Photography: New York – Los Angeles – Paris



Photography fans had four days to choose between some 900 photographs, mostly modern, at the New York sales … A veritable marathon (2 – 6 April 2013). The rendez-vous is now well established, notably because it fits strategically into the AIPAD Photography show (Association of International Photography Art Dealers, 4 – 7 April) which has been attracting collectors and photography enthusiasts for the past 33 years. The New York fair is in fact the oldest event dedicated to photography. Paris, which has distinguished itself in the photography field since the birth of Paris Photo 16 years ago, has now exported its fair to the American West Coast. So after New York in early April, fans of the genre again gathered at the Paramount Pictures Studio in Los Angeles from 26 to 28 April.

Both economically and historically, New York remains generally the most dynamic city for the arts, particularly in the field of photography. The six specialist sales organized by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips in early April represent a major challenge for the market which is not used to digesting so many photographic works in such a short period. Fortunately, three of them were dispersions of coherent private collections with excellent provenance (Phillips New York, The curious collector, 2 and 3 April; Christie’s New York, The Delighted Eye, 4 April; Sotheby’s New York, The Modern Image, 5 April). The results were exceptional with a revenue total excluding buyer’s premium of more than $24.85m in four days, double the usual results (the three auction houses recorded $13.3m for their New York sales of April 2011, and $1 million less than that in 2012).

The 2013 sessions focused on photos from 1900 to 1950, i.e. on safe bets. Of these, five signatures stand out having generated the best results of the week: Irving PENN, Robert FRANK, László MOHOLY-NAGY, Edward STEICHEN and Ansel Easton ADAMS.

The most profitable photographs
These five artists generated more than $6.522m excluding buyer’s premium during the week … A substantial total that represents, for example, more than half of the total turnover from the same New York photography sales in April 2011.
In auction terms, Robert FRANK is the most profitable, especially in the United States with the artist’s pictures from his most famous work The Americans (title of a book of photographs published in 1958) clearly meeting its public during the early April sales. The growing appeal for Robert FRANK’s vintage prints is reflected in a price index up 60% over the decade and $2 million worth of works sold in ($2.02m from the 28 lots between 2 and 6 April 2013). Indeed buyers’ enthusiasm for his works allowed Christie’s to set a new personal record with Trolley – New Orleans (1955), an iconic photograph that fetched $550,000 ($663,750 including buyer’s premium) on 5 April (another print of the famous Trolley had reached $520,000 in October 2007 at Christie’s). Later prints of his Trolley have sold for $200,000 or $300,000 less just a few hours apart. The print date is essential in the valuation of the same picture; but it is not the only factor: besides the vintage patina of the 1961 silver print, the new record for Trolley also reflected a dedication by its author to one of the medium’s most esteemed practitioners, the photograph Edward STEICHEN (whose works also generated $643,000 from 10 lots during the same week). This little detail represents a historical testimony that adds additional uniqueness to the work in question.

Alongside Robert FRANK’s success, 23 Irving PENN pictures also sold in prices ranging from $10,000 to $380,000, generating a total turnover of $1.433m. His best result was unsurprisingly set by a picture of his muse Lisa Fonssagrives that sold for $380,000. The later platinum print of Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Marrakech (taken in 1951 and printed in 1983) represents Penn’s fourth best-ever auction result.
Meanwhile Ansel Easton ADAMS was particularly well represented with 38 lots of which only three were bought in ($1.315m from the week). In prices ranging from $3,800 to $350,000, the choice of proposed works ranged from a late (but within the artist’s lifetime) silver print (Boards and Thistles, San Francisco, California, 1932 – 1976) to the famous photo Aspens, Northern New Mexico (1958). Diane ARBUS’s most famous photograph, Identical Twins, was a star lot of Phillip’s The curious collector sale. The print (38.1 x 37.5cm), signed and dated 1966, soared to $500,000, setting a new personal record for Arbus whose price index has risen 90% over the last decade. In the mid-1990s this type of photograph could be acquired for between $40,000 and $60,000 (see Sotheby’s results of 5 October 1994: Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J, sold for $48,000).

Record to remember: $1m for a Man Ray rayograph
$1 million: this well-rounded result rewarded rayograph by the inventor of the genre, aka MAN RAY. This is the first time a photograph by the surrealist artist has reached one million dollars, a level already exceeded six times for his oils on canvas. It needed a good photo in superb condition with a good date to generate this new record. This was indeed the case of the print made in 1922, the same year the artist invented his rayographs (placing various objects on photo-sensitive paper, then exposing it all to light). Christie’s had the privilege of selling this gem of a work, Untitled Rayograph (23.5cm x 17.8cm) at four times its low estimate, on 4 April 2013.
The prices of surrealist photography are expected to increase in line with the inflation on the movement’s paintings. For the moment, MAN RAY is still led by László MOHOLY-NAGY whose Fotogramm from 1925 fetched for $1.25m on 12 December 2012 (Sotheby’s New York).

Turnover from photography auctions during the week 2 to 6 April 2013Phillips NY April 2 and 3 The curious collector  $4,099,800Phillips NYApril 3 Photographs  $2,572,300Christie’s New York April 4 The delighted eye  $6,222,500Christie’s New YorkApril 5 Photographs  $5,863,100Sotheby’s NYApril 5 The Modern Image  $2,060,500Sotheby’s NYApril 6 Photographs  $4,034,350TOTAL : $24,852,550