This year's photo show in La-La land proved to be very active, with traffic up considerably from last year and even nudging out 2000. Dealer and show organizer Stephen Cohen was even caught off guard with the larger numbers, and apparently did not print enough catalogues for all the extra attendees. The crowds were the largest that I can recall here.
Many dealers did somewhat better than last year, even if the show did not exactly blow the doors off with big sales, and a few dealers did poorly (but there always seems to be a few of us that do poorly; the luck of the draw). But Photo LA showed strength--especially in the face of football playoff games, a postponed San Francisco Art Fair that took some dealers and collectors away, Sundance and Golden Globe programs and a slow-moving economy. On top of all these distractions, a few big collectors that one normally sees at this event were otherwise engaged. While the lookers still outnumbered the buyers, the buyers were buying when images were interesting and prices were reasonable. It seemed that they just were being a bit more cautious.
There was also a lot more after-show activity, which helped buoy the spirits of some of the dealers. Lookers sometimes do turn into buyers later.
Cohen told me that he himself had done a shade under last year's photo sales, but felt he could top his 2001 numbers with some pending after-show business. Most of the other dealers that I spoke to had similar stories.
Actually our own sales were up very substantially from last year's show, which we felt was hampered then by a looming writers' strike, which failed to materialize later, and some major dot-com/tech failures. The latter still may be a factor on the West Coast.
The week was made a little more enjoyable for me personally when I got to speak in front of two enthusiastic local groups: the Los Angeles Country Museum Photography Collectors group and San Diego's Museum of Photographic Arts collectors group.
I told both groups that the most important things to focus on were the image first (and not just the name of the photographer) and presence. I define the latter as the "Oh, my God!" factor; in other words, when you see a print and your jaw drops and you say something to that effect. That is presence and that is a print that you should always buy.
The highlight of the week had to be the opening of "Edward Weston: Life Work (100 Vintage Photographs from the collection of Michael Mattis/Judith Hochberg)" at the Los Angeles Central Public Library in the Getty Gallery on Friday night of Photo LA week. The show will continue there to March 17 and then move on to ten other venues (with a few other venues still to be filled) over the next five years. The next venue will be at the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, TN (June 28-Aug. 18). For other venues, check the I Photo Central Calendar of Photo Events. Curatorial Assistance is handling the show.
In attendance in LA were an ailing but still active Dody Weston Thompson (protégée of Edward and wife of Brett), Kim Weston (son of Cole) and many others of the Weston clan, along with a Who's Who of photography collectors and dealers, most of whom were at Photo LA.
The images were well displayed and the lighting, although low due to the amount of venues it will eventually travel to, seemed intimate and lit each image with a warm glow.
I interviewed Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg after the event. The first big bombshell that he revealed was that there were actually only 99 images in the show, although the 100th print (a beautiful nude) had been acquired, will be in the planned book and may be at future venues.
Mattis, who is one of the world's top particle physicists, had what had to be a unique reason as to why he and his wife collected Edward Weston images: "Weston's Peppers, Shells and other still lifes are like the photographic equivalents of elementary particles in physics, so this is the area (Weston's still lifes) that we started to collect."
As a consequence, Mattis says that his two favorite images of the show are still lifes. He says that his favorite "famous" still life is Chambered Nautilus--Halved, 1927. His favorite among the lesser-known still lifes is an image entitled Three Radishes, also 1927 and printed on matte silver paper. These three radishes are joined at the tip and in a vertical format that to Mattis makes them "look like the famous Rudolf Koppitz Movement study."
When asked about his wife's favorite image, Mattis volunteered that he thought it was Dunes Oceano, 1936, which they had playfully nicknamed Whipped Cream Dunes, because of its various shades of white. Judy agreed, but also said that she liked Pepper 31. She said that she preferred it to the more famous Pepper 30.
Why? I asked her. "Pepper 31 is less well known, more exciting and masculine," Judy told me. "I like less well-known images and I am prouder of owning them. It takes more connoisseurship to appreciate a less well-known image. If you have enough money, diligence and time, you will find enough well-known images, but to find unknown images and to know why they should be famous, gives more distinction to a collection, and that is the more exciting part."
Hochberg also gave me a few other reasons for why the couple collected Weston in depth. One reason was "the added thrill that the best of Weston images are so rare. It is a real challenge to put together a great Weston collection." Another was "feeling a personal connection with the artist. You are aesthetically intimate with them. You have to like those eyes. And even his passion is very exciting--the person behind the eyes."
When I asked Michael about what distinguished this collection of Westons from other collections of the artist, he responded that it was two things: "One, the close family connection and provenance in the majority of the pictures; and, two, the balance of images across all the different phases of his career."
