Cataloguing History’s Darker Moments

In advance of our February 15 auction of Icons & Images: Photographs & Photobooks, we asked Associate Director Deborah Rogal to talk about the planning that goes into a successful auction catalogue and exhibition, especially with regard to some of the more sensitive material we handle.


Lot 283 in the catalogue for our February 15 auction of Icons & Images: Photographs & Photobooks.


From Deborah Rogal:

Sequencing and laying out the catalogue allows us, as specialists, to act in a curatorial capacity; each spread is an opportunity to see a photograph in a new and interesting way, for the reader as well as for ourselves. This fresh perspective on the material is one of my favorite moments in our production process. Every item that has been catalogued, photographed and researched as a stand-alone object, and suddenly becomes part of a specialized sequence that asks us to make connections in intriguing ways.


Lot 283: Eddie Adams, Shooting of a Vietcong Prisoner, group of three oversized news photographs, ferrotyped silver prints, 1963-68.
Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.


This is especially important when laying out the photojournalism we offer in the vernacular section of each sale. Many of these images are very familiar to us — Eddie Adams’s Shooting of a Vietcong Prisoner, for example, won the Pulitzer Prize — and yet the incredible shock and impact of these works forcefully reasserts itself when we introduce the image in the catalogue. Others might be new to the market, but offer an important perspective on a moment in history: a collection of civil rights imagery, or an album of mug shots made after the Attica Prison Uprising. One thing that strikes me consistently is is the knowledge that the photographer was there. In these images, we have first-hand accounts of some of the darkest moments of the twentieth century. We need to treat each image respectfully, without diminishing its impact or importance by juxtaposing it with something lighthearted.


Lot 285: Approximately 113 press  wire photographs relating to the Civil Rights movement in America, 1960s-’80s.
Estimate $3,000 to $4,000.


We organize our catalogues and exhibitions so that the theme and date of each lot correspond to similar works. The vernacular section relies less on a distinct timeline than on imagery. Giving these photographs ample space on the page or gallery wall permits their meaning to resonate with the viewer, allowing them to remember the humanity and courage behind such images.



Browse the full catalogue.