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Current News             Issue Archive             Article Archive E-Photo Newsletter   Issue 145   7/1/2008

Auction Houses Raise Buyer's Premiums Yet Again, as 20% Mark Now Goes to $1 Million

The auction giants Christie's and Sotheby's have once again quietly raised their commissions to buyers. It is now 25 percent on the first $50,000 and 20% on the next $1 million. The 12% rate now only kicks in above that mark. It had previously been 12% above the $500,000 mark. Other auction houses have not followed suit yet. It is always interesting to me how both of these two houses always seem to raise their rates identically at the same time, especially in view of their past history of rate fixing. It is also odd that I am bombarded by press releases about other news from these houses, but I had to dig up this major news of a rate change by searching through their websites under "buyer's premiums".

Buy-ins (unsold lots) have been increasing steadily at these houses as bidders finally are factoring in these much higher premiums with their bidding. Consignors must also face up to the fact that these higher percentages will also clearly effect the final bids that they receive on the hammer price of their items as the houses take an ever bigger cut of the pie. It now usually makes more financial sense to place work directly with dealers, even at 20-30% commission rates. At the least other houses are now at a 5-12% price point advantage where Christie's and Sotheby's must outperform those houses by at least that much for a consignor to break even.

Bloomsbury Auctions Launches NYC Photography Department

Bloomsbury Auctions have launched a new Photographs Department in New York with the appointment of John Cowey as the head of the department and Hannah Hayden as junior specialist. The department is being guided by the auction expert and photography specialist Rick Wester of Rick Wester Fine Art, Inc., who will act as international consultant.

Bloomsbury Auctions opened their New York saleroom just eight months ago at 6 West 48th St. near Rockefeller Plaza, and it has already announced significant plans for expansion with the development of new departments in modern and contemporary prints and photography.

John Cowey is a well-respected and experienced expert in the field of fine art photography and has worked within the photographic art market for the past 15 years. Most recently, Cowey worked as gallery manager at New York City's Edwynn Houk Gallery. His partner at Bloomsbury Auctions, Hannah Hayden, comes from Phillips de Pury & Co., where she managed client development for contemporary art and photographs, in addition to working with catalogues, research and promotion.

Wester brings almost 30 years of knowledge and experience in the selling, exhibiting, promoting and appraising of photographs in both the private and public sectors to his new role at Bloomsbury Auctions. His experience includes nine years as the International Director of Photographs at Christie's, Inc. Most recently Wester was the first Worldwide Head of Photographs at Phillips de Pury & Co., and since September 2007 he has been the president and director of his own art services company, Rick Wester Fine Art, Inc. Wester will assist the firm by developing the Bloomsbury photographs departments in New York, London, and Rome.

Bloomsbury Auctions will host its inaugural photography sale in New York on October 16-17, 2008. John Cowey and Hannah Hayden are available for valuations and welcome inquiries concerning consignments and sales. The department's phone is +1-212-719-1000, or you can email the department at: photographs@bloomsburyauctions.com .

Cornell Capa, Photographer and Founding Director of NYC's International Center of Photography, Passes Away

Cornell Capa was often overshadowed by his famous brother Robert, but by all rights this towering figure in photography made vastly more important contributions to the field. Capa passed away May 23rd. If his only accomplishment had been the launch of the highly influential International Center of Photography in New York City in 1974, he would be revered in the photo world, but he did so much more for photography. Himself a talented LIFE magazine staff photographer and former president of Magnum (which his brother helped to found), Capa coined the term "concerned photographer" and created the International Fund for Concerned Photography to keep alive the work of important photojournalists.

Cornell Capa photographed missionaries and poverty in Latin America and covered politics throughout the U.S., including his classic studies of Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy.

My one meeting with Cornell was when I went to bring him some photographs of his brother's as a donation and to ask him if he could sign a couple of his own photographs, including one of his great images of Kennedy, that I had picked up at my local flea market. After grilling me on where I got them and then reluctantly signing both, he gruffly told me that I couldn't use the copyright on the Kennedy one, but I could do what I wanted with the lesser of the images. I came away from our session with an impression of a man that clearly safeguarded his brother's legacy and who would find a way to get the job done no matter what. It took such a man to launch the ICP from nothingness.

