From the 1930s through the 1950s, black-and-white art photography was on the cutting edge when it came technology but a stubborn holdout when it came to color. For photographers of this era, limiting one’s palette to black, white, and countless shades of gray forced them to concentrate on pictorial composition and the emotional aspects of their subjects, whether they were capturing lovers in a cafe or two flowers in oddly scandalous proximity to each other.

An upcoming auction of Postwar and Contemporary Art at Rago Arts, May 5, 2018, includes a number of important photographs from these decades that illustrate—if that’s even the proper word in this context—how 20th-century photographers tackled both.

Born in Oregon and raised in Washington, Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) was a practitioner of precision and serendipity in her photographs. One of her most famous images, “Two Callas,” probably photographed in her garden while her small children were napping, combines formal composition (light rising to dark, paired both vertically and horizontally) with sly surprise (the shapes of the flowers suggest human anatomy). This 13” x 10” gelatin silver print was produced in 1988 after the artist’s death and bears the artist’s stamp.

Born in Hungary and tutored by countryman and fellow photographer André Kertész, Gyula Halász (1899-1984) made a name for himself in Paris, where he was known by the pseudonym Brassaï. In Paris, Brassaï took numerous photographs after the sun had gone down, including this shot of a couple in a cafe, circa 1932. Brassaï’s after-hours work became the subject of his first book, “Paris by Night,” 1933, which included an essay by his friend, the American novelist Henry Miller.

In contrast with Brassaï, Paris native Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) turned his camera on his city by the light of day, at least in this image, taken in 1950 and printed later. During these postwar years, Doisneau took photographs for U.S. magazines such as “Life” and “Vogue,” and at the invitation of Henri Cartier-Bresson, he became a member of the highly influential, photographer-run agency, Magnum Photos.

In American photography circles, the Weston name is akin to Kennedy and Bush in politics. The patriarch of the clan was Edward Weston (1886-1958), whose sons Brett and Cole were respected photographers in their own right. They also helped their father print his work as his health declined in the last decade of his life. For example, this print of “Pepper #30,” which was taken during his father’s years in Carmel, California, probably in 1930, was made by Cole Weston in an edition of 50.

Finally, the Rago auction on May 5 includes a print of one of the most famous and sought photographs by Ansel Adams (1902-1984), who captured this moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico, late one fall afternoon in 1941. During his lifetime, Adams printed more than 1,300 copies of this image, from the 1940s to the 1970s. In 2006, a 16” x 20” print from 1948 famously sold for just over $600,000, while another at the same size printed in 1973 brought $50,000 in 2012. This 8’ x 10” copy was printed circa 1950.

Happy bidding!

Check out Rago Arts' entire catalog available at Barnebys here!

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