Specialist Picks: 15 Top Photographs

Launch Slideshow

The works in Sotheby’s Photographs auction on 5 April range from a rare 19th-century album of the American West to edgy experiments with Polaroid film. Masters of the medium are represented by some of their finest images, including early Edward Weston photographs of dunes and shells, an important portfolio by Robert Heinecken and a superb Man Ray composition. Click ahead to discover the works that struck a chord with our Photographs specialists from across the globe.

5 April | New York

Specialist Picks: 15 Top Photographs

  • Timothy O'Sullivan and William Bell, 'Photographs Showing Landscapes, Geological and Other Features, of Portions of the Western Territory of the United States, Obtained in Connection with Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian (Seasons of 1871, 1872 and 1873).' Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    "This incredibly rare album represents many of the best and most important images of the American West made between 1871 and 1873. In the fifty photographs taken by Timothy O’Sullivan and William Bell as part of Lieutenant Wheeler’s survey, we journey through Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico as they were nearly 150 years ago. It blows me away anew each time I look through the album. Another complete set of The Wheeler Survey has not appeared at auction in more than three decades, and we feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with this volume." –Emily Bierman, Head of Department, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • Lucas Samaras, Photo-Transformation 10/27/73 (Eyes). Estimate $6,000–9,000.
    "The handwork and physical manipulation on each of Lucas Samaras's unique Polaroid SX-70 photographs is nothing short of astonishing. This photograph is from 1973, the year Samaras first began experimenting with Polaroid film. Immediately after the SX-70 print was ejected from the camera and automatic development commenced, Samaras used a stylus to push and pull the still malleable emulsion to create the mesmerizing dart-like lines radiating from the eyes." –Emily Bierman, Head of Department, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • Edward Weston, 'Dunes - Oceano.' Estimate $100,000–200,000.
    "In front of Weston’s camera, the lines and shadows of a sand dune almost transform into the curves of a female nude. I lose myself in front of Weston’s dunes, meditating on their endless forms." –Gérôme Saint Germain, Junior Specialist, Sotheby’s Photographs, Paris

  • Diane Arbus, 'Young Boy with a Button Flag in a Pro-War Parade N. Y. C.' (Patriotic Young Man). Estimate $70,000–100,000.
    "Art can be political, and this work seems to find its place through history, being both modern and timeless." –Gérôme Saint Germain, Junior Specialist, Sotheby’s Photographs, Paris

  • Irving Penn, 'Marchand de Concombres, Paris.' Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    "Working in London, Paris and New York, Irving Penn photographed his Small Trades series between 1950 and 1951.  It became his most extensive body of work, with over 200 images of workers representing various occupations. Here, a tall and skinny cucumber merchant holds his vegetables and a rickety box. I particularly love his flapper girl tattoo and casual stance. Penn managed to convey a great deal of information with very little." –Aimee Pflieger, Specialist and Head of Online Sales, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • Heinrich Kühn, Alfred Stieglitz. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    "In 1904, Heinrich Kühn and Alfred Stieglitz, long admirers of each other’s work, finally met in Austria. This meeting cemented their professional and personal relationship, which would last for decades. Interestingly, Kühn chose to portray Stieglitz looking at a photograph, which is said to be one of Kühn’s own compositions. I think this is a bit of an eyewink to their fellow Pictorialists who might get the reference!" –Aimee Pflieger, Specialist and Head of Online Sales, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • Ansel Adams, Saint Francis Church, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    "The monumental architecture beautifully captured by Ansel Adams is perfectly shaped with the light, shadows and texture. It is an extraordinary homage to this vernacular architecture of the church in Rancho de Taos, which inspired so many other photographers such as Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange, Laura Gilpin and Henri Cartier-Bresson." –Jonas Tebib, Head of Department, Sotheby’s Photographs, Paris

