William Larson - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips
  • In the late 1960s photographer William Larson began experimenting with an entirely new way of creating images using the Graphic Sciences DEX 1 Teleprinter, a sophisticated precursor to the fax machine. Initially intended for use by industry, the media, and law enforcement, the DEX 1 Teleprinter first scanned and then transformed image and text into sound, transmitting these tones via telephone to be received and translated by another DEX 1, which then burned a facsimile of the original onto carbon-based paper with a stylus. After seeing a demonstration of this new technology, Larson was inspired to explore its creative potential. A graduate of Chicago’s Institute of Design who had fully absorbed the curriculum of innovation set by its founder László Moholy-Nagy, Larson acquired two DEX 1 machines and began experimenting with the variables. Larson found that external sounds added to a transmission would be visually rendered in the finished print. Manipulating the speed of the drum scanner, and varying the intensity of the voltage powering the machine, created other visual effects. Each resulting image was unique, created by the dual transformation of image into sound and sound into image, and printed by a sparking stylus; Larson called them Fireflies. Made in an era when the conventional trend in photography was toward the perfection of a lens-based vision, Larson’s Fireflies series was a notable early appropriation of electronic technology for artistic purposes.


    The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this auction as lots 203 through 240 comes from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. All of the sale’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.


    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, 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. 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

A Reverence for Beauty: The Peter C. Bunnell Collection, Part 2


Lot offered with No Reserve

Shorthand Exersize and Small Face, 7:08 p.m.

Unique electro-carbon print.
11 x 8 1/2 in. (27.9 x 21.6 cm)
Signed in pencil on the recto.

Full Cataloguing

$3,000 - 5,000 

Sold for $572

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023