Auctions | May 8, 2014

Strong Results For First-Ever Auction of Vernacular Photography at Swann Galleries


NEW YORK—Interest was high and bidding was strong for photographs and albums created by non-fine art practitioners at Swann Galleries’ April 17 auction, The Vernacular Eye: Photographic Albums, Snapshots & Objects. Sold alongside fine works by Ansel Adams, William Eggleston and Aaron Siskind, collections of cyanotypes, crime photographs and images of bygone stores and locales attracted a lot of attention.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Vice President and Director of Photographs & Photobooks, said, “The success of this auction demonstrates the breadth of the photo market and growing interest in the relationship between fine art photos and the vernacular medium.”

Two lots topped the sale, bringing $22,500* each: a group of 63 cyanotypes documenting the construction of a trestle bridge in southern France, from 1899-1902, was purchased by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and a maquette for Jimmy De Sana’s book Submission, which contained 31 erotic prints, sado-masochistic, 1979, which set an auction record for the artist. Also by De Sana was a similarly themed chromogenic print, Helmets, circa 1979, which sold for $6,000.

A selection of fine art works established auction records, among them William Eggleston’s Untitled (Blues Musician Mississippi Fred McDowell in a Casket), dye-transfer print, 1971, printed 1996 at $18,750; Aaron Siskind’s Lithuanian Store, silver print, 1957, $12,500 and Roman Vishniac’s poignant Sara (Flowers of her Youth), silver print, 1939, printed 1980s, $11,875.

Vernacular highlights included a group of 19 photographs depicting the Wright Brothers and their No. 2 glider, 1901-28, which received a large amount of pre-sale press coverage, $20,000; an album with 250 photographs of window displays for (the now defunct) Kleinhans men’s clothing store in Buffalo, New York, 1919-26, $15,000; a group of 11 photographs featuring African Americans living in the post-Reconstruction-era South, 1886, $13,750; and a extensive archive of photographs, albums, letters and ephemera related to a life-long nudist couple, 1920s-90s, $13,750.

Crime images proved popular, with a warden's book detailing prisoners received at California’s San Quentin prison, March 1935 to December 1935, containing approximately 1100 mugshots and entries, including robbers, rapists, wife abandoners, thieves, murders, and burglars bringing $5,500; and a circa 1940 album of 40 post-mortem photographs compiled by the coroner for Franklin County, Ohio, including gruesome scenes of murder victims, bringing the same.


There was also an archive of 99 professional photographs of American movie marquees on Broadway and Main Streets in (largely) small towns from the Northeast to Midwest to Southern California for $5,888; an album with 63 cyanotypes depicting gardens, parks, and the harbor in greater Boston, including Olmsted Park, Marine Park, Franklin Park and Arnold Arboretum, $5,750; and a circa 1910 individual image of a hand grasping a beautiful young woman’s long, dark hair, which sold for $6,500 against an estimate of $600 to $900.

Rounding out sale highlights were Yousuf Karsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill, silver print, 1941, printed later, $15,000; Karl Struss: A Portfolio, 1909/29, with 15 platinum prints, 1909-29, printed 1979, $13,750; William Klein New York 54/55, portfolio with 12 silver prints, 1954-55, printed 1978, $11,875; Ansel Adams’s Moon and Clouds, Northern California, silver print, 1959, printed 1970, $9,375; Julia Margaret Cameron, St. Agnes (Mary Hiller), albumen print, 1864, $8,750 and Harry Callahan’s Wabash Avenue, Chicago, Fall, silver print, 1958, printed late 1960s, also $8,750.

For complete results, an illustrated catalogue, with prices realized on request, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to propose consignments to upcoming Photographs auctions, please contact Daile Kaplan at (212) 254-4710, extension 21, or via email at

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

First image: Group of 63 cyanotypes documenting the construction of a trestle bridge in southern France, 1899-1902, sold for $22,500, including buyer's premium.

Second image: Photograph of a hand grasping a beautiful young woman’s long, dark hair, bromide print, circa 1910, sold for $6,500, including buyer's premium.