Auctions | February 1, 2016

Swann Galleries' Photographs Auction Explores Stories on Every Scale

Lot-99-Ansel-Adams.jpgNew York— On Thursday, February 25, Swann Galleries will offer Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks, an auction highlighting photography’s unique ability to be a medium of both art and information.

Headlining the sale is a mural-sized silver print of Ansel Adams’s iconic Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 (reprocessed in 1948), printed in the early to mid-1950s. This rare print was originally a gift from Adams to Edwin Land, the inventor who co-founded the Polaroid Corporation. Land later presented the print to Edward Mills Purcell, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who served with Land on President Eisenhower’s Science Advisory Committee (the precursor to NASA). The photograph, which has remained in the Purcell family since, is the only 1950s print of Moonrise known to appear at a public auction. Moonrise is estimated at $200,000 to $300,000. Several other examples of Adams’s majestic landscape photography are also featured, including The Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, silver print, 1942, printed 1970s ($30,000 to $50,000).

Documentary photographs like Dorothea Lange’s 1934 silver print The General Strike, Policeman, give a window into not just ages past, but the beginnings of the documentary genre. Lange photographed several protests before the General Strike in San Francisco, and hung photos in her studio, unsure how to best use them. Eventually, her photographs would appear in print and come to represent some of the most iconic images from the period. The General Strike, Policeman is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000.  

Other photographs that uniquely capture and tell the stories of notable figures and eras include Garry Winogrand’s signed portfolio 15 Big Shots, 1955-81, printed 1983, fifteen silver prints in Winogrand’s signature street style depicting pop culture and political figures from JFK to Muhammad Ali ($25,000 to $35,000). Winogrand signed no more than 30 copies of this portfolio before his untimely death in 1984. While Winogrand captured heavy-hitters, Diane Arbus (who was photographed for 15 Big Shots), captured powerful portraits of everyday citizens to track the social landscape. Her 1963 silver print Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. (printed later), is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.

Contemporary photographers like Peter Beard push the boundaries of the medium with pieces like I’ll Write Whenever I Can, Koobi Fora, Lake Rudolf, a silver print with unique hand applications in blood, black ink, and magenta, blue and purple inks, 1965, printed 1990s ($20,000 to $30,000); while Sally Mann plumbs the depths of familial intimacy with works like Fallen Child, silver print, 1989 ($10,000 to $15,000). Hiroshi Sugimoto’s 1993 silver print Stadium Drive-In, Orange plays with time as it captures the length of a film with a single exposure ($8,000 to $12,000).

Innovation and technology are always intimately intertwined with photography. Such is the case with an album of 25 photographs of snowflakes by Wilson A. Bentley. The first person to photograph a single snowflake in 1885 using the ingenious technique of adapting a microscope to a bellows camera, Bentley would eventually capture over 5,000 images of snow crystals, including the 25 in this portfolio of gold-chloride toned microphotographs from glass plate negatives, 1888-1927 ($20,000 to $30,000).  Experimentation with technology and technique was also a constant goal for surrealist Man Ray, whose signed, self-titled book Man Ray is illustrated with photogravures of his rayographs and solarized imagery, among his other photography. The copy included in the sale is a first edition, signed and inscribed by the artist in 1934 ($7,000 to $10,000).

Vernacular photography captures stories from a wide range of (often anonymous) visual tale-tellers. The scale of these stories varies wildly, from a group of 36 photographs capturing the horror of the Hindenburg disaster ($3,500 to $4,500), to an album entitled Season 1923, New York to Frisco, 57 behind-the-scenes snapshots showing the everyday lives of performers and families traveling with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s circus ($2,000 to $3,000).

The auction will be held Thursday February 25, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The auction preview will be open to the public, with an exhibition opening Saturday, February 20 from noon to 5 p.m.; Monday, February 22 through Wednesday, January 24 from noon to 5 p.m.; and Thursday, January 28 from 10 a.m. to noon. Also available by appointment.

An illustrated auction catalogue will be available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Daile Kaplan at 212-254-4710, extension 21, or via e-mail at

Lot 99: Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, mural-sized silver print, 1941, printed early 1950s. Estimate $200,000 to $300,000.