Capa, of course, also photographed the lyricism of the Bolshoi Ballet, and the quirkiness of American and British life; and his documentation of old age in America showed us that photographic images have the power to change the way we look at the world.

But, of course, he will be remembered for the International Center of Photography. He had not only launched this ambitious project, but, by the time of his retirement in 1994, ICP had shown over 425 exhibitions in New York and abroad, had hosted photographers from around the world in lectures, workshops and symposia; established two successive satellite branches, in midtown Manhattan and one in the Wall Street area, retired the long standing deficit from ICP's under-capitalized start, and inaugurated a world famous Annual Awards event, "The Infinity Awards" (now in its 21st year), to recognize outstanding achievements in photography internationally. On his retirement, he was named Founding Director Emeritus, and the most prestigious Infinity Award was named in his honor.

Capa's burial was private, but a memorial service will be held on September 10th at 10 a.m. at the Times Center at 242 West 41st St. in Manhattan. Contributions in memory of Cornell Capa may be made to the Cornell Capa Legacy Project/International Center of Photography, 114 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036; or by calling Chuck Ferrero at 1-212-857-0036.

Sotheby's Tries to Raise $300 Million to Retire Shorter Term Debt and Repurchase York Ave. Headquarters

Sotheby's is offering qualified institutional buyers $150 million of senior unsecured convertible notes due 2013 and $150 million of senior unsecured notes due 2015.

What is the firm going to use the money for? Sotheby's says it expects to use the proceeds from these offerings to finance the reacquisition of its York Avenue headquarters and to redeem its $100 million of existing 6.875% notes due 2009, putting itself in an additional $200 million in debt to do it.

In February 2003, the company sold its 1334 York Avenue property to RFR Holding, LLC and entered into an agreement to lease it back from the buyer for an initial 20-year term, with options to extend the lease for two additional 10-year terms. Later, rumors had the company buying a building nearer its rival Christie's at Rockefeller Center.

Sotheby's said it expects to grant the initial purchasers of the convertible notes an option to purchase up to an additional $22.5 million of convertible notes to cover any overallotments. That's nice of them.

Over 200 New Photos Added to I Photo Central; as Special Exhibits Are Also Updated With New Images

Over the last month over 200 new photographs and photo books have been added to the I Photo Central website, including many classics. Plus, numerous Special Exhibits have also been updated with new images added. To see everything that has been added, click here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/search/result_list.php/16/30/0 .

To check out the Special Exhibits simply click here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase.php . There are not only photographs for sale, but also in-depth essays that accompany each Photo Exhibit.

Charles Schwartz Ltd. has added a number of top between-the-wars Japanese modernist images to the website, including photographs by Yoshiro Hirogane, Koichi Sato, Toda and Sendai Shashin Kai. Plus the firm has added a great 1910c Jesse Tarbox Beals image of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Contemporary Works/Vintage Works has also added well over 170 new images to its inventory on the site. New contemporary images from its represented artists have been added for Stanko Abadzic, Mitch Dobrowner, Claudia Kunin and Arthur Tress. Other contemporary artists whose work was added to inventory include: Robert Mapplethorpe (a large Portrait of Actress Isabella Rossellini with Hands), Olivia Parker (still lifes from her "Lost Objects" portfolio), Christian Vogt (his 12 Nudes portfolio), Kenneth Josephson (three vintage prints), Helmut Newton (Berlin Nude), Ralph Gibson (five vintage prints) and Barbara Kasten (one of her color Polaroid studies).

The important 19th-century images include:

--Two new Felix Teynard salt prints, including the only know ethnographic image made by Teynard (Helmsman and Sailor, Amada, Egypt) and the graphic (Construction Ensablée--Architrave, Fûts et Châpitaux, Egypte).

--A fine group of early 1860s Felice Beato Japanese images, including Sumo Wrestlers and Umpire, Party in Japan (with Concubine), Playing Go and Japanese Garden.

