CHRISTIE’S PHOTOGRAPHIC AUCTIONS
PASSION IS THE DRIVING FORCE
Phillipa Wielgos speaks to Philippe Garner, Director and International Head of Photography
at Christie’s, London, about its photographic sale last May, as well as discussing the
contemporary market, and how to approach it with a view to collecting photography
he Christie’s photographic sale in May Above: Lot 7. André • The Fritz Springefelde Collection, seen for the first time
comprised 115 lots, which is considered Kertész (1894-1985): at auction in 11 years, which includes works by Florence
relatively small in auction house terms. It was Satiric Dancer, Paris, Henri, Willy Zielke, Johann Graf, Rudolf Kessler and
curated by Philippe Garner, Director and International 1926. Hein Gorny; these ‘lesser known’ avant-garde
Head of Photography at Christie’s. The sale featured Estimate: £200,000 - photographers achieving a distinct niche market
post war Western and Japanese photographers, as well £300,000. clientele, realising prices well above pre-sale estimates.
as contemporary work, and contained many Sold: £228,500. • Post war and contemporary Japanese photography
highlights, including: Right: Lot 35. Hugo from the Provoke movement, showing a very different
• works from the Kurt Kirkbach Collection, assembled Erfurth (1874-1948): side of Japanese culture.
between 1929-32 by the Dresden based industrialist, Marc and Bella Chagall, Other avant-garde European, British and American
noted as possibly the single greatest collection of avant- 1923. works could be seen juxtaposed with the established
garde photography of the modernist Bauhaus period. Estimate £3000-5000. greats - Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New
• 23 gelatine-silver vintage Paris photographs by Sold: £20,900. Mexico, 1941, gelatine silver print; Robert Mapplethorpe,
André Kertéz, printed on small format un-ferrotyped Calla Lilly, 1984, platinum print; Henri Cartier-Bresson,
glossy papers. Reputed to have been rediscovered in On the banks of the Marne, gelatine silver print; and
1963 in an underground trunk, after being gifted to his Eugène Atget, Saint Cloude 1923, arrowroot print.
journalist friend Jacqueline Paouillac in 1936, prior to Sensational oversized prints, representing the current
Kertéz fleeing to New York in advance of the Nazi fascination with glamorous supermodels, were
occupation of France. featured: Richard Avedon’s Nastassja Kinski and the
336 RPS Journal September 2008
RPS Journal September 2008 337
CHRISTIE’S PHOTOGRAPHIC AUCTIONS
Serpent, 14 June 1981; Albert Watson’s Kate Moss, Above: Lot 43, Mario is photographers pushing scale to the limits, wanting
Marrakech, January 1993; Gavin Bond’s Gisele, Giacomelli to make photographs that really have a dramatic
2006, of Gisele Bündchen with smudged eye makeup (1925-2000): presence. Today, there is a core of photographers
holding a cigarette; and Sante d’Orazio’s Pam There Are No Hands to who wish their work above all to be exhibited, and
Anderson, Profile # 1, Hollywood 2000. Caress My Face, scale becomes an important part of that.
With a largely unstable market, pre-sales estimates 1961-63. “Christie’s London sales have a long and well
and sold prices ranged from £2000 to £230,000. The Estimate £4000-6000. established history, as indeed do I, going back to
highest price paid for a single item was for Satiric Sold: £4000. 1971, when I was involved in what I call the very first
Dancer, Paris, 1926, by André Kertéz, which sold to Right: ```Lot 33, auction of the modern market in photographs. For
the Houkk Gallery, New York at £228,500, Imogen Cunningham many years, the auction house served almost as a
compared to a pre-sale estimate of £200,000- (1883-1976): Cabbage, wholesale warehouse for material that was coming
300,000. The lowest sale price realised was for before 1928. onto the market for the first time, and for the most
Slaughterhouse, 1960, by Mario Giacomelli, which Estimate £10,000 - part was going off to American collections. The sales
sold at £1700, against a pre-sales estimate of £3000. 15,000. were big: many were multiple lots, maybe an album,
Overall, the sale achieved just under £1m. Unsold. a group of photographs or a collection.
“Sales across the company this year have pleasantly “Today, the sales have a very different flavour.
exceeded expectations”, says Philippe Garner, There has been a significant shift lately toward post
“because we weren’t sure how financial uncertainties war photography, to a large extent because the great
and turmoil in the markets would impact on the art 19th century material has simply vanished from the
world. But, to a great extent, our clients are at the top marketplace. The auction houses make much more
of the financial pyramid, and it is not people in that effort now to take clients with them, educating them,
category who are really being really pinched in the instructing them, curating sales much more tightly
credit squeeze. There is still considerable liquidity. and, as a result sales, have become more focused.
