What connects Edward Steichen’s twilight colour image of the Flatiron Building from 1910 with Mary McCartney’s Mollino-inspired photograph of Kate Moss perched on a stool? What is the link between the impact of a boot as it connects with a football and the bright white rectangle of a movie theatre screen made by an hour and a half’s continuous exposure? What makes a picture of Elizabeth Taylor snapped by an Italian paparazzo off the set of Cleopatra more intriguing than so many other pictures of Elizabeth Taylor? For those of us with a passion for the wealth and subtleties of this visual language, the discovery, understanding and sharing of such images is as essential to our way of communicating as the spoken or written word.
Marcello Geppetti (1933–1998), Elizabeth Taylor taking a break from filming Cleopatra, 1961. Ferrotyped gelatin silver print, 9 3/8 x 7 1/8 in. (23.8 x 18.1 cm.). Estimate: £1,500–2,500
The photographs offered in the King Street sale on 22 May come largely from my personal and gallery collection but also from a handful of artists and collectors. They have been selected for presentation at auction during the week of Photo London because they celebrate the medium; and, more importantly, what they have in common is that each in its own way matters. Photographs such as these cannot be assembled to a deadline. They get added one by one, over years if not decades. The best pictures only give themselves up over time. You look at hundreds, and if you’re very lucky one or two click.
Edward Steichen (1879–1973), Flatiron – Evening, 1905. Three-colour half-tone print, mounted on paper, from Camera Work, no. 14, April 1906, 11 7/8 x 8 3/8 in. (30.3 x 21.3 cm.). Estimate: £12,000–15,000
Every picture for me is not so much worth a thousand words but their inescapable replacement, working on a visceral level that goes straight from the eye to the heart – and of course the brain. The content matters. I hope every picture is in some way uplifting. If the medium matters it’s because there is no fooling anyone in photography. By this I don’t mean as in Photoshop. I mean that, unlike with much contemporary conceptual art, no one feels they need to have a photographic image explained or a PhD to understand it. There is no art form where the work speaks for itself more universally than in photography. And there is certainly no art form that has been as pervasive over the last century and a half.
Harold Eugene Edgerton (1903–1990), Wes Fesler’s Football Kick, 1934. Ferrotyped gelatin silver print, 7 1/8 x 9 in. (18 x 22.9 cm.). Estimate: £3,000–5,000
There are clear areas of interest in the selection — beauty is high on the list, but also the fight for freedom, advances in science and artistic originality. Not to overlook Kate Moss who stands as one of the great photographic subjects, and who I’ve been lucky to work with. A collection is part autobiography, part wish fulfillment!
Mary McCartney (b. 1969), Kate In Boots, April 2011. Chromogenic print, 20 x 15 7/8 in. (50.8 x 40.3 cm.). Estimate: £6,000–8,000
It would be very hard to say that any works in the selection stand out more than others, though there are some I only sold because I had another copy. Malick Sidibé’s Nuit de Noël is a favourite of mine, and I love Hiroshi Sugimoto’s movie screen — UA, Little Neck, New York, 1978. Sugimoto kept the camera lens open for the duration of a film’s projection. During that hour and a half the light makes the screen a white rectangle, but also illuminates the interior of the movie theatre. I’ve always had a special fondness for that series of pictures.
Hiroshi Sugimoto (B. 1948). UA, Little Neck, New York, 1978. Gelatin silver print. Estimate £18,000 - 22,000
The selection also includes a sort of subgroup of pictures photographers have taken of their wives. There are two photographs, for example, taken by Harry Callahan showing his wife: one of Eleanor floating in the water, which is very well known, and another nude, of her lying in bed, which is quite rare. It’s interesting to mix these iconic pictures with very private visions. There are also a number of photographs by Edward Weston of his wife Charis — I’ve always liked the expression of love that you see in those shots.
Edward Weston (1886 - 1958). Nude Floating, 1939. Gelatin silver print. Estimate £4,000 - 6,000
Covering a broad stretch of the history of the medium, these slender, chemically-fixed pieces of paper carry an unexpected depth. In a world bombarded with images, these pictures invite us to stop and relish the moment. They ask questions of authorship and intent. They ask the collector who selects a particular image to analyse what it is that provokes such a response. A photograph is not only a mirror or a window but an invitation.
Main image at top: Gene Lemuel, Kate Moss, 1988, printed 2011. Gelatin silver print. Estimate: £3,000-5,000
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