Phillips London has applied a successful strategy for its photography auctions over the last few years, including sections called "Ultimate". Offering the only available works on the market, or, by creating unique works, that is editions of one, in collaboration with photographers. Some observers have sniffed at this method of superficially creating scarcity, but it has worked extremely well for the house. It worked this year as well, and no doubt drew attention to its other offerings, resulting in action records for Richard Mosse, Kourtney Roy and Don McCullin. All lots below include the buyer's premium of 25%, and the pound was about $1.28 at the time.
The top three lots here were: lot 40, Man Ray's "La Prière" (Prayer), 1930, estimated at £50,000-70,000, which sold for £100,00; lot 21, Thomas Ruff's "16h 28m/-60", 1992, estimated at £50,000-70,000, sold for £56,250; and lot 37, an absolutely stunning self-portrait by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1912-1914, estimated at £30,000-50,000, sold for £50,000. And was one of the best things I saw during the week.
The auction started off with "Ultimate Editorial", 10 works highlighting the relationship between photographer and model, each work unique. Lot 1, Txema Yeste's "Bird of Paradise", a fashion portrait with a peacock feather, sold for £6,500. This was followed by "Untitled", a model in a feather dress by Julia Hetta, that sold for £6,875. Lot 3, Emma Summerton's "Kloss & Quinn, with a model completely covered in fabric, found a buyer at £10,625.
The highest price here was £37,500 for lot 10, Steven Meisel's "Naomi Campbell".
Next up were two works from Richard Mosse's "Infra Series, lot 11 "Nowhere to Run", selling for £37,500, an auction record for the artist, followed by "Another Green World", going for £12,500.
Lot 16, Doug & Mike Starn's "Structure of Thought No.1" MIS and Lysonic inkjet prints on Thai mulberry, gampi and tissue papers with wax, encaustic and varnish, received a lot of attention during the preview. Estimated at £20,000-30,000, it ended up selling for £48,750.
Some of the big sellers of 10 years ago are not always guaranteed to fly these days. Lot 17, Gregory Crewdson's "Overturned Bus" sold for £32,500, but his "Natural Bridge" went unsold. Lots 25 and 26, works by Philip-Lorca DiCorcia failed to find buyers. As was the case with lot 30, a camera obscura image by Abelardo Morell.
Lot 35, Hans Bellmer's "La Poupée (with Carpet Beater)", which was a small, colored print from Bellmer's book, was not the strongest from the series and sold for £8,125. It was followed by the aforementioned self-portrait by Witkiewicz. Then came a 1946 Man Ray "Rayograph", a little bit too cluttered for my taste, and a later one. Estimated at £30,000-50,000, it went for £37,500. Lot 41, "Seduzir", a striking image by Helena Almeida, a woman in a black dress, cropped by the shoulders, a unique print, went for £47,500. Lot 42, a windswept seashore scene by Ishiuichi Miyako from "Yososuka Story", sold for £27,500. Steven Meisel made another appearance, of sorts that is, Anne Collier's "Folded Madonna Poster", image by Meisel. Estimated at £20,000-30,000 it ended up selling for £41,250.
I had seen Lot 55 before, Choi Youngdon's "A day", 4 rows of 9 rows of antique globes, indicating the planet's movements, a simple but effective idea, and it found a buyer at £11,875.
"Ah, good old black and white!" somebody next to me commented during the preview. The good old started with lots 59 - 66, with images by Josef Koudelka, but they didn't fare so well and only three of them sold. Henri Cartier-Bresson fared better, starting with lot 67, "Rue Mouffetard" sold for £18,750. Lot 70, "Hyères, France", went for £12,500. "Gestapo informant recognized by a woman she had denounced, Transit Camp, Dessau, Germany", went for £8,750.
Lot 78, was a 1960's print of Andreas Feininger's 1955 "The Photojournalist (Dennis Stock)". It's not a rare image but reached a final price of £20,000 against an estimate of £8,000-12,000. Lot 81, "Che Guevara, Havana, Cuba", printed 2004, went for £6,250 and Martine Franck's "Henri Cartier-Bresson drawing a self-portrait in his studio" reached £5,250.
Lots 85-87 were three works by Stephen Shore, this year's "Photo London Master of Photography", all sold, for £7,500, £7,500 and £8,750 repectively.
Lot 88, Robert Mapplethorpe's "Hyacinth", one his better flower studies, went for £25,000. It was followed by his "Lisa Marie/Breasts", reaching £22,500.
Lot 92, Jean Michel Basquiat, a photo booth strip, self-portrait with Paige Powell, had real presence and went for £30,000 against an estimate of £8,000-12,000.
The Irving Penn prints didn't work at all this time. None of them sold, including a nude, cigarette stubs, still life with skull and pitcher, still life with shoes, and "The Angel".
Richard Avedon fared better, Lot 97, a 1978 print of his 1949 "Dorian Leigh, Evening Dress by Piguet, Helena Rubinstein Apartment, Paris, August", sold for £27,500. It was followed by his "Sunny Harnett and Alla, Evening dresses by Balmain, Casino, Le Touquet, August", 1954, printed later, which also sold for £27,500.
Lots 119-126 were Polaroids by Helmut Newton. The highest achieved by these was £4,375 for "Pair in Bathing Suits", but five went unsold, which surprised me as I thought they were pretty strong.
There were more Polaroids. Lot 127, by Carlo Mollino reached £6,875. Lot 128, "36 polaroids" by Araki went for £17,500.
Next up were four lots of smaller size works by Peter Beard, "Iman at Hoggers, Kenya" sold for £13,750, "Buffalo Springs, Kenya, June" for £15,625, "Untitled" for £12,500 and "Maureen and a late-night feeder, 2:00am, Hog Ranch" for £17,500.
Lot 140, Don McCullin's "Shell-shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue", a later print of his famous 1968 image was estimated at £7,000-9,000 and finally reached £25,000, a new auction record for McCullin. It was followed by his "Gangs of Boys Escaping C.S. Gas Fired by British Soldiers, Londonderry, Northern Ireland", selling for £5,000 and " The Battlefields of the Somme, France, selling for £9,375.
Lots 143-153 were printed later prints of Bill Brandt images, starting with "Nude with Elbow". Up until 20 years ago, this image would appear in pretty much every London auction season. Then it became scarce. And they have begun to appear again with regularity. This was a decent but not spectacular print of it, and it went for £8,125. Lot 144, "Nude, East Sussex Coast" sold for £6,875; and lot 145, "Francis Bacon walking on Primrose Hill", sold for £12,500. The rest of these sold for between £2,250 and £3,500.
The Brandt images were followed by printed-later versions of images by Bruce Davidson, Eve Arnold, Elliott Erwitt and René Burri. And the final lot, number 163, was a group of five images by Indian photographer Raghubir Singh, offered with no reserve, sold for £10,000 against an estimate of £5,000-7,000.
Michael Diemar is a London-based collector and consultant. He is also editor-in-chief of The Classic, a new free magazine about classic photography. He is a long-time writer about the photography scene, writing extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for the E-Photo Newsletter and I Photo Central.