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

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Throughout his long career in photography, Steichen’s mastery of photographic materials was complete. From the bravura multiple-process prints of his Pictorialist period, to his incomparable platinum, palladium, and gelatin silver prints, and to his late experiments in color, Steichen’s knowledge of technique was assured. This knowledge enabled him to push past the limits of conventional practices to render his photographic ideas in prints that met his high standards. Steichen’s technical notations on the reverse of this print – ‘Metol + few dr. Brm’ – refer to his formula for the chemistry used in its development. Metol was a photographic developer, and Steichen’s notations suggest that he used metol with a few drops of bromine added to the solution. In the developing bath, bromine had the effect of limiting the print’s development to the silver halides that had received the most exposure to light. Steichen’s inventive approach to chemistry yielded a print with highly nuanced darks and subtle olive tonality.   


    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. 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.


    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.


    • Provenance

      Collection of Peter C. Bunnell, Princeton, New Jersey

    • Literature

      Steichen, A Life in Photography, pl. 78
      Joanna Steichen, Steichen's Legacy Photographs 1895-1973, pl. 303

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


Backbone and Ribs of a Sunflower

circa 1920
Gelatin silver print.
7 5/8 x 9 1/2 in. (19.4 x 24.1 cm)
Annotated ‘Metol + few dr. Brm’ by the photographer in blue crayon and titled in an unidentified hand in pencil on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$12,000 - 18,000 

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