-- Henry Peach Robinson's beautiful "The Stream in Summer" made in a sepia-toned platinotype print by his son just after his death in 1901.

-- Edouard Baldus's large Bibliotheque Imperiale du Louvre, Paris with Horse Cart.

--Several new Charles Negre images, including a waxed paper negative and matching heliogravure of Chartres Cathedral in 1851, and one of his 1859 statues in the Tuileries.

-- Fr. Alphonse Fortier's 1851 salt print of L'Hotel de Ville et le Pont d'Arcole.

--Another important 1854 albumenized salt print by Alphonse De Launay of Seville, Spain.

--An 1853 paper negative by the Varin Brothers of shipbuilding in Rochelle, France.

--A rare Blanquart-Evrard salt print from paper negative by Charles Marville of Trees.

-- Amboise Pierre Richebourg's magnificent albumen print of the bedroom chamber in the palace of the Russian Czar Alexander I.

--The British Executive Engineer's Office 1892 documentation in 24 cyanotypes of views of Mudgorge and the Earth Slippage Effect on the Rail Line to Quetta.

The important vintage 20th-century photographs include:

--Several 1940s vintage prints by Aaron Siskind.

--An early (circa 1958-65) print of the rare Shanghai by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

--A wonderfully quirky and unique vintage print of "Sheep Washing in Wales" that seems to defy gravity by Grace Robinson.

--A rare, possibly unique pigment print by Josef Sudek of a still life with paper and brown bread.

--Raoul Ubac's surrealist image "Tête du Mannequin d’Andre Masson".

--Two nude studies by Albert Rudomine or his friend and associate H. Payelle.

-- Edouard Boubat's "Ceriser en Fleurs, Paris" (Cherry Tree in Blossom, Paris).

-- Charles Harbutt's spooky 1970s "Window, Kalamazoo, MI".

--A number of good Gianni Berengo Gardin images.

-- A Kalidescope Distortion of Horse and Rider by Weegee.

--An experimental image of Peacock Feathers and Figure by Vilem Kriz.

--A stunning ½-plate autochrome of a still life of colored peonies.

-- Kyoichi Sawada's Tan Binh, South Vietnam, which was named World Press Photo of the Year in 1966.

--A pair of good Laure Albin-Guillot photographs of landscapes and one portrait.

Of course, there are still many more that have been recently added. There are now well over 2,000 different photographers represented on the site.

Editorial: Orphan Work and Copyright Laws

By Alex Novak

The patchwork quilt of ill-thought-out copyright laws has made it a nightmare and a virtual impossibility to create any kind of inclusive new history of photography or art without the threat of a massive lawsuit, which has occasionally been used in a fashion akin to blackmail.

While I have great sympathy for artists' concerns over loss of copyright, I do not see how those concerns could not be met under the new proposals before the U.S. Congress. To leave copyright law as is would not address the serious concerns of publishers, institutions, curators, author/editors and scholars. It would do a disservice to continuing research and scholarship.

Contrary to Frank Stella's editorial on the subject in the Art Newspaper and other comments on the web, any major living artist, including Stella, would still have to approve any such work. To not do so would be a clear violation of the law. Any publisher/author that did recognize the need to contact a name that one could simply "Google" online and didn't follow through would be punished severely under the proposed law. What the law would do would be to prevent some third-cousin who now is the "repository" of a more obscure artist's estate from suing publishers and author/editors who used an image after trying repeatedly to find out who owned copyright and failing.

As the publisher of an email newsletter and a major website on photography collecting, I received dozens of emails each month from editors, curators and publishers asking who controls the copyright of an artist. I think one rather simple solution is a basic database that is run by the U.S. Copyright Office that lists artists by name, media and who is the current holder of their copyrights and how to contact these copyright holders. This would not require massive amounts of funding and could even recoup the little funding necessary by minor charges for access to such a database, which could then be used as a defense in any copyright cases. The rather light burden of listing with such a national (or even international) database should fall on the copyright holder, as it used to. If the work is not identified any where by artist, then it should rightly fall into the public domain. But the new law doesn't even say that. It merely says that the artist would be entitled "only" to their normal charges for its use, if due-diligence was used by the publisher. In other words, the publisher isn't off the hook, just that they could not be held up for blackmail.

