The Christie's auction kicked off with a series of works by Araki. Lot 1, an untitled color abstract from "Summer Diary", sold for £8,125 against an estimate of £1,500-2,500. Lot 2, "Untitled", From Colorscapes", woman eating watermelon, brought in £40,000 while "Untitled" from "Sensual Flowers" climbed to £14,375 against an estimate of £1,500-2,500.
The lots that followed found no takers, "Daido Moriyama's "Memory of a Dog", an intricate collage of fashion images by Harry Callahan and then two Erwin Blumenfeld prints. I particularly liked the solarised portrait of Suzy Parker, more so than the nude waving behind perforated screen, but the estimates of £20,000-30,000 and £15,000-20,000 were probably a bit too high.
Lot 10, a pre-1960s print of the famous 1953 portrait Marella Agnelli by Richard Avedon fetched £12,500, well below the estimate of £20,000-30,000. Cecil Beaton, long undervalued in the UK, is increasingly getting some attention. Lot 11, a 1930 portrait of Georgia Sitwell, on the original mount and signed in red, sold for £3,500. Lot 16, the famous 1958 portrait of Beaton by Irving Penn, a platinum-palladium print from 1980, went for £16,250. Next up was "Woman with Roses", (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, 1950). This was a silver print, printed before 1974 and it brought £35,000.
Lot 20 and 21 were two posthumous prints by Guy Bourdin. I have never been keen on the posthumous prints, but I have to concede that without them chances are Bourdin's reputation would have fallen by the wayside. He famously refused to exhibit or sell his fashion images, so the vintage prints rarely enter the market. The first one, taken for a campaign for Charles Jourdan in 1978, brought £20,000. The second one, taken in 1972 for French Vogue, a model lying on a bed with an elaborate arrangement of mirror showing off sections of her body, climbed to £50,000 against an estimate of £12,000-18,000.
David LaChapelle's elaborately staged commercial images have done well in the London auctions in the past, but lot 22 was a more sombre work, a marble stature of two figures in the flooded blue interior of a museum inspired by "The Deluge", Michelangelo's depiction of the biblical flood. It was estimated at £50,000-70,000 but went unsold.
Images of David Bowie have become more desirable since the artist's death. I had expected lot 24 to go higher, a Brian Duffy contact sheet from the "Aladdin Sane" cover session, which sold for £11,875.
There were three portraits of Miles Davis in the auction: lot 30, by Annie Leibovitz, with Davis lying on a bed, arms folded over his face, one eye looking out at the photographer, sold for £4,375; while the Irving Penn portrait of Davis, eyes closed, with hands clutching his face went for £32,500. Then came Penn's gorgeous "The Hand of Miles Davis", one finger bent as if playing a trumpet. Estimated at £70,000-90,000, it went for £161,000.
Lot 31 was a 1981 portrait of Iggy Pop by Robert Mapplethorpe. This was a portrait that to my mind transcended its subject, tapping into an existential desperation, and it sold for £11,250. A 1988 Calla Lily by Mapplethorpe, one of the good ones, fetched £56,250. Then came "Antinuous", a classical statue surrounded by patterned fabric. It sold for £22,500. This was an example of late-period Mapplethorpe, when he achieved a new level of perfection. But it wasn't all his own work. The lighting was done by his younger brother Edward, who told me some ten years ago, "Robert wasn't very technical. I had studied photography and had also done a stint at Playboy magazine where I used anything up to 24 lights to light a model. So I had the skills to help Robert achieve the perfection he wanted."
There was a strong selection of Helmut Newton works here. Lot 41 was the most intriguing one, the photographer's personal artist proof set 'A', of "Private Property Suites I, II & III", with 45 signed prints, each suite in a blue card box. It was estimated at £200,000-300,000. It drew a lot of attention at the preview and sold for £221,000. I have always liked Newton's "Shoe, Monte Carlo", taken in 1983, and it sold here for £10,625. But the iconic image "Charlotte Rampling, Arles", taken in 1973, went for way more, £40,000.
Lot 49, a Peter Lindbergh image of Christy Turlington, topless, shielding her breasts, shot for American Vogue in 1988, brought in a staggering £185,000 against an estimate of £40,000 - 60,000.
Staged photography, acting out roles, has become so common that it's gradually falling out of fashion. But there is something different about the Norwegian photographer Anja Niemi's images. She uses herself as a model, works alone, no team, which adds an intensity to what is undoubtedly a Nordic sensibility, even though the projects are often set elsewhere, as here in lot 57, in the U.S. The work, "The Backyard" sold for £5,250.
Lot 63 and 64 were by David Hockney--the first a painting on an easel in a garden from 1973, which sold for £4,750; and from 1976, "Two Lemons and Four Limes", a snap taken in his studio, which sold for £4,750.
Richard Mosse, winner of the Deutsche Börse Prize in 2014 and this year's Prix Pictet is one of the most interesting artists to have emerged these last few years. Investigating, Lot 68, was an image from his "Infra" series, shot in war-torn Congo. It sold for £25,000.
Lot 75, "Fervor", an image from 2000 by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, was a powerful image of men and women at a prayer meeting, segregated by flimsy wall structure. Estimated at £15,000-20,000, it fetched £37,500. The next lot, "Hiroshi Sugimoto's Sea of Buddha", a beautiful triptych, brought £62,500 against an estimate of £12,000-18,000.
I like Lalla Essaydi's work but was less keen on the example found here, lot 79, number 16 in the series "Converging Territories". Others liked it, and it went for £12,500.
There were several Nick Brandt works here, with "Cheetah in Tree" commanding the highest price, £15,000. The auction was rounded off with Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl", selling for £20,000.
Michael Diemar is a long-time writer about the photography scene, in addition to being a collector, curator, lecturer and ex-London gallerist (in 2009 opening Diemar/Noble Gallery). He has written extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for the E-Photo Newsletter and I Photo Central.