Circles are the motif that links works by masters of the medium such as Edward Steichen and Man Ray, which are highlights of an online auction at Christie’s Paris
Joanna Vestey began collecting photographs 25 years ago, when her career as a photographer and visual artist was first taking shape. Selecting images based purely on their conceptual and visual merits — without any defined curatorial theme — Vestey acquired prints of pictures that fired her imagination, an exercise she used to explore the expressive potential of the medium she had adopted professionally.
Soon, however, she realised that all of her choices had one characteristic in common: she was repeatedly drawn to images that incorporated circles. This fundamental form — to which the viewer can attach any number of philosophical interpretations — then became the determining thread of her collection. Now, Circles: The Collection of Joanna Vestey, featuring works by Edward Steichen, Man Ray, Adam Fuss, John Baldessari, Guy Bourdin, Sarah Moon, Robert Frank and Francesca Woodman, will be presented in an online auction, Photographies, from 25 October-8 November, with all lots exhibited at Christie’s Paris from 4-8 November.
In a remarkable range of images that span a century, circles appear in many guises. They can be central to the composition or play a more discreet role; they can be multiple or singular; they can be partial or distorted; and they consistently invite the viewer to reflect on the ambiguous nature of photography, where three-dimensional realities are rendered on a two-dimensional plane. ‘One of the greatest joys of photography is that the more time you spend looking at an image, the more you are rewarded,’ says Vestey. ‘Not just by what is held in the frame, but by what lies beyond, within the rich layers of its historical and social context.’
Among the highlights is a print of great tonal subtlety by the American master Edward Steichen (1879-1973). Dating from about 1923 and titled Blossom of White Fingers (Dana Steichen’s Hands), it depicts the upwardly extended hands of his wife. In this instance, the circle is present only by implication, as an invisible sphere defined by the arrangement of her fingers. A photograph, we are reminded, may also be about what we cannot see.
Elsewhere, an untitled 2007 monochrome photogram by the British artist Adam Fuss (born 1961) captures with graphic elegance the patterns of fleeting concentric ripples in water. Here, photographic science is used to isolate and reproduce nature, creating its own ephemeral circles. An atmospheric soft-lit study from 1996, La robe à pois, by the French fashion photographer Sarah Moon (born 1941) poetically documents a dress decorated with large spots — circles of another kind that are essential elements of the composition and amplify the impact of the picture. In Sans titre (reflet dans un rétroviseur) (c. 1940) the surrealist and pioneering photographer Man Ray (1890-1976) creates a distorted shot incorporating his own reflection in the melting curves of a rear-view mirror.
‘These examples demonstrate the rich blend of aesthetic appeal, playfulness, surprise and intelligence that characterises this endlessly fascinating collection,’ says Philippe Garner, the former International Head of Photographs at Christie’s, who retired in 2016. ‘A photograph is a visual record of a moment, and it can be spontaneous or contrived. It is a two-dimensional representation of its subject, yet a great photograph can be so much more. It can become a compelling expression of the photographer’s perspective on the world and possess its own aura of mystery.’