Fine Photographs: Featuring 100 Works from the Stephen White Collection — April 27, 2023 Auction Highlights

Lot 9: Roger Fenton, Valley of the Shadow of Death, salted paper print, 1855. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000.

We are excited to present A Singular History of Photography: 100 Works from the Stephen White Collection in our spring Fine Photographs auction. This dynamic sale tells the history of the medium through White’s distinct perspective, one honed through decades in the business collecting and selling, and as many years living with, studying, and loving photographs.  

Beginning with early prints describing the excitement around the invention of capturing and fixing an image, and continuing through the early decades of experimentation with process and expression, the first part of the sale describes a heady period of discovery and exploration of various possibilities of representation.  

Photography’s immediate importance in documenting and sharing information serves as an early theme, including Roger Fenton’s pioneering image from the Crimean War Valley of the Shadow of Death, and an exceptionally rare view that documents the vicinity of the execution of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. The idea that photography possesses a dual or hybrid identity as both an art form and documentarian tool is ever-present, and continues throughout, including an astonishing large-format example of Tom Howard’s surreptitious and immediately iconic image made at the execution of Ruth Snyder, an early print showing the Wright Brothers’ first flight in the Kitty Hawk in 1903, and Garry Winogrand’s noir portrait of Victor Riesel, a syndicated journalist blinded after an acid attack. 

Lot 12: François Aubert, A rare scene apparently documenting the events surrounding the execution of Emperor Maximilian, albumen print, 1867. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

But, the artistic practices embodied by photographers threads through the auction as well, including the stunning composite work done by Colonel Henry Stuart Wortley, as well as the duo Robinson and Cherrill and their well-known The Beached Margent of the Sea — both rare and significant examples of the technical skill photographers put to glorious use. Also on offer is Lewis Carroll’s investigations into childhood and an image of Julia Margaret Cameron with her children. And finally, two of André Kertész’s early photographs made in Budapest showcasing a photographer already fully immersed in artistic practice, producing studies of the artistic circle he was part of.  

Stephen White’s perspective, grounded in the image and the historical context of each work, asks the viewer to consider both the history that forged an image and the unique questions and ideas each photographer possessed. From Ansel Adams to Carleton Watkins, James Wallace Black’s bird’s-eye view of Boston to Edward Steichen’s ariel views of mine craters made during WWI, pioneering abstraction from Arthur Siegel and Jaroslav Rössler to significant photojournalism, Stephen White’s collection offers new perspectives and something for each collector. 

Lot 86: Ansel Adams, Fountain Geyser Pool, Yellowstone Park, silver print, 1941; printed before 1955. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

Our spring auction also features significant works from iconic 20th-century photographers. The sale is headlined by an exceptional and compelling set of the 1906 issues of Camera Work (Numbers 13, 14, 15, 16, and the Steichen Supplement) bound together in an original binding, likely by Otto Knoll. Featuring Steichen’s The Flatiron—Evening, the set is enclosed in a supple leather binding apparently used by Stieglitz for presentation volumes of his publication.

Other highlights include a rare full-frame example of Robert Frank’s White Tower, 14th Street, New York, 1948; printed 1980s, as well as Shomei Tomatsu’s irresistible Chewing Gum & Chocolate, Yokosuka, 1958; printed 2004. Bidders will also have the opportunity to explore a stunning large-format Adam Fuss photogram from his series My Ghost, 1997 and Helmut Newton’s striking Rue Aubriot (i), Yves St. Laurent, Haute Couture Collection, Paris, 1975; printed 2000s.

Lot 233: Shomei Tomatsu, Chewing Gum & Chocolate, Yokosuka, silver print, 1958; printed 2004. Estimate $15,000 to $20,000.

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The auction features several rare portraits, including two by Jimmy DeSana, one of Andy Warhol and one of Ethel Scull, 1978. We are also offering a portrait of Glenway Wescott by Irving Penn, 1948 and an intimate portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe by George Dureau, 1985, as well as a tender vintage portrait of Charis by Edward Weston, 1941, signed and initialed by the photographer.

Josef Sudek’s dazzling use of light in his still life Airmail Memories for Dr. Brumlik (Aerial Recollections,) circa 1971, and Brett Weston’s skillful rendering of abstracted landscape in Dune, White Sands, 1946; printed 1949, describes two photographers at the height of their technical and compositional powers.

We are pleased to offer Valentina Kulagina’s May First, Forward to the New Victories, circa 1930 — an exceptionally rare work by a Russian avant-garde artist. And finally, Willi Ruge’s From the series I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump, 1931, an exultant documentation of the photographer’s real-time parachute jump.

Left: Lot 123: Valentina Kulagina, May First, Forward to the New Victories, silver print, circa 1930. Estimate $5,000 to $7,500; right: Lot 249: Brett Weston, Dune, White Stands, silver print, 1946; printed 1949. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.
Lot 134: Willi Ruge, From the series I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump, silver print, 1931. Estimate $15,000 to $20,000.

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