A black and white photo. It depicts an awkward picnic scene. A group of people composed of three men and two topless, a bit insecure laughing women. Who are they and why does this matter for us today, or anyone interested in the Arts and Photography? It matters as the people in the photo taken by Lee Miller in the summer of 1937, are Paul and Nusch Eluard, Man Ray and Ady Fidelin. Furthermore, the man at the table looking into the sky is the Surrealist Roland Penrose who would become the founder of the Institute of Contemporary Art and the biographer of Pablo Picasso. He also organised the great 1960 Picasso retrospective at the Tate. When this photo was taken, Lee Miller had just met Penrose. She would die 40 years later, way too early, in his arms, after living an unusual and empowered life as a woman photographer and artist, that unfolded among the most important artists and events of the 20th century.
So we can see, the story behind this photo is relevant and educational. It is the educational aspect in Vintage Photography, that is especially important in the eyes of Anna-Patricia Kahn, the Director of CLAIRbyKahn who will show this iconic work at this year’s photo basel and specialises in this area. But before we dig deeper into this field, we wanted to learn more about Anna-Patricia Kahn herself and her adventurous way into the world of Photography.
Anna you have quite an impressive vita, you worked as a war journalist, how did this develop?
I began my career as a journalist and writer. I used to work as a reporter at large for several international publications before I became the Middle East Correspondent for Focus Magazin, which I did over a period of 10 years time. My first war zone I went to, was Sarajevo and Bosnia during the Yugoslavian war.
Working and operating in war zones, especially as a woman, you must have had some challenging experiences. Do you perceive the world differently?
Yes, I did. But this is also how I came to photography. I had the big honour and chance to work with some of the most incredible persons and photographers. We would go off for a couple of weeks and work together. A lot of them Magnum Photographers, but also others. I became actually fascinated by photography because they were able to bring and pass the message with one good shot. If this one image is stunning, it has everything needed in it. I, on the contrary, would need a lot of words.
I fell in love with the Medium, and I fell in love with the work ethos of the photographers I worked with.
The creativity and the humanistic approach of these people during the war situations helped me a lot to overcome the difficulties there, and to develop in general a lot of respect for their work. The photographer is always in front of the writer.
With your Gallery, CLAIRbyKahn founded in 2008 in Munich, you represent next to promising contemporary young photographers some of the most influential photographers of their time, or rather their legacy, like the Estates of Lee Miller, Philippe Halsman or Erich Hartmann. If you look at their vita, many of them also experienced war. Is there a connection, or how did you end up being in charge of these vintage photography treasures?
I think it was a mixture. When I opened my gallery 10 years ago I called the widow of my Mentor for Photography, Erich Hartmann. He used to be the President of Magnum Photos, and I think he is one of the not so well known but incredible photographers of our time. So I asked his widow if she would accept to give me some prints so I can do an interview. She said yes, but you had to come to New York. And this is how it all began. What then happened was the word to mouth, a lot of people knew me as I have worked with a lot of photographers. They all knew I highly respected their work, but most importantly I understand that these works are not about photojournalism, it is much more. This is really very important. And then if you take the example of Lee Miller, the anecdote here is I met her son at a dinner party by accident. I didn’t even know then who he was. He asked me all the same questions as you did above. Why I was working as woman as a war journalist and so on.
At the end of the evening he approached me and asked me if I would mind taking care of the estate of his mum?
When I asked him who his mum was, he answered Lee Miller. I answered, well I wouldn’t mind representing his mum! The connection is that I believe people know I personally have a relationship with the Estate and again the respect I have for their work. It is not only about selling. It is about promoting, it is about making people understand that it is more than just a photographic work.
It comes with a lot of responsibility, we are talking about a lifetime of work.
Correct. But I am probably a person who loves challenges, and this is the reason I work with them, and they work with me. It is a very intimate connection with these estates. I am in contact with them all the time, and we have the same ideas about the ethics important when it comes to working with these legacies. We have the same mindset and approach to it, and we are aware of that. Everybody believes they understand what photography is, but they don’t.
So what is Photography for you?
It is art.
It is the most complex, complicated, interesting art niche because this is the crossroad of many humanistic fields.
You have to know history, literature, philosophy to understand it. It is like an onion! So the difference between photography which is an artwork and a cliche is that you never forget it and there is much more than there than you can first see.
At this point we merge into the complex and significant field that defines vintage photography for collectors, the provenance. Please explain why the origin is so important to Vintage Photography.
Yes. And I think one of the most significant problems we face as gallerists, promoting and working with photography is that what we do is actually Education. We educate the public in a time where we are all overflowed with images, digital images which have no value. Even prominent art collectors, they have to learn about it first. This is not something that just comes to you in a heartbeat. It is contrary to what you can see on the outside.
For someone to collect photography, you have to enter this field, and then you become addicted.
The moment you begin to understand and to look for the story behind, the moment you start to work with an estate, this moment a collector steps into this world understanding the provenance, understanding the history is vital. It is not only about buying one image and how much it costs. You become aware of that you are part of this history and that you also have a responsibility.
You are also representing younger, emerging contemporary photographers like Leonard Pongo, which gives your gallery programme a really interesting range. How do you pick new photographers?
I think how I approach photography and photographers always in the same way. It is an emotional thing. When I see an image, I just know. It is a combination of a highly professional working photographer and an image I never forget.
In the case of Leonard Pongo, he is a young, highly intelligent, amazing person with a very impressive vita for this young age. And there is also something that connects all the still living photographers I work with, they are all just very decent people. They are great human beings.
As for the last question, please tell us which photographers you show at photo basel.
I will show the Estates of Philippe Halsman, Lee Miller and Erich Hartmann. The Halsman Estate is represented exclusively by CLAIRbyKahn and I am very proud to work with them, as he is apparently such a big star and his story is one of a kind. His works just give you a good feeling. You look at the image and you are happy.
I will show Erich Hartmann, who is, in my opinion as said before, one of the best unknown photographers and the one I started out with. I am very close to the estate, and I am going to show „Laser Lights“, which he did in the 70ies. The works are so modern, just stunning. It is all analogue photography. It is similar with the Lee Miller Estate, as there is also strong connection to the Estate. She is highly regarded, but of course, there is always more possible!
Furthermore I chose to show Thomas Dworzak and the Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang, with whom I did a book called „Jetlag“ and works by Jacques Henri Lartigue, as he will be part in an exhibition at the Musée de l’Élysée Lausanne, which is on display till 30th September, 2018.
CLAIRbyKahn | booth 24
photo basel | Öffentliche Messetage:
Dienstag – Samstag (12.6-16.6.2018) von 12:00 – 20:00 Sonntag (17.6.2018) 12:00-18:00
Volkshaus Basel Rebgasse 12, 4058 Basel Schweiz www.photo-basel.com