Since the invention of the camera there have been few better ways to peer into the past than through photographs.

They give us a unique snapshot of people and places who’ve long since faded from history. Photographs can remind us of the forgotten seconds that tell us important stories.

For those looking to own some of the most noteworthy snapshots from history, this upcoming auction may prove interesting.

Swann Auction Galleries in New York City are hosting an auction entitled Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks. 

The auction will span the entire history of photography from the 1800s right up to the modern age. Highlights from Diane Arbus, Max Ernst, Peter Hujar, Eadweard Muybridge, and even Irving Penn.

The auction will take place at Swann Auction Galleries’ central address at 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010. The entire catalogue for the auction is located here. However, if you’d prefer to see the lots in real life, previews will take place at the following dates and times:

  • Wed, Oct 18 – 12-5pm
  • Thu, Oct 19 – 10am-12pm

Most importantly, the auction itself takes place at 1pm on Thursday 19th October.

With all these iconic prints being photography, there’s no guarantee that any of them are totally unique. After all, a negative may be printed multiple times. However, Swann Auction Galleries promise that all the photographs in this auction will have been printed close to when the negative was taken.

The auction highlight:

The real highlight of the auction is lot 272: Ormond Gigli’s iconic “Girls in the Windows, New York City”.

This is an iconic photograph that has toured the auction scene for a while. Last time a copy was available to purchase was at a Christie’s auction in 2014 where it eventually sold for $32,500. It will be interesting to see whether this particular print will be able to earn any more.

Ormond Gigli described the photograph in an interview with the Guardian in 2013. He notes that he considers it his best work and ‘still smiles when (he) sees it’.

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The photo was taken in 1960. Gigli looked out of his studio in Manhattan and saw some brownstones scheduled for demolition. He was intrigued by the open windows and sent one of his staff to ask the demolition crew if he could use the brownstones to take the picture. The supervisor agreed, but only if his wife could feature. She can be found on the second floor, third from the left. Gigli’s own wife is on the first floor on the far right. The rest of the women are socialites.

All the women were instructed to stand in the window frames in their best dresses. After moving some of them around to get a good balance of colours, Gigli had the photo taken within an hour. By the following morning, the building was destroyed.

Other noteworthy items:

Of course, Gigli’s work is beautiful but it’s far from the only noteworthy lot on offer. As with all of our previous auction coverage, we’ve picked out a few favourites and the details about each of them.

Lot 7 – EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952) – Group of 4 portraits from The North American Indian.

Expected Sale Price:

$12,000 – $18,000

Description:

Platinum prints, the images measuring 12×15 5/8 to 16 1/8×12 1/4 inches (30.5×39.7 to 41×31.1 cm.), each with Curtis’ signature, in ink, and his debossed blind stamp, on recto, and his inventory number in the negative. Circa 1907

Lot 11 – JOHN THOMSON (1837-1921) – A spectacular album with 67 photographs credited to the pioneering photographer, including more than 30 depicting China, as well as images from Singapore and Borneo.

Expected Sale Price:

$40,000 – $60,000

Description:

The album features approximately 34 rich views made in China, including Thomson’s iconic imagery of Hong Kong’s harbor (with numerous views of the Praya) and streets (including his interior Shop of Wah Loong and Cumwo), at least two from Canton (including family groupings outside their dwellings), as well as unidentified temples, rural scenery, and architectural studies, each with Thomson’s characteristic sensitivity and sophisticated eye. Also with more than 30 photographs of South Asia, including credited imagery made in Singapore and Borneo, and possibly India. Albumen prints, the images measuring 9 1/4×11 inches (23.5×28 cm.), and smaller, and the reverse, mounted recto/verso, eight with Thomson’s credit in the negative and each with one or two numeric notations, in pencil, on the mounts. Thick folio, lacking the covers, but with the original endpapers; all edges gilt; enclosed in a custom navy blue clamshell box with a leather label. Circa 1862-72.

Lot 26 – EADWARD MUYBRIDGE (1830-1904) – A selection of 54 plates from Animal Locomotion.

