It never occurred to me how prevalent the subject (or backdrop) of sand is in photography until I was riffling through Christies catalog for their February 20th New York sale of photographs. There was sand everywhere! The above photograph by Wynn Bullock (estimated at $3,000 - $5,000) is of course a reference to the justly more celebrated Edward Weston image (below) which even printed posthumously is estimated at $7,000 - $9,000. There are sand pictures by Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Michael Kenna, Herbert Matter, Anna Mendieta, the Westons - Edward and Brett, and Gary Winogrand. (I'm disqualifying Lucien Clergue because anyone who makes a living photographing women on the beach with wet sand up their bum does not deserve to be in this particular hall of fame.)
Anyway ... I happen to own several of Weston's "Nude on the Dunes" pictures (very dry sand) and as well as being some of my favorite pictures, they hang in the hallway between my bedroom and my childrens' rooms. I'm very careful about what art gets hung in my own home but these pictures are so brilliantly conceived and the figure so integrated in to the ground of sand that neither my children or any of the many children who have passed through our house on play-dates have ever given it a second thought. I remember a house featured in a magazine not so long ago where the most provocative, graphic, and X-rated art was hanging on the wall and the couple's young children were pictured romping around in decorative magazine fashion, and I thought there has to be some kind of line, doesn't there?
Anyway back to sand. Aside from Weston's dunes one of the greatest sand pictures is the Australian photographer Max Dupain's "The Sunbaker" (above) taken in 1937, the year after Weston's pictures.
Last in the round-up of sand pictures is Richard Ehrlich (above and below) whose extraordinary pictures taken in 2003 of the Namibian ghost town of Kolmanskop I just recently discovered. In brief, Kolmanskop sprang up in 1908 after diamonds were discovered in the desert sand. By 1920 Kolmanskop was a booming mining town with 300 German expatriates and their families - a hospital, gymnasium, casino, bowling alley, and power station. Houses were built and decorated in beautiful colors with great artistic sensibility, presumably to offset the lonely existence in the middle of the desert. By 1928, however, the diamond deposits dried up and the town was abandoned to the elements. The skeletal remains of the houses are now left to sand and time, with every room constantly shifting and re-emerging as the wind shifts. Wow - talk about earth art!