Photo Review’s annual auction–we were there


October 27, 2011   ·   5 Comments

We constantly get hit up to write about all the auction/fundraisers out there (we rarely do; it’s all you’d end up reading here if we covered them in a serious way).

The Photo Review Editor Stephen Perloff running the auction. Photo from Photo Review Facebook page,

But we found ourselves at The Photo Review‘s photography auction Saturday to accept the Photo Review’s annual award “for our support of the arts and photography in Philadelphia.” The Photo Review itself, a publication begun in 1976, is an important Mid-Atlantic-Region resource about photography, particularly known for its lucid writing and its international annual photo competition.

This auction is an annual event for them and their major fundraiser.

Appropriately, the auction host was Freeman’s, the auction house on Chestnut Street. Two very young men in slim dark suits (Freeman’s employees we guessed) finally got the technology going about 20 minutes behind schedule.

Here we are enjoying the bidding. Our award placque is on the right. Photo by William Williams. Thanks, Willy!!

The best part of this auction was it was live and we could hear–and clearly understand–the auctioneer (publisher Stephen Perloff himself did the duties with charm and efficiency). We sat in quiet rows with about 80 to 100 others. People waved their numbers to bid. Very professional!! A catalog of offerings in magazine form had gone out in the mail, just like when the big boys do auctions, so people came prepared!

One of the young men who got the computers working called out online bids during the auction, which included 240 items. A vintage Edward S.Curtis went for a song. A recent print of an astonishing-looking Native American–a recent print from a ca. 1900 Gertrude Kasebier — was a steal at $400. Bargains were to be had.

By time we left, at just about the half-way point, the auction had raised about $23,000. We were sorry to miss the bidding on Gary Gross’ infamous, sexy images of Brooke Shields at age 14. We asked and Perloff told us they sold.

We especially enjoyed when bidding wars broke out.

So how did the Photo Review do? “Better than two years ago, and down a bit from last year’s,” Perloff said. He blamed the economy:  “So’s Christie’s and everyone else” seeing a drop in their numbers. But he thinks some more offers will come in for the work that’s remaining.

One regular at the auction was Ed Spector, a retired mathematics teacher. He thinks he bought 11 images, but who’s counting?  Where are you going to put them, we wanted to know. “Most, I’ll have to put them in [flat files]. …We have room in Florida,” he said a little sadly.

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5 Responses to “Photo Review’s annual auction–we were there”

  1. Michael Carl says:

    I live in the vast expanse of Montana and your blog and organizations like The Photo Review are lifelines for me. I read your blog regularly and subscribe to The Photo Review among other publications.

    That said your current post is very disconcerting to me. A few days ago I finally received The Photo Review issue with the auction catalog and I was very surprised to see those photos of Ms Shields included. To me they are the worst kind of exploitation. The mother and photographer should both be ashamed, but they have no shame. And just because they are out there doesn’t mean organizations like The Photo Review should be making money off them.
    But your mention of them is just as disgusting to me. Sexy? Really? Infamous? You say you were sorry to miss them. Why? The titilation? The chance to see the pervert who bought them? Then you had to ask Mr Perloff if they were sold. But I bet you asked who bought them too.
    Don’t get me wrong I love nudes. But these images are not in the same category as those by Jock Sturges or Sally Mann or even the most shocking work by Robert Mapplethorp. These border on child pornography pure and simple. And any group or individuals that sells them, markets them or references them in a positive way is aiding and abetting.
    I must say my estimation of you and The Photo Review went down a couple of pegs today.

  2. libby says:

    Hi, Michael, There’s much in what you say. We mentioned the images precisely because they are offensive to us, but the courts have ruled them not kiddie porn. You’ve made a lot of assumptions here about us, based on very little evidence. We were curious about the level of interest this work would inspire. We did not ask specifically how much the images sold for, nor did we ask to whom they sold–only whether they sold. We operated out of regard for news values, not moral values here, but it is precisely the questionable moral value–and the crass commercial opportunism behind the work and Ms. Shields’ mother–that makes the successful auctioning of this work of interest. As far as Jock Sturges, Sally Mann and Robert Mapplethorpe are concerned, at least Mapplethorpe chose consenting adults. Thanks for sharing your views.

  3. Michael Carl says:

    Hi Libby, Thanks for your reply. I am glad to see we agree on the true nature of these photographs. When it comes to a topic like this it is hard to report about it without offering some sort of tacit support unless you fully explain your reasoning. In your original post you don’t really explain that you were only reporting. In fact, your posts are often a mixture of reportage and opinion and so I think it is fair to make the assumptions that I did. I never realized you consider yourself on a par with the New York Times.

    I would like to know how you feel about The Photo Review including this work in the auction and profiting off the sale of it. Frankly, I think it is very disturbing.

  4. libby says:

    I am not disturbed by bad work doing something good in this world. So we will have to disagree on that. I am disturbed by the act of exploitation, not the sale at this point in time, so very many years after the fact. As for the snarky New York Times comment, I’ll try to take that as humor, although I have my doubts. We just try to do a good job. Perhaps we don’t succeed, but we do our darnedest. The fact that this reaches Montana says perhaps that we succeed some of the time.

  5. Michael Carl says:

    Libby you are right about the snarky comment. I stand reprimanded. Also you succeed more that you could possibly know. Its like a recent post by a long time photo blogger who didn’t realize how many people he reached until he had decided to retire the blog. Please keep up the good work.

    A group of photographers meet every week for coffee here in Billings, MT and your blog has been discussed on more than one occasion. We also discussed The Photo Review and the selling of those photos at the auction. And I think we will have to differ on that. Oh well I made my point. I will try to comment more often to remind you that you do have an impact and that there are more than mountains and cows in Montana.

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