Let's work together to deal with ALL the real issues here on both sides. Copyright law is not some windfall way for artists to win the lottery by suing publishers when those publishers have made an honest attempt at finding the copyright holder and failed. At the same time, I think the law should be clear as to what specific actions a publisher should take to ascertain who the copyright holder is in order to receive its protection. Publishers should not be allowed to simply ignore copyright.

There are easy solutions to these problems if the participants are truly trying to resolve them.

Philip Perkis: Sadness of Men

By Matt Damsker

THE SADNESS OF MEN: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PHILIP PERKIS.

2008, Quantuck Lane Press, distributed by W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY. 280 pages; 125 duotone photographs. $45 clothbound; ISBN No. 978-1-59372-034-6. Publisher website: http://www.quantucklanepress.com .

Although Philip Perkis has not enjoyed the sort of showy career of many of his contemporaries, his 50 years of photography have made their mark. As professor emeritus at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, he continues to influence generations of artists, and this first published collection of his work--keyed to a recent major retrospective exhibit at the Alan Klotz Gallery in New York--is not only a rich testament to his distinctive eye but also carries more than a whiff of immortality.

Perkis is a master of telling detail and broad, cinematic sweep, while his gentle tonalities and unfussy technique remind us that photography need not be sharp-edged or intensely worked in order to convey a powerful sense of place and a complex vision. Max Kozloff, in his eloquent introduction to this volume, notes that "Perkis is interested in barriers, walls, barbed wire, broken structures, and plastic sheeting: all these suggest a wish to see something on their other side…As one follows him, he introduces a world of moods, some of them unsettling, most of them visualized without drama." Indeed, following Perkis through five decades of work is to move from the urban maze and fragmentations of New York City, the heat and dust of Mexico, the spiritual acreage and specific stones of the Holy Land, and many spots in between.

As the detached observer with a Leica, Perkis doesn't provoke our sympathy or insist on our complicity when, for example, he captures decisive moments such as a steer about to be death-stunned by a gun wielded by an anonymous arm in a nameless abattoir. The soft grays and angular geometry of the photo are the matrix of life and death in which the animal--an organic reality, all snout and skull, hoof and hide--is a dumb player, and we can feel the sense of occasion here, just as we can feel the weight of the moment in which a matador is handed the killing sword in another Perkis image.

These, and the less populated photos of landscapes or drab human spaces, underscore the smart irony of the title, "The Sadness of Men," for Perkis is expressing not so much the desolations of life as the daily burden of living--working, moving and seeing--and the implicit finitude of even the most unspoiled vista. As Kozloff suggests, the emphasis on looking through barriers promotes the notion that the unseen is most worth seeing, the sealed-off most worth rescuing, especially when faced with the spiritual implications of, say, Jerusalem's western wall. And where cats or sheep are photographed within rectangles of pure sunlight, we have a sharp sense of the holy as it scatters through the everyday.

Which is not to say that Perkis transcends cliché or trite formulation at every turn. An image of a modern mother cradling her newborn is an artful Madonna and Child, but also an obvious one, as the mother's blissfully transported expression lands us in suffocatingly sentimental territory. And in the minimalist vein, Perkis's seemingly random captures don't always work: a shot of balloons on a ceiling evokes William Eggleston, but in its gray-on-gray flatness it serves only to remind us that Eggleston's insistence on the subtle color of the quotidian is what propels his photos beyond the quotidian.

Nonetheless--and perhaps because of such flaws, for they help to denote the reach which exceeds the great grasp of Perkis's artistry--"The Sadness of Men" is a major codification of a life in photography and a towering photography book. The desultory charm of Perkis's style--warm in tone, taking on the world with a grainy 400 ASA modesty that draws us in, whisperingly, rather than gunning for in-your-face effect--sets him nicely apart from the masters with which it is too easy to compare him, from Atget to Walker Evans or Robert Frank. Quietly, with a wistful, world-weary shrug, Philip Perkis has earned his place in the pantheon.


Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005.

He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)