The family provenance was most in evidence with the purchase of the Dody Weston Thompson collection, which provided half of the prints in the exhibition. An additional 11 prints came from either Weston's granddaughter Erica's personal family album, which had numerous early images by Brett and Edward Weston (including two early self portraits and some of the platinum prints in the exhibition) or Cole Weston's private collection of his father's vintage prints. Other prints had connections to Weston acquaintances and relatives, including Anita Brenner, a friend and sponsor of Weston's Mexican work, and Weston's sister May Weston-Seaman, who raised Edward when his mother died at age five.
Oddly enough, what all these purchases from family sources lacked were Weston's still lifes, which were exactly what Mattis and Hochberg had been collecting up until that point. It wound up making everything "a perfect fit," Mattis said.
All of these different sources also allowed the collection to reflect "the entire arc of Weston's life," according to Mattis. "It is very evenly balanced from the earliest prints including what is probably his first nude, the 1909 image of his first wife Flora, who was four month's pregnant with Chandler (a beautiful 12" circular platinum print), to his final photograph, the 1948 image of The Dody Rocks, or Something out of Nothing. "When you look at the (latter) print," Mattis told me, "you actually start to see order coming out of chaos."
You might wonder how this couple works out the dynamics of collecting between them. Judy filled me in. "I don't have to be there when he goes out on a hunt," she said with a sense of humor, much like her spouse's. "But I like to be there for the kill. I have a voice. And if I really want something, I may burst into tears when I see it." That usually works, according to Michael.
When I asked Mattis why he thought Edward Weston was such an important photographer, he compared him to Picasso.
Why Picasso? I asked. "Because his work," Mattis responded, "like Picasso's, is best understood as existing in periods. He was always adventurous--wanting to try something new. There is real genius here with a mixture of passion and precision that he brought to every new direction to his work." Mattis explained that the show itself is hung to reflect and highlight these periods; specifically, it is divided into seven distinct sections: Early Work, Mexico, Still Lifes, Nudes, Early Landscapes, Portraits and Late Landscapes.
The other way that Mattis says Weston resembled Picasso was the length of his productive period: "Weston had a four-decade career and he made masterpieces even in his last years. Most photographers only have ten good years when they are at the top of the mountain."
Mattis also feels that Weston's strength as a print-maker was as strong as his ability to take images. "The combination of both is at the highest level," Mattis told me. "Other photographers only have one of these strengths; with Weston they complement each other."
Judy had another way of phrasing it: "Weston's pictures have the added bonus of being such beautiful objects."
Two prints from the show intrigued me and clearly exhibited both strengths, as well as being "beautiful objects." The first was a platinum print called A Sunny Corner in the Attic (Johan Hagemeyer), 1921. When I mentioned it to Michael, he noted it as one of Weston's "first modernist studies with a geometric decomposition of the picture frame." Me? I just liked the print and the image.
The other image was of a nondescript dry gully. It is titled Guadalajara, Barranca de los Oblatos: Rocky Trail, 1925. This exquisitely made exhibition palladium print glowed off of the wall and was called "an artistic example of minimalism" by Mattis when we discussed it. It is an image that most passed by, I am sure, but Weston found beauty in this piece of eroded earth, and much of it is in his magical printing.
You might think that the prospect of such a spotlight show would enthrall the rarely shy Mattis, but apparently it was initially a very upsetting prospect. "I loved living with the images, even if only a few were up on the wall. After they had been packed up and shipped, I felt very morose," Mattis told me. "But seeing them all up at once was tremendously gratifying, and to have the opening in the presence of so many of our friends and fellow photography enthusiasts was doubly gratifying."
Judy added that her two favorite things about the opening reception was "having Dody and Kim there, and then having people come up to me and tell me about their favorite picture. It was always a different one."
Now Mattis and Hochberg look forward to traveling with the exhibit to see its many incarnations at its different venues. By the way, Michael told me that he does not feel that the couple is done with their Weston collection. "After all," he pointed out, "we just bought that spectacular nude to make it 100."
The biggest and most important photography show of the year in the U.S. will be held this coming week (February 14-17) at the New York Hilton, which is on Sixth Ave (Ave of the Americas) between 53 and 54th Streets. Eighty-five international photography dealers will be exhibiting in a slightly larger booth format. Admission tickets to the show are $20 for a one-day ticket with catalogue or $30 for a three-day pass with catalogue. The catalogue is a whopping 360 pages with over 250 illustrations, a collector's piece in itself.
