Photographs by Ansel Adams, Irving Penn & More: Our Specialist Picks

Launch Slideshow

Never-before-seen images of Frida Kahlo taken by her lover the photographer Nicholas Muray are but a few of the highlights of Sotheby's upcoming Photographs auction (5 April, New York). Ahead of the diverse sale, Sotheby's Specialists chose their favorite images, which include El Lissitzky's pivotal Pelikan Tinte, as well as iconic photographs by Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz and Richard Avedon. Click ahead to discover all of their choices.

Photographs by Ansel Adams, Irving Penn & More: Our Specialist Picks

  • Hank Willis Thomas, Liberation of T. O.: I'm not goin back ta' work for massa in dat' darn field, 2006. Estimate $6,000–8,000.
    For his series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America, Hank Willis Thomas sourced print advertisements from 1968 (the year of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.) to 2008 (the year President Barack Obama was elected) that either featured African American subjects or targeted black audiences. By appropriating these images and stripping them of contextualizing text and logos, Willis Thomas created wholly new imagery. In the image here, football player Terrell Owens appears to run from a white man’s reaching arms; removed from the original context of its advertisement, the scene conjures connotations of a runaway slave and master. – Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
  • Nickolas Muray, Selected images including portraits of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Miguel Covarrubias, 1925–1946. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    Muray, a prolific photographer for magazines such as Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar, was introduced to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in the early 1930s, and Kahlo and Muray immediately began a decade-long love affair. This group of rare, vintage prints is a unique glimpse into the social circle of Nickolas Muray and Frida Kahlo, showing dinner parties, trips to the countryside, and images of Kahlo’s home, Casa Azul. – Aimee Pflieger, Head of Sale
  • El Lissitzky, Pelikan Tinte, 1924. Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    Pelikan Tinte, created in 1924 as an advertising study, is a pivotal work in El Lissitzky’s career, marking his shift from painting to a focus on photography and architectural projects. It combines photogram and typography as few artists had done before: the ghostly form of an ink bottle floats across the image with its stopper flying above. A fountain pen – its ink tank perhaps recently filled – is angled as if having just finished writing the word ‘Pelikan’ on its own. The stenciled lettering of the word TINTE (ink) punctuates the blurred background, rendering the finished image seemingly in three-dimensions. – Emily Bierman, Head of Department
  • Ansel Adams, Picket Fence, circa 1936. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    Ansel Adams selected this print for inclusion in his 1936 one-man show at Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery, An American Place. Adams, who held Stieglitz in the highest esteem, would allow nothing but the best of his own work to be represented in Stieglitz’s space. Each print was produced and refined until the photographer was satisfied with the final result, this print being a fine example of Adams’ processes. His small signature, purposefully rendered so as not to distract from the image, and his clean, concise label design adhered to the reverse, are examples of Adams’ dedication to the quality of prints produced for this show. At the time of this writing, no other print of this image has been located. – Lucie Kessler, Senior Administrator
  • William Eggleston, Outskirts of Morton, Mississippi, Halloween, 1971. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    In this unequivocally Egglestonian image, the photographer transforms an ordinary scene into a nearly supernatural moment. Three children stand in the middle of a deserted road at dusk after what one assumes was a long night of trick-or-treating. The eldest appears seemingly in costume. The youngest is shoe-less, and the third clad in everyday clothes. In a play between natural and artificial street lamp lighting, the photographer renders a colorful image made all the more vibrant with the results granted by his expert dye-transfer printing skills. This curious yet touching image has become one of Eggleston’s most beloved. – Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
  • Helmut Newton, Sie Kommen, 1981. Estimate $70,000–100,000.
    Sie Kommen [Here they come] was first published in Italian and French Vogue in 1981, quickly becoming one of the most recognizable images by the photographer. Conceived as a diptych, the accompanying image featured the same models in an identical pose, wearing designer garments by Karl Lagerfeld and other popular fashion designers. This photograph has the basic vocabulary of Newton’s work including explicit female nudity and signature black high heels, but it also betrays his admiration of strong, aloof, sexually confident women, whether they be dressed or undressed. – Aimee Pflieger, Head of Sale
