A small group of collectors and connoisseurs have played a significant role in shaping our understanding of photography. We are not speaking of those who would reduce the medium to a set of status symbols and commodities. Rather, in "Connoisseurs and Collections," the terms identify those rare individuals who, because of their passionate and often eclectic interests, their long-time involvement with and commitment to particular artists, or an almost archaeologically inclined curiosity, have brought together and woven into the very fabric of their lives collections that reveal their unique perspectives and discoveries.
From Matchbooks to Masterpieces: Toward a Philosophy of Collecting
Arthur C. Danto
Art collecting as a practice is at least as old as the practice of philosophizing about the nature of art, but nothing in the great canon of aesthetic writing, from Plato to Aristotle, through Kant and Hegel, to Nietzsche and Heidegger, would enable one to infer that art was something people might collect.
Aperture: When and how did you start collecting? Werner Bokelberg: About twenty years ago I began to gather photographs. It was an era that might one day be referred to as the best time to build a solid collection. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the ease of reproduction, photographs were much more scarce than I expected.
Aperture: Tell me about the people who collect. Gérard Lévy: A collector must be mad, because a collection is something no one needs. You are following some line of thought and mixing images—it is an art of love. If you don't know why, then you are collecting things because they somehow go with one another.
Aperture: Do you consider yourself a collector? Joshua Smith: I've been a collector for over twenty years. This means that I'm interested in art. I buy art not just for the purpose of decorating where I live and work, but with the idea of assembling a collection, that is to say, meaningful bodies of work that in some way have a relationship to one another.
Stanley Burns: I have over 125,000 photographs. My collection is best known for its medical photographs, of which there are over 25,000 original images from between 1840 and 1920. I also have original Civil War albums, and copy prints of them are in government archives.
Hunter-Gatherers in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Photograph collecting is a custom that has flourished since the earliest days of the medium, the photographic pioneers themselves being amongst the pre-eminent collectors. In England and France during the 1840s and '50s these "amateur" photographers tended to be members of both the intellectual aristocracy and the financial elite.
Aperture: Do you consider yourself a collector? Dorothy Norman: No. A: Then how do you happen to have all this wonderful artwork? DN: The first thing I ever saw that I wanted was a Stieglitz print. This happened when I first met him. I had never bought anything, and I had very little money.
Thomas Walther: This is going to be sort of a staccato brainstorming. Just some ideas that came to my mind when I thought about my apparent need to collect all these beautiful objects. There's certainly something like passion involved, a willingness to sacrifice almost everything else to the desire to enlarge and enhance the collection, to add elements and further this rather complex notion of a mosaic.
Fine-art painters said photography wasn't art. Fine-art dealers said photography couldn't last. Fine-art collectors said a photograph wasn't worth a thousand dollars. They were all wrong. From early French photographs to the Starn Twins, photography now dominates the art scene.
The idea that images are weapons of war is not new. The now-discredited view of ancient history depicted by Herodotus turned out to be an ethnocentric interpretation of certain events like the Peloponnesian Wars (431—404 B.C.). Herodotus was a skilled practitioner when it came to distinguishing between the civilized and the barbarous.
WERNER BOKELBERG was born in 1937. He has been photographing for thirty-five years, ten of which were spent with Stern magazine. He has been collecting actively since 1970. A short film on photographic history and appreciation titled Every Eye Forms Its Own Beauty features the Werner Bokelberg collection and was made by his son, Oliver Bokelberg, who also was of great assistance in preparing our interview with his father.
Front cover: photograph by André Breton, courtesy of the Gérard Lévy collection; p. 3 photograph by Tina Modotti, sepia-toned platinum print, courtesy of Sotheby's; pp. 4-15 photographs courtesy of the Werner Bokelberg collection; p. 16 photocollage by George Tourdgman;