Three days ago, records were broken in the photography sales world. Steichen’s “The Pond-Moonlight,” sold for $2,928,000 at Sotheby’s in New York, double the previous record for a photograph sale. The record previously held by Richard Prince, for an untitled print of a Marlboro cigarette ad, was set at Christie’s for $1,248,000 in November of 2005. Both record-breaking images couldn’t possibly have less in common. Or do they? Price re-photographs, Steichen re-layers. Hmmm……

Taken in the Autumn of 1904, at the Mamaroneck wetlands near New York’s Long Island Sound, this image is surrounded by mysteries of colour. According to PDN, the three known prints created from Steichen’s negative each have different and distinct tonalities.

From PDN: “Starting from a black-and-white negative, Steichen used a special printing process to layer different hues of color over it. Sotheby’s describes the print sold yesterday as a platinum print with one or more layers of gum-bichromate applied on top of it. Each layer was a different tone, and could have been altered with a brush or sponge. The resulting print is a ghostly blue-green.

The subtle hue of “The Pond-Moonlight,” which measures 16 1/6 by 19 11/16 inches, is a world apart from the previous record-holding print, Prince’s bright, bold cowboy image that measures 50 by 70 inches.

Steichen’s print is an example of the Pictorialism movement, which stressed the artistic qualities of an image above its subject. It also reflects Steichen’s background as a fine art painter. Steichen was born in Luxembourg in 1879 and trained as a painter in Milwaukee, but made his name as a photographer in New York. He shot for
Vogue and Vanity Fair beginning in the 1920s, and became director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943. He died in Connecticut in 1973.”