Expected Sale Price:

$40,000 – $60,000

Description:

This remarkable collection from Muybridge’s groundbreaking series includes nude men hammering an anvil, holding rifles, and crouching; women dancing, getting into a hammock, getting out of bed, and unloading a basket; and numerous animals, including horses being jumped and galloping, a pacing jaguar, a walking ostrich, and dogs tugging at a towel. Collotypes, the images a variety of sizes, but measuring approximately 6 5/8×17 3/8 inches (16.8×44.1 cm.), and smaller, the two-toned sheets 19×24 inches (48.3×61 cm.), each with Muybridge’s letterpress credit, series title, plate number, copyright, and date, on recto. 1887

Lot 31 – HENRY DIXON & SON (active 1870-1880s) – Lion at the London Zoo.

Expected Sale Price:

$1,800 – $2,200

Description:

Carbon print, the image measuring 8 5/8×10 3/4 inches (21.9×27.3 cm.). Circa 1880

Lot 70 – DOROTHEA LANGE (1895-1965) – Drought refugees from Oklahoma camping by the roadside. They hope to work in the cotton fields. There are seven in family. Blythe, California, August 1936.

Expected Sale Price:

$6,000 – $9,000

Description:

Oversized silver print, the image measuring 15 1/2×17 inches (39.4×43.2 cm.), with numeric notations, in pencil, and a Library of Congress hand stamp on verso. 1936; printed 1960s

Lot 86 – FRANK MINNINGER (active 1930s) – Aquatic Park, Florida.

Expected Sale Price:

$500 – $750

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 7 1/4×9 1/2 inches (18.4×24.1 cm.), with Minninger’s credit and date, in pencil, on verso. 1939

Lot 96 – JOE ROSENTHAL (1911-2006) – Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.

Expected Sale Price:

$4,000 – $6,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 10 3/8×13 1/2 inches (26.4×34.3 cm.), the sheet slightly larger, with Rosenthal’s signature, partial title, and date, in ink, on recto. 1945; printed late 1990s

Lot 102 – BRETT WESTON (1911-1993) – Garrapata Beach.

Expected Sale Price:

$4,000 – $6,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 7 1/2×9 1/2 inches (19.1×24.1 cm.), the mount 13 1/4×15 inches (33.7×38.1 cm.), with Weston’s signature and negative date, in pencil, on mount recto. 1954; printed 1980s

Lot 124 – ELLIOTT ERWITT (1928- ) – Empire State Building, New York City.

Expected Sale Price:

$3,000 – $4,500

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 17 5/8×11 5/8 inches (44.8×29.5 cm.), the sheet 20×16 inches (50.8×40.6 cm.), with Erwitt’s signature, in ink, on recto, and his signature, partial title, and negative date, in pencil, on verso. 1955; printed 1980s

Lot 150 – MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE (1904-1971) – Gold Miners Nos. 1139 and 5122.

Expected Sale Price:

$14,000 – $18,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 19 1/2×15 1/2 inches (49.5×39.4 cm.), the sheet 20×16 inches (50.8×40.6 cm.), with Bourke-White’s signature and various notations, in pencil, on verso. 1950; printed 1960s

Lot 151 – IRVING PENN (1917-2009) – Les Garçons Bouchers.

Expected Sale Price:

$20,000 – $30,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 12 7/8×9 3/4 inches (32.7×24.8 cm.), the mount 15×11 inches (38.1×27.9 cm.), with Penn’s signature, title, and dates, in ink, and his copyright, edition limitation, and credit hand stamps, on mount verso. 1950; printed 1951

Lot 155 – BRUCE DAVIDSON (1933- ) – Damn the Defiant, Time of Change.

Expected Sale Price:

$4,000 – $6,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 12 1/2×19 inches (31.8×48.3 cm.), the sheet 16×20 inches (40.6×50.8 cm.), with Davidson’s signature, in pencil, on verso. 1963; printed 1980s

Lot 163 – ROMAN VISHNIAC (1897-1990) – A portfolio entitled Einstein at Work.

Expected Sale Price:

$7,000 – $10,000

Description:

With 7 (of 7) photographs. Silver prints, the images measuring 13×10 1/4 inches (33×26 cm.), and the reverse, the mounts 16×20 inches (40.6×50.8 cm.), each with Vishniac’s signature, in pencil, on mount recto, and one with his title; lacking original case. 1942; printed circa 1980

Lot 172 – ALFRED EISENSTAEDT (1898-1995) – Marilyn Monroe.