Vintage Works will be exhibiting. Come see us in Booth 236 on the second floor (up the escalator as you come in the entrance). We will be showing some wonderful images (see story below).
The show opens with a by-invitation-only Thursday night reception from 7-10 pm. The exhibit halls are in America's Hall I and II.
The "official" exhibit show opening is Friday from 12 noon-8 pm.
Saturday's program opens with a free symposium on "Atget, Evans, Adams and the Photographer's Responsibility" at 10:00 am-12:00 noon in the Ballroom West on the third floor. John Szarkowski, director emeritus, department of photography, Museum of Modern Art, NY, will be the featured speaker. The exhibit opens again from 12 noon-8 pm.
Finally, the free Sunday morning symposium (9:30-11 am) offers the always entertaining but educational Larry Schaaf, professor, University of Glasgow, Scotland, who will speak on "Hill and Adamson: A Beautiful Legacy". The program will be held again in the Ballroom West on the third floor. Sunday's hours for the exhibit run from 11 am-6 pm. That closing time is two hours earlier than other days, so keep it in mind.
The two auctions at Swann and Christie's on Tuesday, February 19 finish up this important week for photography collectors.
We have some exciting new material for this venue in every area, so plan on spending a lot of time with us at booth 236 (a new location for us this year) on the second floor. Simply take the escalator up as you come in the door to the show. At the top of the escalator, make a left and go down to the first aisle and make a right. You should see our booth straight ahead at the end of the aisle. In celebration of my birthday and Valentine's Day on the opening night of AIPAD (February 14), we will give each purchaser that evening a beautiful rose. Because of new AIPAD rules limiting the number of photographs that we can display on the walls and the amount of our table/counter space, we will unfortunately be severely limited to what we can bring to the show. If you want us to bring something specific for you to see, check out our images on the website on www.iphotocentral.com and then call or email us to bring the images that you are interested in.
Of course, as you might expect, vintage 19th and 20th century work will be well represented at our booth. Several large and exceptional prints by master photographers will be exhibited, including two very important images by Eduard Steichen (The May Pole, Empire State Building and a large format Isadora Duncan, the Parthenon); three large and important prints by Gustave Le Gray (two rare marine views and one rare view of trees); a 19th century grouping of nine images of phases of the moon by Spooner & Co.; about a dozen of the best Charles Cliffords (1850s views of Spain) that I have ever seen; and big prints by Edouard-Denis Baldus, Francis Frith, Laure Albin Guillot, Otto Steinert, Jean Dreville, Edmund Kesting, Dr. John Murray and Julia M. Cameron.
We will have some smaller format, but certainly not less important images, including rare images of children by Thomas Eakins, which are very Lewis Carroll-like; a very fine Arnold Genthe (Chinatown subject matter); a vintage print of Horst's "Barefoot", one of his most important images; Ferdinand Tillard's primitive 1850s paper negatives (accompanied by modern positive salt prints) of Normandy; and a very rare original glass-plate negative by Etienne-Jules Marey (Chromograph of Man Jumping Over Hurdle).
Other top images include: a good group of Auguste Salzmann's Palestinian views; a large group of trees, buildings, and parks by Atget; the finest Anne Brigman (The Heart of the Storm) that we have seen; a rare print of Toulouse-Lautrec; an very important full-plate dag by Southward and Hawes; three early images by Andre Kertesz of gypsy children in Paris (some of his first images shot in that city); a fine group of large mediobromes and silver print contacts by Leonard Misonne; a dramatic portrait of a man by Camille Silvy; three stunning hand-colored stereo dag nudes; rare calotypes by W.H.F. Talbot, Alexis de Lagrange (one of the earliest photographs taken in India), Eugene Piot (the Greek Parthenon), Alphonse de Brebisson, Baron Louis-Adolphe Humbert de Molard, Louis Robert, Pablo, Theodule Deveria, Felix Teynard, Julien Vallou de Villeneuve, Auguste Vacquerie, Eugene Cuvelier, Maxime Du Camp and Henri Le Secq; salt prints by Baldus, Marville, Maurizio Lotze, Vigier, Bertsch, Richard Banner Oakley, Mayer Freres and Pierson, Stewart, Miot, Frenet, and Eugene Constant; major albumen prints by Louis De Clercq, Charles Marville, Auguste Kotzsch, Samuel Bourne, Desire Charnay, and early Spanish images by R. Napper; vintage platinum prints of nudes by Clarence White; important vintage silver prints by Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, Maurice Tabard, Man Ray, Erwin Blumenfeld, Robert Doisneau, Francois Kollar, Albert Rudimine, Brassai, Lartigue, Rossler, Moholy-Nagy, Dora Maar, Alfred Stieglitz, Josef Sudek and Sabine Weiss, just to mention a few. With this many high quality prints, you will have to go through our bins to see work that most dealers cannot afford to put up on the walls.
