Aviation and the Age of Invention

There are many marvelous aspects of vernacular imagery but one, in particular, is essential: its chameleon-like identity. 

Lot 56 is a group of 19 photographs, most from an album formerly in the collection of Wright brothers freight client Frank Hermes, comprising 15 vintage prints, nearly all of which were taken by Orville Wright. 

Vernacular photographs are often repurposed so that a picture made from one perspective (e.g., recording an experiment) may subsequently be adapted to another (a fine art gallery or museum wall). Although the original context remains meaningful, an interdisciplinary connection brings added relevance. 

Lot 57 is a group of 25 photographs by William Preston Mayfield, depicting pilots and various Wright Bros. flying machines, 1910-1913.

For example, Orville Wright, was a prominent figure in the field of aviation, but not an especially well-known photographer. He and his older brother, Wilbur, who were proprietors of a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, dreamed of flying. Their early experiments with lighter-than-air crafts were carefully chronicled to prove the legitimacy of their claims of “We did it first!” 

Lot 58 is a group of eight photographs of the Wright Bros. hydroplane, circa 1913.

When Wilbur piloted an early flyer, Orville captured the activity from the ground. The limited technical ability of the fixed focus lens did not impede his pictorial style. Indeed, one of Orville’s earliest photographs apparently inspired Alfred Stieglitz, whose own photograph The Aeroplane, was reproduced in the pages of Camera Work magazine–Lot 160.

The April 17 auction also includes a selection of Camera Work photogravures by Alfred Stieglitz, which includes The Aeroplane, above.  

Related fields, such as, travel and exploration, ethnography, science, magic and spiritualism represent examples of the photograph’s readiness to cross over from one discipline to another.