Edward Weston - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 12, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Edward Weston began his iconic series of studies of the dunes at Oceano in 1934 when he first visited the area. In his daybook entry for 20 April, he wrote: ‘I made several dune negatives that mark a new epoch in my work. I must go back there—the material made for me!’ The massive dunes at Oceano created an ever-shifting landscape of pure and unadorned form, and the subject matter was ideally suited to Weston’s vision. In a state of constant change, reshaped continuously by wind and water, the dunes presented completely new subject matter to Weston on each visit over the ensuing years.


    The photograph offered here is one of the most celebrated of his Oceano series. It is remarkable for its graceful shadows which add depth and drama to the image, and for Weston’s meticulous management of sunlight to enhance the detail in the foreground and to delineate the ridge lines that recede into the distance. Weston included the image in his celebrated retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1946, and it was shown in Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston, an exhibition curated by Beaumont Newhall which originated at the Center for Creative Photography in 1956 and traveled to numerous other venues.


    The sophistication of Weston’s images is remarkable given the simplicity of his equipment. For landscape work he used one camera, an 8-by-10-inch view camera. He contact-printed the resulting negatives in the most rudimentary of darkrooms, using an electric lightbulb as the sole source of illumination for the exposure. Within these technical strictures, Weston found full creative freedom. In 1941, the photographer reflected upon his approach to the medium:


    ‘Only long experience will enable the photographer to subordinate technical considerations to pictorial aims, but the task can be made immeasurably easier by selecting the simplest possible equipment and procedures and staying with them. Learning to see in terms of the field of one lens, the scale of one film and one paper, will accomplish a good deal more than gathering a smattering of knowledge about different sets of tools.’ – Edward Weston, Seeing Photographically, 1943


    Peter Bunnell, Edward Weston on Photography (1983)
  • The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this auction as lots 143 through 167 all come from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. Bunnell began his long career in photography as a student of Minor White’s at the Rochester Institute of Photography 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 1960 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, while also being 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. ‘These photographs are used,’ he said, ‘they don't just sit around in boxes.’ Bunnell published widely on many photographers and photographic subjects. He was the acknowledged authority on the work of both Minor White and Clarence H. White, and it was through him that the archives of these two major photographs now reside at Princeton. As a teacher and a mentor, Bunnell professionalized the study of photographic history, conferring a higher degree of rigor and status to the medium, and inspiring an entire generation of curators and photographers.


    Bunnell also built a personal collection of photography over the course of his long career that reflects his vast and deep understanding of photography. Begun in the 1950s, before photography galleries and dealers were commonplace, the collection incorporates some outstanding rarities by Ansel Adams, his teacher and mentor Minor White, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer, his friend Jerry Uelsmann, and many other photographers who touched his life or his sensibility in some important way. It is a deeply personal collection put together with a sense of joy and curiosity that includes both icons and lesser-known gems spanning the history of photography.

This auction’s 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

      Conger, Edward Weston: Photographs from the Collection of the Center for Creative Photography, fig. 939
      Newhall, Supreme Instants: the Photography of Edward Weston, cover, pl. 68
      Stebbins, Edward Weston: Photography and Modernism, pl. 81
      Markus, Dune: Edward & Brett Weston, p. 91

A Reverence for Beauty: The Peter C. Bunnell Collection, Part 1


Dunes, Oceano, California

Gelatin silver print, probably printed in the 1940s.
7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (19.1 x 24.1 cm)
Signed and dated in pencil on the mount; titled and negative number '31SO' in pencil on the reverse of the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$70,000 - 90,000 

Sold for $52,920

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs, New York

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 12 October 2022