In the contemporary area, we will have exciting work in portfolio boxes (so please ask to see it) by four artists: Robert Asman, Caramella di Carlo, Tim Rice and Mike Robinson (in the display case along with the full-plate Southworth and Hawes, stereo dags and other wonderful hard images).
Robert Asman has produced a group of prints from his most popular nude images in an affordable and yet very limited edition (still only 25, plus artist's proofs). The prints are priced beginning at $700 each. Robert works with paper internegatives and tones his prints, so each is really handcrafted. Asman's larger uniquely toned prints, are $1000-$1500 each.
Caramella di Carlo, a recent artist for us, has produced two exciting series of images that we will be exhibiting at AIPAD. Her distorted nudes from the Infinity Series are produced in a very small edition of 18, plus artist's proofs. Most are currently priced at $700 in the 10-1/2" square size and $900 in the 14-1/2" size, but many are on the edge of going up to the next level ($900 and $1200 respectively).
Di Carlo has also produced a stunning black and purple-toned (like in that beautiful dark purple of a well-made salt print) series on objects from the Mutter Medical Museum here in Philadelphia. The Mutter is a very famous institution and other photographers as diverse as Joel-Peter Witkin and William Wegman have shot here, but frankly Caramella's images are--for me--the most breathtaking and haunting. This new series is in a small edition of 25, plus artist's proofs, and are roughly 10-1/2" square (on 11" x 14" paper). Their price starts at $700, but I am sure that many of these will quickly sell and the prices are set to go up. Caramella's work was recently accepted for this year's Mutter Calendar, whose artists read like a Who's Who of the Photo World. Photographer's Forum also ran two full pages of her pictures this past year and we have plans for a book by early next year, so watch this artist.
These images appeal to my 19th century instincts as well as my modernist mind. They are truly mysterious and shocking, yet they are somehow dreamlike. Each print, with its irregular border, reminds me of a lost Daguerreian image made by sorcery and incantation rather than mercury and bromide. I really don't know how she makes these images (and she won't explain, in order not to break the magic). For a preview of the real thing, go to our Special Exhibits section on the I Photo Central Website for a portfolio of Di Carlo's work (Caramella di Carlo: Body of Evidence). Also take a look at her artist's statement, which I find literate and insightful.
Tim Rice is always shooting and doing something that intrigues me. Tim is a technical craftsman and printer of the first order. His large format camera images are impeccable, and have a subtlety that draws you in to look always one more time.
His subjects have often been ecologically oriented. He has done a well-published series on nuclear power generation and its effects on the surrounding communities, and is still adding to another series on jet contrails, which I've nicknamed his "Nonequivalents," in reference to Stieglitz's Equivalents (Cloud Studies). But I think Rice's images are more interesting than Stieglitz's in many ways. Few people realize when first viewing them that they are the pollution trails left by today's aviation. There is a beauty that is deceiving in its simplicity and what it actually displays.
At $750 each in only an edition of 25 plus artist's proofs, these beautiful and large 16" x 20" prints are a steal. Something one cannot say about the Equivalents.
Finally, last but certainly not least, is Mike Robinson's contemporary daguerreotypes. We are working with Connecticut photography dealer Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs and Robinson on this exclusive arrangement. You can find information and other images by Mike Robinson at http://www.cwfp.biz/robinson, which is Christopher Wahren's web site. We will shortly be building a special exhibit on iphotocentral.com for Mike's work. In the meantime, you can find Mike's images on the I Photo Central website by going to the Search Images for Sale page, scrolling down and clicking the Click here for a list of Photographers whose inventory is on the site, hitting "R" and then clicking on Mike's name.
Mike Robinson's Century Darkroom in Toronto has gained a reputation in several alternative photographic processes. Robinson's work in the daguerreotype combines a classical sense of beauty with the high level of technical skill required for success in this difficult photographic medium. His unique contribution to the modern daguerreotype has gained increasing recognition, and a series of Mike's daguerreotypes were recently commissioned for the holdings of the Hallmark Photographic Collection. He often houses his images in modern handcrafted cases and passé-partout mounts that resemble the older cases from France and the United States. This combination of old and new approaches is one of the things that distinguish Mike's work. His work has been reproduced in the 2000 Daguerreian Society Annual.
In "Photography, Old and New Again," the February 2002 Discover magazine also presented the Daguerreotype and the work of Robinson to a new and broader audience. The project showcased in this article is a set of plates commissioned by the magazine and taken by Robinson in January 2001.
