As technology has transformed the world of works on paper, the value of collectible items has shifted towards things that are aesthetically pleasing. One reason for owning books—the knowledge contained within—has largely disappeared due to digitization. Maps have seen their value hold up comparatively well, and comics are enjoying a boom (though youth is a big factor). Another collectible arena falling under the aesthetic umbrella, and which toes the line separating art and works on paper, is photography. This month, on February 14th, Swann Auction Galleries is hosting Icons & Images: Photographs & Photobook, a remarkable assortment of 325 lots depicting significant people and moments in history, as well as work by well-known photographers.
The single highest estimate in the sale is lot 13, which is a selection of 50 plates from Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion of figures in the midst of various activities like riding and jumping horses, somersaulting, and playing cricket, as well as animals such as a sloth, deer, and jaguar. These photographs come from a University of Pennsylvania-supported project between 1883 and 1886 in which Muybridge produced 100,000 pictures in his series dubbed “Animal Locomotion." They were subsequently published in sets of 100. This 50-image set is estimated $30,000 – 45,000.
The sale’s catalog cover bears the image from lot 75, entitled Portrait of Dorothy Norman, which was taken by Alfred Stieglitz in the 1930s. Though not as famous as Stieglitz, Norman was mentored by Stieglitz and is respected for her work as a photographer as well as a liberal advocate and essayist. The specific portrait being auctioned may be unique. It is estimated $20,000 – 30,000.
Another photographer that bears no need for introduction is Ansel Adams. Lot 61, Clearing Winter Storm, is a magnificent photograph of Yosemite Valley taken as storm clouds give way to clearer skies over the valley. Seeing Yosemite in person is an experience worth seeking, but seeing Yosemite through the camera of Ansel Adams is a different one entirely. That being said, visiting the national park in person is quite a bit cheaper than owning Adams’ work—this photograph is estimated $25,0000 – 35,000.
If Ansel Adams’ work is considered among the best views on the planet, then lot 285 must be considered among the best views off the planet. Thirty photographs from various NASA missions including astronauts floating in space and on the moon, and topographic views of Earth make up a truly unique set. These are the only Cibachrome (Ilfochrome) [hopefully these terms mean something to photography aficionados] prints made from the original positives and were featured at the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum beginning in 1985. More than six million people have seen them. You can have the final say on who else gets to lay their eyes on them for an estimated $15,000 – 25,000.
It wouldn’t be right to preview a sale of Icons without actually covering some. Lots 70 and 188 are two striking images that fall under this category; they are universally recognizable (at least in the states). Migrant Mother, the image taken by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression, has come to be one of the defining images for the period and has been widely reproduced. This particular copy was printed in the 1950s and is estimated $10,000 – 15,000. The other icon that jumped out at me is an image that graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985 and may just be the most famous cover of that magazine.The image is Afghan Girl by Steve McMurry, and though the title may be unfamiliar, the picture will not. The portrait of the girl with striking eyes is estimated $10,000 – 15,000.
The catalog of Icons & Images is well worth browsing, with moments like the construction of the Empire State Building, the 1936 Olympics, and the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco shown in vivid detail, and portraits and pictures of significant figures from the last two centuries waiting to be seen again. The entire catalog is viewable online on Swann Auction Galleries’ website.
Icons & Images will take place February 14th at 1:30 eastern. Bidding is available via the usual methods of live, absentee, telephone, and internet. Registration with Swann is required for first-time bidders.
Preview dates and times are as follows:
Feb 9 to 11: 12-5 eastern
Feb 13: 12-5 eastern
Feb 14: 10-12 eastern