Playing With Light and Focus
Striking Works by Photographic Pioneers Ansel Adams and Werner Rohde at Bonhams New York Sale

Bold and evocative works by two titans of 20th century photography, Ansel Adams, and Werner Rohde, are to be offered at Bonhams' Photographs sale on October 2 in New York. Leading the sale, with an estimate of $50,000 - 70,000, is Maroon Bells, Near Aspen, Colorado, a signature work by the master of early American landscape photography, Ansel Adams. Equally evocative, but in an entirely different sense, is that of On the Umbrella's Point by the mysterious German surrealist, Werner Rohde, which is estimated at $15,000 - 25,000.

Bonhams' Head of Photographs, Laura Paterson, commented; "Both Adams and Rohde helped pave the way for modern photographic methods – experimenting with both the possibilities and the limits of the medium. Though they had very different styles, they both had a distinct eye, and a way of conveying something beyond the image itself. Fantastic examples of prints of this calibre by these photographers are rare, and highly desirable."

Although Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) and Werner Rohde (German, 1906-1990) were contemporaries and both pioneers of early 20th century photography, they are separated by more than just geography. Much is known about Adams, and his work is clear both in its subject and in the crispness of his focus. Rohde was, on the other hand, as mysterious as his works.

Even from an early age, Ansel Adams' life seemed especially connected with the natural world. One of his earliest memories was of watching the smoke from the fires caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In 1916, aged 12, he visited Yosemite National Park for the first time with his family. He would later write; "the splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious...There was light everywhere...A new era began for me." It was during that stay that his father gave him his first camera, a Kodak Box Brownie, and his obsession with capturing the American landscape began.

He would go on to help establish Group f/64, an association of photographers advocating 'pure' photography, favoring sharp focus and use of the full tonal range of a photograph – a style which would characterize Adams' own work. A life-long advocate for environmental conservation, he was approached by the United States Department of the Interior to make photographs of national parks – for which work he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. As well as being one of the founders of the photography magazine Aperture and a co-founder of the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Adams held an important advisory position in the establishment of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in itself a landmark in securing photography's institutional legitimacy.

The sale will also include two rare signed portfolios by Ansel Adams – "Portfolio One: Twelve Photographic Prints by Ansel Adams", estimated at $50,000-70,000, and "Portfolio IV: What Majestic Word, In Memory of Russell Varian", which also had an estimate of $50,000-70,000.

Werner Rohde took up photography in 1927 whilst still an art student in Berlin. His work was greatly influenced by the Hungarian painter, photographer and Bauhaus Professor, László Moholy-Nagy. It was after a chance meeting with Moholy-Nagy that Rohde began to experiment with unorthodox photographic techniques – double-exposures, unusual camera angles and lighting – to such effect that his work was selected for the seminal 1929 Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart. His marriage to fashion designer Renata Backsieck took him to Paris where he threw himself into fashion photography. After military service during the Second World War and internment as a prisoner of war, in 1945 he took over his father's glass painting studio in Worpswede. Nothing more seems to have been heard of him, and we are left only with his early images. On the Umbrella's Point dates from his breakthrough year of 1929. It is a trademark work – dramatic light and shadow define the picture's limits, hinting at some meaning just beyond the viewer's grasp. A little like the life of Werner Rohde himself.

Other highlights include:

Richard Avedon (1923-2004)

The sale will also include a selection of works by the famed American photographer Richard Avedon. Having paved a career as a noted fashion photographer – working for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue – Avedon gained further acclaim for his bold and intense portraits of both famous figures and ordinary working-class Americans. Upon his death in 2004, The New York Times stated that, "his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America's image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century".

The sale will feature a selection of Avedon's work, from inventive fashion commissions to more serious portraiture.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)

Agnes Elizabeth Ernst Meyer (1887-1970) was an American journalist, philanthropist, civil rights activist, and passionate art lover. Through her marriage to the financier Eugene Meyer, she was able to influence government policy on important social issues – an influence only cemented by Meyer's purchase of The Washington Post in 1933. The Meyers were enthusiastic patrons of the arts and their impressive collection included an important sculpture by Brancusi, La Negresse Blonde, 1926. A photographed of the work, taken by another protégé, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), is featured in the sale with an estimate of $20,000 - 30,000.

Sheeler was a self-taught photographer, learning his trade on a five-dollar Box Brownie, yet along with his "quasi-photographic" painting, he would be considered a master of at capturing objects and industrial scenes. Taking inspiration from Cubist artists, Sheeler's work often explored the rigidity of lines and the placement of objects.

Western American Photography by Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916), Charles Leander Weed (1824-1903) and F. Jay Haynes (1853-1921)

The sale will also include examples of pioneering early Western American photography by Carleton E. Watkins, Charles Leander Weed and F. Jay Haynes. These beautiful works capture the American landscape of the 19th century. The clear and crisp images continue to influence photographers to this day.

Further highlights:

Richard Corman (born 1954), Muhammed Ali, Eyes Closed. Estimate: $40,000-60,000.
Brian Duffy (1933-2010), David Bowie, "Aladdin Sane" Contact Sheet. Estimate: $30,000-50,000.
Helmut Newton (1920-2004), Mannequins, Quai d'Orsay. Estimate: $15,000 - 25,000.

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