Books on Private Collections (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, we began a two part series covering great books on private photography collections (the first post can be found here.) Today, we’ll finish up that thought by discussing the second group of 6 books.

To summarize the idea driving these posts again for context, as collectors, we are particularly interested in the collecting process, and in particular, for those who have been at it for longer and who have built world class collections, how they went about it, how they made decisions, and how their collections evolved over time. These books give us some comparables as we head down a parallel road.

As a reminder, we have organized these alphabetically by collector’s last name, and the first post got us up through Gary Sokol. So let’s continue:

7.) Double Vision: Photographs from the Strauss Collection, University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach, 2000

Regardless of how a collection might be titled, most collections are built by the driving passion of a single person. What is therefore most interesting about this collection is that it truly is a collection built by two people in partnership. My wife and I work together on our collection, and I can attest that having two sets of eyes clearly and dramatically changes which pictures are eventually included. The shared process is spectacularly fun.

We have been fortunate to have had some small communication with Joyce and Ted Strauss over the years, and they have been wonderfully encouraging, especially in our tentative steps to expand our collection beyond the established masters and take some “risks”. We clearly have some areas of overlap, where we have both collected similar images (Siskind, Kertesz, Mapplethorpe, Caponigro etc.) And while not every picture in this book fits our aesthetic (and the book is a subset of their much larger holdings), I like the fact that they have been out on the edge, exploring the best of the new ideas that have come along. They have not tried to build a complete history of the medium, but a selection that reflects their common point of view.

As is the case with many great collections, this collection has begun a process of being narrowing, with some images donated to museums, and others appearing from time to time at auction. Here are a handful that we would enjoy adding to our effort:

  • Lewis Baltz, South Wall, Semicoa, 333 McCormick, Costa Mesa, 1974
  • Robert Mapplethorpe, Tulip, 1988
  • Robert Adams, Denver, 1973-1974
  • Bernd & Hilla Becher, Trier-Ehrang, D, 1982

8.) An Eclectic Focus: Photographs from the Vernon Collection, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1999.

The Vernon collection is another husband and wife collaboration. In this case, the outcome is a truly massive collection of some 5500 images, with a consistent strength and depth across the medium unlike any I have seen in a private collection. The collection begins with the earliest experiments in the medium and ends with contemporary photography. This collection is now held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with a show entitled A Story of Photography: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection scheduled to open this Friday (link here).

Some of the amazing images include:

  • William Henry Fox Talbot, Lace, 1840s
  • Frantisek Drtikol, Reclining Nude, 1930s
  • Chales Sheeler, Stairwell, Williamsburg, 1935
  • Edward Steichen, Double Sunflower, 1920
  • Edward Weston, Plaster Works, 1925
  • Margaret Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936
  • Edward Weston, Nude, 1926
  • Alma Lavenson, Union Oil Tanks, Alameda, 1931
  • Edward Weston, Nude on Sand, Oceano, 1936
  • Max Yavno, Powell Street, 1947
  • Bill Brandt, Nude, 1956

9.) An American in Europe: The Photography Collection of Baroness Jeane von Oppenheim from the Norton Museum of Art, Norton Museum of Art, 2000.

This collection focuses on 20th century work from Europe, particularly Germany, covering a wide swath of subject matter. (The book itself is divided into Theatre, Figure Studies, Spaces, Constructions, Structures, Cityscapes, Portraits, Landscapes, Nature, and Still Life.) As American collectors, it’s easy to get blinded into spending all our time on American artists; the work is widely available. A collection of this kind reminds us to look outside our comfort zone and explore other work that we would like equally well or better if we were more educated about it. As flower collectors, we are very interested in Blossfeldt, RengerPatzsch, Fuhrmann and others from Germany, and this collection has some tremendous examples of this kind of work. There is also a strain of strong industrial work coming out of 1920s/1930s Germany represented here.

Here are some terrific examples:

  • Dr. Paul Wolff, New Bridge Over the Rhine River at Duisburg, 1939
  • Albert RengerPatzsch, Crane, 1927
  • Bernd & Hilla Becher, Cooling Towers, 1963-1973
  • Piet Zwart, Factory Chimney, 1931
  • Alexander Rodchenko, Ladder, 1925
  • Karl Blossfeldt, Dipsacus Iaciniatus, Fuller’s Tease, 1900-1928
  • Karl Blossfledt, Papaver Orientale, Oriental Poppy, 1900-1928
  • Karl Blossfledt, Cucurbita Pepo, Pumpkin Tendrils, 1900-1928
  • Ernst Fuhrmann, Prunus Cerasus, Sour Cherries, n.d.
  • Ernst Fuhrmann, Untitled, n.d.
  • Ernst Fuhrmann, Datura Artosea, c1924
  • Ernst Fuhrmann, Aralia Sieboldi, Exotic Ivy, c1929
  • Ernst Fuhrmann, Kentia Forsteriana, c1929

10.) A Book of Photographs: From the Collection of Sam Wagstaff, Gray Press, 1978.

Sam Wagstaff clearly had an eye for unusual photographs. This collection spans the history of photography and runs the gamut from established masters to vernacular and anonymous pictures; it just didn’t seem to matter where the pictures came from as long as they were interesting. What I like about this collection is that it has a clear point of view. It isn’t a grab bag of greatest hits (or even famous pictures); it’s personal, and that’s what makes it exciting to look at.

While not necessarily a great fit for our collection, here are a few I like:

  • Walker Evans, Liberte: Promenade Deck, Post Forward, 1958
  • Gray Brothers, Diamond Fields, South Africa, Ore Carrying Ropes, Kimberley Diamond Mine, 1875
  • Adolphe Braun, Still Life, c1855
  • Thomas Annan, Close No. 18, Saltmarket, 1868
  • Anonymous, Barnum and Bailey Circus Tent in Paris, 1901
  • Anonymous, Nude, c1855

11.) A Personal View: Photography in the Collection of Paul F. Walter, Museum of Modern Art, 1985.

This collection is strongest in 19th century material, although there are a selection of terrific 20th century pieces as well. There is an excellent essay on Collectors of Photography, written by John Pultz, in this volume.

Some favorites:

  • David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, Colinton Wood, 1843-1847
  • Robert Howlett, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Launching Chains of the Great Eastern, 1857
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Mrs. Duckworth, 1867
  • William Rittasae, Light Rays on Trains, Las Salle Street Station, Chicago, 1931
  • Imogen Cunningham, Cala Leaves, 1932

12.) Passion and Precision; Photographs from the Collection of Margaret W. Weston, Monterey Museum of Art, 2003.

When we lived on the West coast, we were able to visit the Weston Gallery in Carmel from time to time and we purchased a few images from Maggi over those years. In talking with her then, I remember vividly her mentioning other works that weren’t in the gallery, but were “in the vault” and that I could come back another time to see some of them. Unfortunately, I never took her up on it. Having a copy of this exhibition catalog will have to do.

As you look through this small book, you will be amazed at the consistency of vision in it, across all types, styles, and periods of photography. She had a tremendous eye for good composition and for spectacular prints. Many of these images made their way back into the market in the recent Sotheby’s sale.

Here are some that we like:

  • Anna Atkins, Pteris Rotundifolia (Jamaica), c1851
  • Edward Weston, Hands Against Kimono, 1923
  • Edward Weston, The White Iris, 1921
  • Imogen Cunningham, Amphitheater #2, 1920
  • Alma Lavenson, Water Lily, 1931

We’ve come to the end of this rather exhaustive list. If you think we’ve missed some collection books of worth, please post them in the Comments, as we never seem to have enough.

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