10 Game-Changing Photographers at Auction This Month

Major New York auction houses are hosting photography auctions in April, featuring some of the most important photographers in history. Showcasing artistic innovators and agitators for social change, these auctions offer an amazing range of masterful photography, demonstrating 100 years of photographic innovation, including mind-bending Surrealism, jaw-dropping landscapes and arresting portraits.

May Ray, Nusch Eluard and Mask, 1935
Courtesy Bonhams

American avant-garde artist Man Ray (1890-1976) spent most of his career in Paris. Inextricably linked to Surrealism and Dadaism, Man Ray was famous for his dream-like photography and had an indelible impact on the art world. Nusch Eluard and Mask offers the phantasmagorical juxtaposition of a smiling woman’s face and a grape-vine adorned smiling mask.

May Ray
Nusch Eluard and Mask, 1935
Estimate: $8,000 - 12,000
Bonhams Photographs, April 5

Annie Leibovitz, Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California, 1984
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Renown American portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz was the first woman to hold an exhibition at Washington's National Portrait Gallery in 1991. Known for her arrestingly intimate portraits of celebrities, musicians, artists and royals, Leibovitz’s work has often made the cover of Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. Her portrait of Whoopi Goldberg captures the comedian’s irreverent joy.

Annie Leibovitz
Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California, 1984, printed in 2010
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Sotheby's Photographs, April 5

Edward Steichen, Greta Garbo, Hollywood, 1928
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) would shaped the trajectory of modern photography through his work behind the lens and as curator. Steichen photographed celebrities, fashionistas, artists and intellectuals, and was the first modern fashion photographer. From 1923 to 1938, his compelling compositions made him the highest paid photographer in the world. In 1945, he directed the U.S. Naval Photographic Institute, later becoming director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art.

Edward Steichen
Greta Garbo, Hollywood, 1928
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Christie’s Daydreaming: Photographs from the Goldstein Collection, April 

Edward Weston, Shells 6S, 1927
Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd

American Edward Weston (1886–1958) is considered one of the masters of 20th-century photography. In 1937, he was the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. Over his 40 year career, Weston brilliantly captured a wide range of subjects, from landscapes and still lives to nudes and portraits. Shells 6S (1927) is an impressive example of his modernistic still lives.

Edward Weston
Shells 6S, 1927
Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000
Christie’s The Face of the Century: Photographs from a Private Collection, April 2

Tina Modotti Roses, Mexico, 1925
Courtesy Phillips

Tina Modotti (1896–1942), an Italian photographer, model, actress, and revolutionary political activist, moved to the US in 1913. Following in the footsteps of her lover and mentor, Edward Weston, the two moved to Mexico in 1922, where they explored modernism, the photographic still-life and political activism through photography.

Tina Modotti
Roses, Mexico, 1925
Estimate: $300,000 - 500,000
Phillips Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection, April 4

Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936
Courtesy Phillips

American photographer and photojournalist Dorothea Lange’s (1895–1965) iconic image of a migrant mother humanized the suffering of the Dust Bowl. Her visually striking, socially conscious photography forced Americans to face uncomfortable truths. Famous for her Depression-era photography, Lange was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2003.

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936
Estimate: $80,000 - 100,000
Phillips Photographs, April 4

Margaret Bourke-White, Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, N. Y. C., ​​​​​​ circa 1930
Courtesy Sotheby's

Documentary photographer Margaret Bourke-White was the first American female war photojournalist. Her iconic images have become welded in the popular imagination to historically significant times and places.

Margaret Bourke-White
Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, N. Y. C., ​​​​​​circa 1930
Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000
Sotheby’s Photographs, April 5

Consuelo Kanaga Profile of a Young Girl from the Tennessee series, 1948
Courtesy Phillips

Born into a family that valued social justice, Consuelo Kanaga (1894-1978) was an early proponent for civil rights. An exceptional photographer, she was one of the first white American portraitists to honor and celebrate African Americans.

Consuelo Kanaga
Profile of a Young Girl from the Tennessee series, 1948
Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000
Phillips Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection, April 4

Francesca Woodman Providence, Rhode Island, 1948
Courtesy Bonhams

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created intimate black and white tableaux primarily using medium format cameras and her unique vision. Providence, Rhode Island strikingly juxtaposes a woman’s bare back with the exposed brick on an old, peeling wall, drawing parallels between the strength and vulnerability of each.

Francesca Woodman
Providence, Rhode Island, 1948
Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000
Bonhams Photographs, April 5

Carrie Mae Weems High Yella Girl, from Colored People, 1988-1989
Courtesy Phillips

The award-winning conceptual photography of American multi-media artist Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953) explores issues of racism, sexism and personal identity. High Yella Girl, with its yellow tinted print and mugshot style profile, examines colorism and prejudiced expectations.

Carrie Mae Weems
High Yella Girl, from Colored People, 1988-1989
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000
Phillips Photographs, April 4

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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