The inaugural Photo London at Somerset House this past May saw photo collectors and enthusiasts alike descend on London for the week, and the London auction houses unsurprisingly planned their photography sales accordingly.
Despite positive feedback from many of the dealers at Photo London, especially those selling contemporary, the auctions that were scheduled around the fair did not seem to bring in any more business than usual. Phillips and Sotheby's held various owner sales, while Christie's showcased pictures selected by James Danziger, who was also exhibiting with his gallery at Somerset House.
Philippe Garner, International Head of Photographs at Christie's, thought the decision to utilise Danziger's unique eye helped set their sale apart.
'What I felt was attractive about our sale in the mix of what was happening in London was that it was selected by James Danziger, former picture editor of the Sunday Times, who has a terrific magazine editor's eye,' Garner said. 'It was also tailored to accessible price ranges and tailored to a new, younger audience, and we had a lot of activity from new buyers.'
The sale pulled in just over 577,000 GBP (including buyer's premium), and did have quite the range of work on offer, although much of it was printed later, rather than vintage. Case in point: the biggest surprise of the sale was an iconic August Sander print of Three Young Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, printed by Sander's son Gunther, that made £104,500 GBP--over ten times its high estimate (8,000-10,000 GBP). The pound sterling was about $1.57 during these sales.
Other notable sold lots were a Gustave Le Gray 'Brig on the Water', which made 50,000 GBP, and a Chris Levine Lightness of Being Portrait of the Queen, which fetched 35,000 GBP.
"We did very well,' Garner said. "I was very pleased because (Sotheby's and Phillips) decided to have their spring various owner sales here in London to coincide,' Garner said. 'We are keeping our Spring various owner sale in Paris, but we wanted to do something at the time of Photo London. Having a single owner collection was a way of doing something slightly different."
Across Mayfair in Berkeley Square, Phillips went beyond plan old sale prep, and in the spirit of the Photo London public program, held an 'In Conversation' session with Pieter Hugo and photography department head Lou Proud. The cover lot, the last AP (2/2) of his Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara, Nigeria from the Hyena and Other Men series, sold for 43,750 GBP, just above the high estimate.
The rest of the sale was usual Phillips fare, comprised primarily of fashion portraits of both unbelievably attractive and forlorn women, big colorful contemporary pieces, and safari suites by Nick Brandt and Peter Beard. With a buy-in rate of only 22%, and a sale total of 1,736,500 GBP, Phillips fared best out of the three houses during Photo London week, despite its top lot, a vintage Diane Arbus of Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ, 1967, (est. 250,000-350,000 GBP) going unsold.
The top sold lot garnered an auction record for Herb Ritts, with his Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage, 1990, selling at 158,500 GBP. Other high earners included Florian Maier-Aichen's Untitled (Saddle Peak), 2004, at 110,500 GBP, Boy and Girl, 2008 by Ruud van Empel fetching 80,500 GBP, and Gilbert and George's White Hands, 2008 at 68,500 GBP.
Sotheby's had an impressive spread of pictures in their 138-lot sale, but with a buy-in rate of just under 45%, brought in 1,667,875 GBP. Coming after the Christie's and Phillips sales, which had been held in the days before, the biggest seller was a Laszlo Moholy-Nagy which made 125,000 GBP. Peter Beard was also a play, with his Loliondo Lion Charge, 1964, grabbing £112,500 GBP, and Baboons, Impalas, and Elephants Under Kilimanjaro, 1984 making 56,250 GBP.
With a section of the sale devoted to fashion and glamour, an Irving Penn's Chanel Feather Headdress (B), New York, 1994, sold for more than double its high estimate at 68,750 GBP, and an attractive Man Ray of Lee Miller, c.1930, sold within its estimate at 62,500 GBP.
Many attractive lots made just under their low estimates. Two of the Hiroshi Sugimiotos made just under their lows, bringing in 21,250 GBP respectively; a set of six vintage Bernd and Hilla Becher prints on their original mount, Aufbreitungsanlange fur Kohle, c.1966-1971, sold for 18,750 GBP (est. 20,000-30,000 GBP).