Minor White - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 12, 2022 | Phillips
  • This photograph comes from the collection of the esteemed curator, teacher, and photographic historian, Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021). Bunnell studied photography with Minor White at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the late 1950s. Originally intending to pursue fashion photography, it was his exposure to White that drew him to reconsider photography as vehicle for personal artistic expression. White became a mentor to Bunnell and recruited him to join the staff of Aperture magazine, the only periodical produced for, and by, photographers practicing the medium as a fine art. Bunnell gradually transitioned from being a photographer to studying the medium and its history, but his interest in – and friendship with – White endured until White’s passing in 1976. Bunnell became the acknowledged expert on White’s work, and his 1989 book Minor White: The Eye That Shapes still stands as the most complete single source of information on the photographer.  

    Peter C. Bunnell, Minor White: The Eye That Shapes (1989)

    The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this auction as lots 143 through 167 all come from Bunnell’s collection. After studying with White, and pursuing further degrees at Ohio University and Yale, 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, acquired from the artist

    • Literature

      Bunnell, Minor White: The Eye That Shapes, pl. 175
      Martineau, Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, pl. 94
      Hall, Minor White: Rites & Passages, pp. 26-27

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


Grand Tetons – Wyoming

Gelatin silver print, printed later.
9 x 11 in. (22.9 x 27.9 cm)
Signed in pencil in the margin; titled and dated in pencil on the reverse of the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for $20,160

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