Expected Sale Price:

$7,000 – $10,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 12 1/2×9 1/2 inches (31.8×24.1 cm.), the sheet 14×11 inches (35.6×27.9 cm.), with Eisenstaedt’s signature and edition notation 46/50, in ink, on recto, and with his Time Inc. hand stamp, with the title and dates, in pencil, and his copyright hand stamp, on verso. 1953; printed 1979

Lot 185 – NEIL LEIFER (1942- ) – Muhammad Ali (Pointing) at 5th Street Gym, Miami Beach, Florida.

Expected Sale Price:

$2,500 – $3,500

Description:

Chromogenic print, the image measuring 18 1/2×15 inches (47×38.1 cm.), the sheet 20×16 inches (50.8×40.6 cm.), with Leifer’s signature and edition notation 12/150, in ink, on recto; accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity, with Leifer’s and the printer’s signatures, and the title, dates, and edition notation 12/150, in ink. 1970; printed 2001

Lot 201 – ELLIOTT ERWITT (1928- ) – Paris.

Expected Sale Price:

$4,000 – $6,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 14 3/8×21 5/8 inches (36.5×55 cm.), the sheet 19 3/4×24 inches (50.2×61 cm.), with Erwitt’s signature, in ink, on recto, and with his signature, title, and date, in pencil, on verso. 1989

Lot 206 – ROBERT FRANK (1924- ) – Fishkill, N.Y. (Newburgh).

Expected Sale Price:

$15,000 – $25,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 11 3/4×7 7/8 inches (29.8×20 cm.), the sheet 13 7/8×10 7/8 inches (35.2×27.6 cm), with Frank’s signature, title, and negative date, in ink, on recto. 1955; printed circa 1969

Fishkill, NY is a key image reproduced in Frank’s groundbreaking title The Americans, which was first published as Les Americains, in France, in 1958, The book’s masterful selection and sequencing of images has been reprinted in several different editions and is a cult classic to this day.

In the mid-1950s, Frank (a Swiss emigré) traveled throughout the U.S. on a Guggenheim Fellowship shooting images of motorcycles, cars, highways, flags, bars, diners, and parades in addition to the African American experience. These popular tropes of American culture were employed to simultaneously convey and challenge prevailing notions of what it meant to be identified as an American during the purportedly sunny Eisenhower years.

Frank, like his buddy Jack Kerouac (who wrote the introduction for the first American edition of the book), loved the freedom of the open road, which is captured in this image of bikers in upstate NY.

Lot 210 – DIANE ARBUS (1923-1971)/NEIL SELKIRK (1947- ) – Teenage Couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C.

Expected Sale Price:

$15,000 – $25,000

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring approximately 14 1/4 inches (36.2 cm.) square, with the A Diane Arbus Photograph hand stamp with Doon Arbus’ signature, title, date, and the edition notation 45/75, in ink, as well as the Copyright (with the date 1967) and All Rights Reserved hand stamps, on verso. 1963; printed later

Diane Arbus was among the boldest, most innovative, and uncompromising artists to explore photography as a form of creative expression. Her iconography of powerful portraits, which quickly developed during the 1960s, captured the changing zeitgeist of the American social landscape.

The year this picture was made (1963), Arbus applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship, and asked Lisette Model to provide a letter of recommendation. Model’s letter read, in part: “Photographers can be good, bad, excellent, first rate, or tops, but there are hardly any artists among them. Here is an exception.” Later that year, Arbus was awarded a fellowship to pursue a project relating to “photographic studies of American rites, manners and customs.”

Lot 225 – ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984) – Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park.

Expected Sale Price:

$3,000 – $4,500

Description:

Silver print, the image measuring 9 1/2×7 1/4 inches (24.1×18.4 cm.), the mount 14×11 inches (35.6×27.9 cm.), with Adams’ signature, in ink, on mount recto, and with the Special Edition Photographs of Yosemite hand stamp with the title, print number 460, and S.E.Y. number 12, in ink, on mount verso. 1960, printed 1970s

Lot 243 – NICK UT (1951- ) – The Terror of War (Children fleeing Napalm Attack, South Vietnam).