  • Man Ray, Magnolia (Double Exposure). Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    "The composition and the technique employed in this exceptional work makes clever use of the double exposure to add dynamic, mystery and a surrealistic disparity between the two subjects: the iconic Magnolia and a woman's eyes. That's the genius of Man Ray!" –Jonas Tebib, Head of Department, Sotheby’s Photographs, Paris

  • Edward Weston, Shells (3S). Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    "This unusual shell study by Edward Weston, with its light grey/beige background, is easily distinguished from his more well-known images of shells photographed against deep black backdrops seen in lot 114 . What makes this lot even more unique is its accompanying materials, which tell this photograph’s story. Euliel Ballenger White was a teacher at the same school as Weston’s wife, Flora. An early admirer of Weston’s photographs, White received this very print directly from him. This lot is accompanied by a handwritten note from Weston, as well as an exhibition brochure inscribed by Weston to Euliel from 1927, the same year as the lot's negative." –Hermione Sharp, Associate Cataloguer, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • David Levinthal and James Ellroy, 'My Mother's Killer.' Estimate $5,000–7,000.
    "This collaboration between photographer David Levinthal and author James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential; The Black Dahlia) makes for a chilling and clever portfolio. Ellroy’s mother was murdered in 1958 when he was just ten years old – the killer was never found, the crime never solved. His text for My Mother’s Killer (written in 1994 and available in full here ) recounts his re-opening of his mother’s case more than thirty years later. Levinthal’s accompanying photographs, with his characteristic blurred figurines, illustrate the scenes from the story in keeping with the 1950s detective film noir ambience of Ellroy’s novels. Any true crime documentary fan will love this portfolio." –Hermione Sharp, Associate Cataloguer, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • Yousuf Karsh, 'Georgia O'Keeffe.' Estimate $6,000–9,000.
    "Karsh chose to take Georgia O’Keeffe’s portrait in her entrance doorway, the place where she had fallen in love with her house. By using the gorgeous natural light of New Mexico, he illuminates the striking profile of a woman still so intensely dedicated to her work as she was approaching seventy." –Amy Bubb, Cataloguer, Sotheby’s Photographs, London

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gestapo Informer Recognized by a Woman She Had Denounced, Deportation Camp, Dessau. Estimate $7,000–10,000.
    "This extraordinary picture showcases Cartier-Bresson’s ability to capture the essence of a situation in a single shot. The contrasting expressions of the Nazi collaborator with her head bowed in shame, and the woman accusing her with bared teeth and her arm raised about to strike the informer, symbolise the spirit of both the winning and losing sides of such a long and devastating war." –Amy Bubb, Cataloguer, Sotheby’s Photographs, London

  • László Moholy-Nagy, ‘Pont Transbordeur im Regen, Marseille’ (The Transporter Bridge Under the Rain, Marseille). Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    "This composition combines the two main trends in László Moholy-Nagy’s photographic work: abstraction and documentation. In the upper half, the low-angle shot emphasizes the abstraction of the modern bridge and echoes Moholy-Nagy’s paintings of the time. In the lower half, the working men lend a documentary aspect to this work, especially the cigarette smoker staring straight at us." –Anais Feyeux, Specialist, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • Robert Heinecken, 'Recto/Verso.' Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    "Heinecken loved to smash women into pieces. In this portfolio, the superimposition of the magazine pages over women’s faces deconstructs the images. Sometimes these images appear like Cubist paintings, sometimes like Bellmer’s photographs of his puppet. Like in Surrealism, eroticism and violence can blend together." –Anais Feyeux, Specialist, Sotheby’s Photographs, New York

  • Robert Frank, ‘Paris, boulevard de Clichy' (Derrière les baraques de foire, Pigalle). Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    "This luminous photograph was made during Robert Frank’s time in Paris in the late 1940s. Unlike the stark, grainy and often gritty images he made in the 1950s for The Americans, this atmospheric photograph of a Paris street alight at night has a remarkable, almost romantic quality. Chairs and benches – empty or with sitters – were also a common theme in Frank's photography during this period." –Brandei Estes, Head of Department, Sotheby’s Photographs, London

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