“The fact that art has generally a very solid record “This sale is a good example of that type of focus,
has actually attracted investments during this difficult because it wasn’t huge in terms of the number of the
period. Having a fabulous work of art on the wall is lots, but it was well structured, having several distinct
more appealing than owning a theoretical slice of a chapters, each being an excellent representation of
nebulous company. the theme of that particular chapter.
“For this sale, we constructed the hang so that the “With estimated prices starting within the £2000-
more intimate scale pieces were grouped together. So 3000 range, and going right up to £200,000-300,000,
much 19th and 20th century photography was on a there are possibilities to enter the market and collect
relatively intimate scale, at about 10x8ins. One of the at many different levels. £2000-3000 might still seem
great changes we have seen over the last 15-20 years a lot of money, and it is possible to collect
338 RPS Journal September 2008
that photographer? Is it a work from a key moment in
his evolution, a high point in his career?
“Seeking to situate the photograph within the body
of that photographer’s work is crucial. Then you have
to turn to specifics, like: is it a beautiful print? Is it in
excellent condition? What is the edition? How rare is
it? How aggressive should I be in paying for it on the
basis of how rare it seems to be?
“An interesting provenance always adds a premium
to a piece, and a very interesting provenance adds a
significant premium. Good provenance, well
documented, to some extent reassures that the piece
is genuine – so provenance does matter and does add
value, but it is a hard thing to quantify.
“If somebody asked me for advice on investing in
photographs, I would say they had come to the wrong
person. If money is the underlying issue, that’s not
the way I like to approach it. On the other hand, if
they came to me and wanted pointers on how to
understand photography better, and learn what
criteria are required in photography, I would be
delighted to talk to them. If somebody needs to know
a bit of the track record of a photographer, I am happy
to help them find it, so they can see the pattern of that
photographer in the market. Have prices been strong?
Have prices grown? Why? If you talk about
investing, it implies that you are asking me to look
into a crystal ball and give comfort for the future. All
I can do is show patterns from the past.
“Digital processes are being refined to a great
extent, enabling printing to a very large format,
which simply was not possible before. Digital is here
- there is no denying it. If we were in denial, we
probably would be still working with daguerreotypes.
Having a fabulous work of art on You have to understand that in order to embrace what
new technologies can do. Digital is a tsunami that
the wall is more appealing than can’t be avoided.
“I am not sure however that digital has made any
owning a theoretical slice of a difference to the way that the medium of
photography is perceived. People who collect
nebulous company contemporary photography, much of which is
dependent upon digital processing, accept it as a
PHILIPPE GARNER powerful and significant expressive medium
photographs for less, although probably not if you go “There was a time when the photographic market was
shopping at the big London auction houses. niche, perceived as an antiquarian or marginal interest.
“For somebody starting out investing in today’s What we have seen is the medium of photography being
market, I would recommend doing as much looking accepted as central within the art marketplace – that
as possible. Go to all the exhibitions and see the doesn’t make every photograph art - but there has been
original prints. Besides that, look at photographs in a much broader acceptance that this is a medium
books and magazines. There is a mental adjustment through which you can be an artist.
you have to undergo: to stop thinking of pictures “When collecting in today’s market, don’t be rushed.
simply as images, and to see them as objects. Spend as much as you can afford. Don’t think of it as
“See how the prints look in front of you; also see an investment. See it as a longer term thing, and think
how different photographers package and present carefully about what area you want to explore. Don’t
their work. Gain as much exposure to the market as be too ambitious or try to emulate great collectors. The
possible. Auctions are good, because if you want to best starting point has to be the question, what really
see pictures out of their frames, that can be arranged. turns me on? What excites me? What do I want to live
“I would never assess a fine art photograph for its with? It must come from the gut or heart – rather than
investment potential. I would assess it for its intrinsic CHRISTIE’S NEXT a dryer or more analytical approach from the head. It
merit, and if I had to I would assess it for its worth, but PHOTOGRAPHIC has to be an emotional thing.
not in a financial sense. I would be asking myself, does SALES “Obviously, if you are spending large sums you have
it excite me? Is this a photographer who, when looking 19 Nov, King Street, to understand what you are doing. Know the market,
at the broad spectrum of his work, clearly has a strong 14.30. and situate the work of the photographer within that, but
point of view? Is there a consistently powerful content 26 Nov, South the greatest collections have been put together where
in this photographer’s work? Is this particular image a Kensington, 14.00 passion is the driving force. The benefits of multiplying
good representative example that captures the best of www.christies.com in value come later.” Phillipa Wielgos
RPS Journal September 2008 339