  • Irving Penn, 'Black and White Vogue Cover' (Jean Patchett, New York), 1950. Estimate $150,000–250,000.
    This iconic portrait of model Jean Patchett was first published on the April 1950 cover of American Vogue as the lead illustration for its feature article "The Black and White Idea." It was not only Irving Penn’s first monochromatic cover but also the first non-color Vogue cover in nearly 20 years. – Emily Bierman, Head of Department
  • Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, 1907. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    Alfred Stieglitz printed this large-format photogravure for its inclusion in a double issue of the avant-garde publication 291. He had hoped its appearance in 291 would not only benefit the journal, but satisfy the many requests he had received. He was dismayed when he learned that beyond the 100 paid subscribers to 291, there were no further purchasers of the edition, and therefore, after 291 had ceased publication, he destroyed most of the unsold issues. The present photogravure is inscribed from Stieglitz to New York art dealer and publisher Erhard Weyhe (1882–1972), whose gallery and bookshop on Lexington Avenue promoted not only prints and art books, but also photography. Weyhe and Stieglitz were friends who frequented each other’s galleries, and Weyhe was a purveyor of Camera Work, Stieglitz’s quarterly photographic journal. – Lucie Kessler, Senior Administrator
  • Mishka Henner, 'Less Américains,' 2012. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    For his cleverly titled Less Américains, Mishka Henner takes inspiration from Robert Frank’s seminal 1958 photobook The Americans (originally published in France as Les Américains), selectively erasing parts of Frank's images to create 83 images all his own. Here, the well-known faces and bodies of the men and young boy in Yom Kippur, the 16th image in Frank’s photobook (see Lot 160 in this sale), have been entirely erased, leaving only a sea of floating hats. Henner’s project underscores how the overload of imagery in today’s society reduces the impact of any single image. All 83 of Henner’s images are included in the lot, as well as the full bound book of the same title. – Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
  • Richard Avedon, Marilyn Monroe, 1957. Estimate $60,000-90,000.
    Richard Avedon’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe is one of the most revealing ever taken of the actress. Avedon captured Monroe in a quiet moment that powerfully lays bare the Hollywood idol's fragility and the complicated personality behind her public façade. – Aimee Pflieger, Head of Sale
  • Anonymous American Photographer, Charles Sherwood Stratton (General Tom Thumb), late 1840s or early 1850s. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
    This is a fascinating, rare portrait of a young Charles Stratton, better known to history as the P. T. Barnum act ‘General Tom Thumb.’ Though small in scale, daguerreotypes can convey a world of detail. If you look closely at this plate, you can see individual rings on Stratton’s fingers. Daguerreotypes often leave you with questions and this image is no different as the standing gentleman has yet to be identified. When it was originally acquired, some thought it was Charles’ father Sherwood Edward Stratton. It has subsequently been suggested that the individual was one of Charles’ tutors. Time will hopefully tell! – Emily Bierman, Head of Department
  • HIRO, 'Apollo - 11, 9:32 A. M. 7-16-69 Maiden Voyage To The Moon,' 1969. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    In a letter explaining the origins of this image, taken during the launch of Apollo 11 from Cape Kennedy on 16 July 1969, HIRO wrote: ". . .to me, man’s voyage to the moon represented the culmination of human energy. In order to capture this energy I chose to use infrared film which records the presence of heat. As a result the photograph has an eerie quality, a surreal ambience. This is one of my favorite photographs of all time." – Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
  • August Sander, A group of 3 photographs, comprising Wife of Painter Peter Abelen, Farm Girls, and Secretary at a Radio Station, 1931. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    This striking portrait of a secretary for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (West German Broadcasting Corporation) in Cologne with bobbed hair, wearing an elegant silk dress, and smoking a cigarette, is saturated with female modernity. – Aimee Pflieger, Head of Sale
  • Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (Overturned Bus), 2001–02. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    Gregory Crewdson is a master of the elaborately staged photograph. Labeling himself as an ‘American realist landscape photographer,’ he constantly explores themes of banal suburbia and the American Dream gone awry. He creates intricate sets and hires professional actors to pose for him. Drawing inspiration from the canon of modern American cinematography (e.g. Steven Spielberg, David Lynch), his large-scale color photographs trigger the same shock factor in his viewers as those caused by a suspenseful motion picture. – Hermione Sharp, Associate Specialist
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