Thursday, November 13, 2008

Afloat - Part Deux

A comment yesterday from Antonio suggested that it would be interesting if I fleshed out the criteria I used in selecting the images posted. Seems like a reasonable request, so here goes:

Lartigue's "Zissou in his Tire Boat" Estimate $1000 – $2000. (Color changed for graphic effect.)

One of my favorite Lartigue stories involves a conversation between Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud as reported to me by the late Bruce Bernard, my predecessor as picture editor of the London Sunday Times Magazine. The pair were discussing a major Lartigue show they had each just seen and Freud was enthusing about the work. "My dear Francis," he began, "It's quite remarkable. This man can actually photograph happiness!" Bacon looked up from his beer with a look of derision. "Silliness if you ask me."

Of course both were right. Lartigue, the great prodigy of photography, blessed with a sharpshooter's eye and a wealthy and sporty family who were always having fun, could photograph both happiness and silliness, as well as all kinds of love and desire, and make it all sing. The picture above is one of the silly ones but it never fails to make me smile.

A rare Cartier-Bresson taken in Mexico c. 1963. Estimate $6,000 - $9,000

What appeals to me about this Cartier-Bresson is first, the rarity. I was H C-B's New York gallery for ten years and knew his work pretty well, but I never saw this image. I like the yin-yang of the light versus shadow cutting diagonally across the image and the sweetness of the girl and dog. In my experience Mexico is a country full of strays so this image also rings true to my sense of place.

One from a lot of 3 views of New York (all good) taken by Charles Rotkin in the 1940s. $1,000 - $1,500.

What can I say here? For about $300 a pop if you're lucky, you get three different but excellent views of New York City in the 40s. Compare the skyline to today's. Pick your favorite of the three and give the others away as presents. Sell one at Sotheby's and get your money back. Start your own Print Giveaway ...

Marilyn Monroe c. 1945 by Andre de Dienes. $2,000 - $4,000.

Andre de Dienes was one of the great nudie photographers of the 40s and 50s taking the kind of healthy outdoor shots featured in naturalist magazines and camera annuals of the time. He happened to cross paths with M.M. when she was about 18 and his book "Marilyn Mon Amour", first published in 1985, is probably the best and most sustained coverage of the star. In it we see Marilyn morph from the slightly awkward teenager to the blonde beauty who became an icon. The book is now out of print as is Taschen's recently created $200 boxed set of De Dienes/Marilyn memorabilia now going for double that price.

A wonderful (but tiny) Karl Struss of the Flatiron Building. $3,000 - $5,000.

The Flatiron Building is one of those buildings just made for photographers. If Steichen's famous "Flatiron" picture were to come up at auction, it would without question fetch many millions. So even a little print by Karl Struss, who pre-dated Steichen but was a pivotal figure in the transition from pictorialism to modernism, should be quite a catch. On top of that, this is quite a wonderful picture with the glistening rain-soaked street reflecting the building's form, the pedestrians scurrying around, and the pinpoint of the street lights drawing the eye back to the building itself, highlighted against the chiaroscuro sky.

Ruth Orkin's portrait of Woody Allen at the Met. 1963. $3,000 - $4,000.

I've always made the point that humor in photography can't be posed, it has to be spontaneous as in the Lartigue, above. But there are always exceptions. Woody in front of this gilded full length painting is one. A little schoolboy humor, the nebbish upstaging and deflating the aristocrat, but done with a light touch.

Ray Metzker. Chicago, 1983. $4,000 - $6,000. (This seems high, but it's a strong picture.)

Ray Metzker is a Chicago based photographer who is the logical successor to Harry Callahan. An acknowledged innovator, his work explores the formal potentials of black and white photography in puzzle pictures that play with abstraction and composition. If you're looking for a cerebral but still engaging image, this could be the one.

A 1969 Garry Winogrand estimated at $2,000 - $3,000.

I've already written quite a bit about Winogrand, so I'm going to direct you back to my previous post. Click here.And here. But at $2-3k this is a steal.

Stephen Shore. 1974. $4,000 - $6,000.

After Eggleston and Meyerowitz, Shore is the other key modern american colorist. His career began at the age of 14 and his deadpan images of everyday scenes and places draw a connection between photography and photorealist paintings. Seeing this image in that context explains its strength. A picture that at first looks banal, but on closer viewing pulls you in.


Anonymous said...

Thank you James, the additional information is enlightening. The Stephen Shore image reminds me of the south, as if taken down the street from where working on his own composition.

Barry said...

Thank you very much for sharing your insights.

When my daughter was young, we'd visit museums and galleries and play "just one." If you could have just one, which would you pick?

If I could pick just one of this set, I'd probably go for the Ray Metzker. I did a double-take when I first saw it and after repeated viewings, it still makes me want to adjust my glasses.

And I'd probably have eternal regrets for not having chosen the Karl Struss.

Anonymous said...

Good set, and if I were forced to choose I'd have to go for the Shore. Seeing power lines used as compositional elements does my heart good.

Anonymous said...

If I had the money I would buy Karl Struss of the Flatiron Building.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting commentary. I personally would also go for the Ray Metzker over any other for its qualities as an intriguing image, but above all others would want to own a Winogrand, plus who can resist seals.

Anonymous said...

great selection I like all of them. Just saw one print of the Metzker image at Paris Photo today and had a book signed by Stephen Shore. wouldnt mind having a print of these guys either.

Kevin Pistone said...

do you know anything about the Zissou in the first photo? I've seen a movie about a fictional oceanographer called Steve Zissou (Life Aquatic)...

stacy said...

thanks for your insights - wonderful post.

Paul Pincus said...

this was fascinating, james.

RA said...

you are right when you mention Meyerowitz, Shore and Eggleston in the same breath. However, I got a chill down my spine when I saw that you left out Richard Misrach, Joel Sternfeld and William Christianberry. Yeah, maybe they started SLIGHTLY later than Shore and Eggleston but these 3 guys are the keepers of the colorist flame....especially Misrach. His whole body of work (Desert Cantos, Sky series and Golden Gate series) adds cotton candy color to his concerns about the environment, politics and the landscape in a way that seduces the eye to look and then compels one's soul to feel and think. Love your blog. Keep it up.