Expected Sale Price:

$4,000 – $6,000

Description:

Oversized silver print, the image measuring 15 1/2×18 inches (39.4×45.7 cm.), the sheet 17×22 inches (43.2×55.9 cm.), with Ut’s signature and print date, in pencil, on verso. 1972; printed 2012

Lot 285 – FRANK HORVAT (1928- ) – Eiffel Tower + Fashion.

Expected Sale Price:

$4,000 – $6,000

Description:

Archival pigment print, the image measuring 13 5/8×20 3/8 inches (34.6×51.8 cm.), the sheet 16 1/2×23 1/4 inches (41.9×59.1 cm.), with Horvat’s signature and edition notation 10/30, in ink, on recto, and with his signature, credit, title, dates, and printing notations, in pencil, on verso. 1986; printed 2009

Lot 293 – EDWARD BURTYNSKY (1955- ) – Highway #1, Intersection 105 & 110, Los Angeles, California.

Expected Sale Price:

$6,000 – $9,000

Description:

Digital chromogenic print, the image measuring 20×25 inches (50.8×63.5 cm.), the mount 26×31 inches (66×78.7 cm.), with Burtynsky’s signature, in ink, and the title, edition notation 6/25, size and medium notations, and his EB logo, on a label, on mount verso. 2003

Lot 323 – (EBERHARD FABER PENCIL CO.) – A fantastically hand-colored salesman’s album containing 86 photographs displaying pencils, pens, chalk, erasers, rubber bands, and display window products from Eberhard Faber of New York.

Expected Sale Price:

$1,500 – $2,500

Description:

With bright and vivid images, presumably hand-colored with the company’s own pigment, illustrating the vast variety of products offered by Eberhard Faber, from their “Mongol” and “Van Dyke” pencils, Aquarello chalk, and dwarf lead pencils, to pink pearl erasers, Trutint compressed crayons, and indelible watercolor pencils, as well as various display props to be used in storefront and window advertisements.

Silver prints, the images measuring 8×10 inches (20.3×25.4 cm.), and the reverse, linen backed, nearly all with captions or inventory numbers in the negative, and with the Paramount photographer’s studio hand stamp on verso. Oblong 4to, black leatherette with a gilt stamped title; twin-bolt binding. Circa 1915

Lot 335 – A choice archive with over 350 fun photographs relating to one of America’s favorite desserts: ice cream.

Expected Sale Price:

$2,000 – $3,000

Description:

With all manner of images from plated still lifes, ice cream factory interiors and production scenes, to cow milking, advertising mock-ups and candid ice cream eaters, as well as various ice cream trucks and service vehicles, the daily milkman, and of course the all-American ice cream parlor.

Silver (350) and chromogenic (2) prints, the majority of the images measuring 8×10 inches (20.3×25.4 cm.), and the reverse, with approximately 40 ranging in size from 2×3 1/4 to 5×7 inches (5.1×8.3 to 12.7×17.8 cm.), some with the photographers’ credits in the negative, and most with a variety of notations, in ink, pencil, or wax crayon, and hand stamps, on verso; includes a few copy prints. 1920s-80s

Lot 336 – Group of 25 vivid color photographs of mid-20th-century table spreads and themed meals.

Expected Sale Price:

$1,200 – $1,800

Description:

Depicting vast spreads of food, including heavily garnished dishes with moulded Jell-Os and dips, as well as bizarre combinations of sweet and savoury flavors, mostly presented against radiant tablecloths surrounded by kitschy period props. Dye transfer prints, the images measuring approximately 8×10 inches (20.3×25.4 cm.), and the reverse, a few with notations, in pencil, hand stamps, or photographer’s labels, on verso. Circa 1959

Lot 351 – LINDBERGH, EARHART & ELDER (AVIATION) – A group of approximately 28 photographs of Charles Lindbergh, the first pilot to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean.

Expected Sale Price:

$2,500 – $3,500

Description:

Including portraits of Lindbergh inside the Spirit of St. Louis, wearing his flight suit and helmet, working on the airplane, and with his bride (and fellow aviator) Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Silver prints, most ferrotyped, the images measuring 4 1/2×6 to 9 3/4×7 1/2 inches (11.4×15.2 to 24.8×19.1 cm.), and the reverse, the sheets slightly larger, approximately 17 with extensive period retouching, on recto, and most with various hand stamps, written notations, and typed captions, on verso. 1920s-40s

WITH–A group of 95 photographs of female aviators, comprising 70 of Amelia Earhart, first female aviator to make a transatlantic flight and 20 photographs of Ruth Elder, the “Miss America of Aviation.” With images of Earhart in her flight suit, with her husband and stepson, posing in planes, and receiving awards, in addition to images of her mother and pictures of Elder at public events.