Mike is currently involved with new projects involving two institutions. His most recent project, which is available on I Photo Central through Vintage Works, as well as through Chris Wahren, is a joint work between Mike and Spring Hurlbut, a noted Canadian artist known for her installations of period objects, including a recent show at the Royal Ontario Museum published as The Final Sleep (2001).
In the new joint work, Robinson and Hurlbut worked together to produce three progressive views of a wax-headed mannequin (circa-1917) from France as quarter-plate daguerreotypes. The plates apply difficult 19th-century techniques of vignetting and hand coloring to their subject. The three plates are in specially produced cases that simulate older thermoplastic ones.
In an unusual turnaround, eBay and Sotheby's have announced that they will be working closely together in the future.
In what must be a blow for Amazon.com, Sotheby's previous on-line partner, the world's oldest fine arts auction house's on-line auctions will combine with Ebay's Premier category, which never really caught on very much since its launch a year ago, to create a new up-scale auction website to be featured on both the Sotheby's and eBay's sites.
According to a Sotheby's press release, the companies will introduce Sothebys.com online auctions into the eBay marketplace. Expected to open early this summer, the site will feature the same collecting categories of fine and decorative art, antiques, rare books, jewelry and collectibles currently offered on Sothebys.com, including, of course, photography. Some of eBay's Premier dealers and--this is the real interesting part--other auction houses that eBay featured will continue to offer their goods through the new Sotheby's site. We will see how long the other auction houses will stand for that one. Except for Butterfields', eBay's own closely leashed traditional auction venue, it seems doubtful to this observer that competing auction houses will place themselves under arch-rival Sotheby's banner. All items offered will be guaranteed by sellers for authenticity and condition, as they were on the old Sotheby's site. The new Sothebys.com site on eBay will be built and hosted by eBay, but will still, apparently, be called by the old name (Sotheby's.com).
Neither on-line auction venue was doing all that well with its upscale on-line auctions.
Sotheby's was still bleeding red ink from its on-line business and this may help to staunch that flow of millions of dollars in additional capital from an auction house with serious financial woes. The site now gets exposure to eBay's millions of viewers and eBay's generally superior software. How many of their beanie baby hunters will swing upscale remains to be seen.
EBay gets respectability out of the deal and considerably more items to flesh out its offerings, which in the photography section--and other areas of eBay Premier--were looking pretty meager. Whether eBay will move to Sotheby's delayed bidding format (where bids are continued to be taken unless there is no activity on an item for over three minutes) still remains to be seen, but rumors persist that the on-line giant would like to do so but is having problems with the logistics to develop this setup for the multi-million daily transactions that occur on eBay.
Ebay continues to force its Butterfields' division to cut staff (29 more this week), offices (LA has just been consolidated into the San Francisco office) and services over at Butterfield. These latest layoffs follow a significant restructuring in November 2000, which resulted in more than 32 layoffs. In July 2000, the company also closed its Chicago gallery. Butterfields' continues to tighten its belt and move more and more of its operations to support of eBay's on-line auctions.
In addition to the on-line connection, Sotheby's will adopt eBay's Live Auctions technology to enable real-time online bidding for a "significant" number of Sotheby's traditional auctions held in New York and London. The emphasis here is on significant. What that means remains to be seen. Apparently Paris is off the hook for the time being. Considering the problems in Paris auction rooms in just switching to the euro, this should be a blessing, especially on the upcoming Jammes photography sale.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed on what has been reported as a three-year deal, and so far the stock market seems largely unimpressed with the partnership. (Editor's note: We do not own any stock in these two companies, nor should this article be considered any kind of stock advice. God knows it is not.)
The I Photo Central website (http://www.iphotocentral.com) has added a new feature on its menu bar: Special Exhibitions (http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase.php). This new addition will allow the web site to show special exhibitions by theme or photographer.
The first two Special Exhibits are: 19th Century Master Works by Master Photographers and Caramella di Carlo: Body of Evidence.
Nineteenth-Century Master Works by Master Photographers is accompanied by an essay that discusses the early and rapid evolution of photography as a new art medium. Twenty-eight images have been selected from I Photo Central's inventory to represent some of the top early (1843-1874) master image-makers. All the images are currently for sale.
I have discussed Caramella di Carlo's work above, but it is worth stressing that her images are stunning, and her thoughts on her image series in her artist statement are really worth reading, whether you are a collector or a fellow photographer. Such passion and intelligence for the work is mostly lacking today, which further distinguishes di Carlo from so many of her contemporaries.
We will be posting up other Special Exhibits in the near future.