  but it is really in his photographs that I get a sense of his remarkable enthusiasm for experimentation. He simply was not content to practice photography in a conventional way, and pushed the medium in many new directions. In this image, he has created a photograph without a camera, by laying objects directly down onto photographic paper in the darkroom.
    László Moholy-Nagy, Photogram , 1925-28, printed circa 1929. Estimate: $150,000–250,000.

  • Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe
    Here, we have a portrait of one of the 20th-century's greatest artists , by a photographer of the same stature. The two had begun their passionate affair shortly before this image was made, and during this early period, Stieglitz made many images of the charismatic O'Keeffe. But this image is one of very few that shows her in the act of creation. What I love is that the image seems at first very casual, but closer examination shows how stylized it is. Look at the very deliberate, elegant placement of O'Keeffe's left hand! The image is a wonderful collaboration between photographer and sitter.
    Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe , 1918. Estimate: $100,000–200,000.

  • Robert Mapplethorpe, Man in Polyester Suit
    This image is one of the most notorious in this complex and controversial photographer's career. I like it for its cheeky humor and, of course, for its absolutely perfect print quality. What tends to get emphasized in Mapplethorpe's work is its confrontational and transgressive nature. But by the time he made this image, in 1980, he had moved past the shock effects of his S & M imagery, and begun a more nuanced photographic investigation of eroticism.
    Robert Mapplethorpe, Man in Polyester Suit , 1980. Estimate: $250,000–350,000.

  • Sally Mann, Untitled (Self-Portraits)
    I find this triptych of images completely arresting, and wonderfully fascinating. Made using the antiquated ambrotype process, these brutally honest studies reveal a photographer fearlessly pursuing the medium's potential as a means for self-expression.
    Sally Mann, Untitled (Self-Portraits) , 2011. Estimate: $40,000–60,000. 

  • Tina Modotti, Campesinos Reading El Machete
    This picture balances Modotti's two chief concerns as a photographer: the aesthetic and the political. Modotti was an unstinting advocate for the working poor of Mexico, and her deep humanism led her to photograph their plight. But she was also a photographic Modernist of the highest order, and her photographs are meticulously composed. The workers in this photograph read El Machete, one of the only reliable sources of news for the working class in Mexico at the time. Their massed bodies, which suggests a collective reading of the paper, and the masterful balance of sunlight and shadow, embody a perfect coalescing of her artistic and social concerns.
    Tina Modotti, Campesinos Reading El Machete , 1929. Estimate: $200,000–300,000.

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