By Huub G.M. Kohnen
WAARDER, THE NETHERLANDS — A photography benefit auction for Amnesty International, conducted in late November at Sotheby's in Amsterdam, generated profits of $301,627 from the prints of famous and well-known photographers. Hundreds of people in the salesroom, on the phone, and via bids in writing were responsible for the results. The idea for all this started two years ago and then got wide and global support from Magnum Photos, AIPAD dealers, collectors, a frame shop, a printing house, a transport company, and photographers and photojournalists from all over the world. Sotheby's Amsterdam embraced the initiative and the Netherlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam held an exhibit of the work.
Slightly delayed because of bidders who had to be pre-registered, the first lot was offered. A 13x10" silver print of a 1930s Manhattan street scene (printed 1960s) by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), signed and with the photographer’s stamp on the back, changed hands for $1,720. Diane Arbus's picture "Soothsayer Madame Sandra, California 1963, print 5 of 75," printed later by Neil Selkirk and donated by the Jeffrey Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, sold for $5,300. Two Cibachrome prints approximately 15x22.3" shot by Bruno Barbey in Morocco were sold exactly in the estimate range of values ($1,457 and $1,855). Bill Brandt's "Gulls Nest" (1947), a 9.8x11.4" silver print, was sold for $1,987. Number 11 of Burtinsky's series on Chittagong Shipbreaking in Bangladesh did well ($4,239). A salt print by Roger Fenton of the demolished Balaklava post office in 1855, first published by T. Agnes & Sons, London, November 19, 1855, was donated by Weston Gallery and Hans P. Kraus Jr. of New York. It changed hands for $1,457.
Next sold were two icons, both personal gifts from the photographers: Stuart Franklin's photograph of the Tiananmen Square resistance and Leonard Freed’s photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the back of a convertible in Baltimore in 1964 ($2,914 and $3,974). A large silver print by Belgian Magnum photographer Carl de Keyzer from his series "God Inc." sold for $1,060. Peter Martens (d. 1992), who extensively covered the homeless in New York in the 1960s, was represented by three silver gelatine pictures of Lagos and East Turkey donated by the Peter Martens Foundation; they sold for $1,325 each. Although she "tried very hard" for a higher price, the auctioneer had to accept an offer for Steve McCurry's signed and dated splendid lambda print (16.9x11") of a Tibetan girl wearing traditional jewellery for $1,722.
An advertising picture, a silver print by Norman Parkinson shot on assignment for J. Walter Thompson, of a "Duchess Being Robbed While Indulging in Creamy Cornet" (1959), which was a gift of the Angela Williams Archive, sold for only $928. James Nachtwey donated three inkjet prints, signed in ink, from his reportage in Baghdad and a photo studio in Kabul, which sold for $1,259 and $1,325.
The sale showed that names don't guarantee success. Weegee was with us in three silver prints from various private gifts that raised $1,457 to $2,252, selling in or slightly above their estimated ranges, while "The Buzzclub, Liverpool, March 3, 1995" from Rineke Dijkstra sold for $15,985.
Huub G.M. Kohnen is a photojournalist in The Netherlands.