Silver prints, the images measuring 10×8 inches (25.4×20.3 cm.), and the reverse, most with slugs or typed captions mounted recto/verso and handwritten captions, in pencil, on verso. 1930s.

Lot 365 – (THE BERLIN WALL–EAST & WEST GERMANY) – A group of 50 press photographs, with 20 relating to the Berlin Wall and 30 depicting daily life in East and West Germany.

Expected Sale Price:

$1,200 – $1,800

Description:

Includes images of Communist soldiers maintaining the border; many daring escapes, including Conrad Schumann’s “leap to freedom;” family members landing into West Germany via long rope from apartment windows; relatives conversing over the wall; and 30 prints showing the grim realities of daily life in Berlin in the post-World War II period.

Ferrotyped silver prints and wirephoto prints, the images measuring 6 1/4×8 3/4 to 7 1/4×9 1/4 inches (15.9×22.2 to 19.7×23.5 cm.), and the reverse, each with trimmed newspaper clippings, handwritten captions or engraver’s notations, and hand stamps and/or slugs, on verso. Circa 1948-61

After WWII, Berlin was divided into three sectors controlled by the U.S., France, and the Soviet Union. As a result of growing numbers of East German defectors fleeing the Communist-controlled zone, the Soviets introduced barbed wire fences as a barrier which, over time, transitioned to a continuous concrete barrier known as the Berlin Wall.

Lot 376 – (WARNER BROTHERS’ BACKDROPS) – A graphic and fascinating binder with approximately 320 photographs printed on 80 sheets depicting all-American movie backdrops.

Expected Sale Price:

$1,200 – $1,800

Description:

With images showing hundreds of huge hand-painted backdrops, reminiscent of photographs and artworks by Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, Lewis Hine, Ed Ruscha, and Dorothea Lange. Including, but not limited to: scenes of picket fenced houses, storefronts, Main Streets, factories with smokestacks, southern plantations, open ranges, railroad cars, cowboy towns, big city skylines, southwestern deserts, bridge construction, alleyways, wooden cabins, building facades, and Small Town U.S.A. Silver prints, the images measuring 3×4 1/2 inches (7.6×11.4 cm.), 4 per sheet, with the Warner Bros. logo, backdrop size, and inventory number printed on recto. Oblong 4to, blue plastic boards with the logo and “Warner Bros. Studios Facilities Backings,” emblazoned in gold on the cover and spine; 3-ring binding. 1980s

Lot 383 – BRUCE BELLAS (BRUCE OF LA) (1909-1974) – A group of 127 physique photographs by the inimitable Bruce Bellas.

Expected Sale Price:

$1,200 – $1,800

Description:

With 126 black-and-white photographs of male athletic models posing, 69 of them collaged together in 11 separate groups; and one color photograph. Silver prints and one chromogenic print, the images measuring 1x 3/4 to 7×5 inches (2.5×1.9 to 17.8×12.7 cm.), and the reverse, each with a Bruce or Bruce of Los Angeles hand stamp on verso. Circa 1960

Lot 386 – ALVIN LANGDON COBURN. – London.

Expected Sale Price:

$5,000 – $7,500

Description:

Introduction by Hilaire Belloc. With 20 (of 20) elegant hand-pulled photogravures. Folio, rebacked 1/2 calf over gilt-lettered boards, worn; otherwise contents crisp. Roth 38; Hasselblad 50. FIRST EDITION.
London & New York, 1909

Westminster Abbey * The Temple * Waterloo Bridge * Kingsway * Hyde Park Corner * St. Paul’s, From the River * Trafalgar Square * The Tower Bridge * Paddington Canal * Wapping * Leicester Square * Regent’s Canal * From Westminster Bridge * Kensington Gardens, November * The Tower * On the Embankment * Houses of Parliament * London Bridge * The British Lion * St. Paul’s from Ludgate Circus.