Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Search Of: Imogen Cunningham Tuberose

Virtually every photography collector we have ever met has a short list of pictures that they are constantly searching for. Every time a new auction catalogue comes, they look for these images. When they meet their favorite dealers, they ask about these images. Sometimes, these searches can go on for years.

This blog continues to be an experiment in how the process of collecting can be augmented by the virtual world. And so today, we are going to try a new feature, called In Search Of (you may remember a 70's TV show by the same name, but in that case, Leonard Nimoy was searching for Bigfoot and aliens, not photography). The concept behind this type of post is simple: tell the community of readers what you are looking for (no matter how random or arcane), and maybe someone out there will have some useful information to contribute. Perhaps a dealer will read this and have that exact work hiding in a flat file somewhere. Perhaps a collector will have the image and be ready to deaccession or trade it. Or perhaps someone will see a print in an obscure auction somewhere and call your attention to it.

To test drive the process, we'll start with an image that has been on our short list for a long time. If you have looked at our collection, you will likely notice that Imogen Cunningham is our largest holding. Her florals and nudes are amazing (we think), and the Tuberose, from the 1920s, is one of our favorites. Here's the image (scan courtesy of the Met collection):

Given all the florals that Cunningham did, you may ask yourself why we are interested in this specific image; it is clearly a good one, but there are many that are far more unusual. The reason is that my wife and I very much enjoy this particular type of flower; it has an amazing fragrance. So we're particularly interested in adding this image to our collection, as it has a sort of sentimental value for us.

We have only ever seen one print of this image in the market, and it was a later print that we somehow let slip through our fingers (and is now at the top of our "Ones That Got Away" list). At this point, we are interested in finding any high quality print we can: signed/unsigned, vintage/later, variant cropping, etc. as long as it is in decent condition. So if you know anything about a print of this image, please post a comment directly in the blog or send us an email at, if you prefer some privacy. We'll certainly update everyone if something good happens.

If you are a collector out there searching for something in particular, we'd be happy to feature your search next time we do one of these posts (perhaps once a week if there is interest). Send us (at the same address):

  • a scan of the image you're chasing
  • as many details as you have (artist, title, negative date, size etc.)
  • how you'd like to be contacted (either via post in the blog or via email directly)

We are happy to be a blind router of information between parties to start, if privacy is of importance to either side (one collector friend likes to call this the "cone of silence"), but please be aware that we intend to get out of the way and let the parties talk between themselves as soon as possible, and that openness is what is making this process work.

We hope this idea just might work and people can get the word out about specific images they have been agonizing over for a long time. If it doesn't, we are no worse off, as there is little downside in our minds to readers knowing what we are looking for. And if, in the process, we expose people to new images they weren't aware of, then we're all getting educated along the way. If we've missed some important part of the process, by all means, let us know. Otherwise, let's see what happens.

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