Barbara Morgan - Inside the Photograph: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection New York Tuesday, October 10, 2023 | Phillips

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  • The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this online auction comes from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. In 1972, Bunnell curated the retrospective Barbara Morgan: Photographs at The Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition showcased the breadth of her work across several decades, from photomontage to her iconic dance photographs, produced over a multi-year collaboration with Martha Graham beginning in 1935. Another print of the image on offer, Martha Graham – Letter to the World (The Kick), was displayed alongside 47 other photographs.


    Images of the exhibition catalogue for Barbara Morgan: Photographs, 1972 at The Museum of Modern Art.


    “Working along with her subjects, not in performance but in studios, and fundamentally out of her own creative needs, Morgan recorded not so much the literal dance as the essential gestural aspect of life that the dance symbolized. Each dance was reconceived for the camera and its actions were condensed to those movements that are the most eloquent, the most complete. The connective movements of the overall rhythmic structure were omitted and the thematic movements, those that contain the essence of the dance, isolated, generally at the point of their climactic clarity.”
    —Peter C. Bunnell, Inside the Photograph, p. 84  


    Bunnell began his long career in photography as a student of Minor White’s at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the 1950s and was recruited by White to work on the seminal periodical of artistic photography, Aperture. He joined the staff of The Museum of Modern Art in 1966 as a collection cataloguer, becoming Associate Curator and then Curator of Photography. At MoMA he curated the noteworthy exhibitions Photography as Printmaking (1968), Photography into Sculpture (1970), and the first retrospective of the work of Clarence H. White (1971). In 1972, he was hired as the inaugural David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton University.  

    Bunnell served as Director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1973 to 1978, and as Acting Director from 1998 to 2000, and was also the Museum’s Curator of Photography throughout the entirety of his tenure. Bunnell built a broad-ranging collection of photographs at the Museum, the firsthand examination of which became a central element of the student experience in his classes and seminars. Bunnell also assembled a personal collection of photography over the course of his long career that reflects his vast and deep understanding of the medium. Begun in the 1950s, before photography galleries and dealers were commonplace, Bunnell’s collection is a deeply personal one, put together with a sense of joy and curiosity that includes both icons and lesser-known gems spanning the history of photography.

    Nearly all lots are sold with No Reserve and the proceeds will be distributed to six institutions with whom Bunnell was associated — Rochester Institute of Technology, Ohio University, Yale University, The George Eastman Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and Princeton University Art Museum — to establish endowments to support the study of photographic history.

    • Provenance

      Collection of Peter C. Bunnell, Princeton, New Jersey

    • Literature

      Aperture, Masters of Photography: Barbara Morgan, cover
      High Museum of Art, Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection, p. 181
      Newhall, The History of Photography, p. 232

Inside the Photograph: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection


Lot offered with No Reserve

Martha Graham - Letter to the World (The Kick)

Gelatin silver print, printed 1970.
10 1/4 x 13 1/2 in. (26 x 34.3 cm)
Signed, titled, and dated in pencil on the mount; signed, titled, dated, inscribed 'Archivally Printed - 1970' in ink and copyright credit reproduction stamp on the reverse of the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$2,000 - 3,000 

Sold for $3,810

Contact Specialist

Christopher Mahoney
Senior International Specialist

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairwoman

Inside the Photograph: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection

10 - 17 October 2023