Several lots in this evening's sale and the following day come from the collection of Van Deren and Joan Coke. Those involved in the appreciation and collecting of photographs within the last few decades will immediately recognize the name. Van Deren Coke has been a photographer since the late 1930s, an educator since the 1950s, a museum director starting in the 1960s and an important presence ever since. As an author, his publications include the seminal foray into the relationship between mediums, The Painter and the Photograph, from Delacroix to Warhol (University of New Mexico Press, 1964, 1972), Avant-Garde Photography in Germany, 1919-1939, 1981 and Joel-Peter Witkin, 1985.
Coke's start with photography began when, as a teenager in 1938, he spent time with Edward Weston in Carmel. Within a year he acquired photographs from Weston with his father's encouragement and support. His early influences included Moholy-Nagy through Raymond Barnhardt, an instructor at the University of Kentucky where he attended. After serving in the Navy during World War II he returned to photography, making pictures in semi-abstractions and teaching the history of photography based on Beaumont Newhall's then recent History. Coke served as director of the art museum at the University of New Mexico and the International Museum of Photogrpahy at George Eastman House as well as director of the Department of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
With a resume as such, it is no wonder that an image like the Bonfils offered here would hold his attention. As part of Bonfils' extensive documentation of the Arab world, it retains its function as a clear document, a salient fact. On the other hand, when seen through 20th century eyes, it is a perpetual mystery, a portrait made for which the identity of the sitter will be forever unknown, like the contents of Marcel Duchamp's With Hidden Noise, 1916.