Eisenstaedt and the Appraisal of Photography
Alfred Eisenstaedt’s work has come in and out of MIR Appraisal Services’ office for years. The famous LIFE Magazine, black and white photographer is world renown and can be found nearly everywhere. From college dorm room posters of the VJ Day in Times Square, to framed prints of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, people have purchased recreations of this photographer’s work for years. While Eisenstaedt’s work has stood the test of time through its ability to capture both the beauty of everyday life and iconic moments of history, many people are often unfamiliar with the photographer and his professional achievements.
The famous, self-taught, photographer was born in Dirschau, Poland in 1898. He gained his experience working as a freelance photographer, learning along the way and gaining mastery of the 35 mm Leica camera. Upon his emigration to New York in 1935 to escape Nazi Germany, he was hired as one of the first four photographers by LIFE Magazine. His 35 mm would be the tool he used to capture some of the most definitive moments of the 20th century, from politics to pop culture. He documented figures ranging from Winston Churchill and Joseph Goebbels to Sophia Loren and Ernest Hemmingway. He received countless recognitions for his work including the Medal of the Arts, International Understanding Award for Outstanding Achievement and the Photographic Society of American Achievement Award. Reassessments of the moments captured in his photographs are still offering insights and new conversations regarding history and the condition of the world today. His images are the most recreated of the 20th century.
Photography can be a more difficult medium to appraise compared to other fine art forms like paintings. The nature of photography is reproduction. The very idea of it being considered an art form was up for debate since its inception. However, its rise in popularity, especially in the early 20th century saw more and more people taking part in the collection of photographic material. Regardless of opinion at the time, the medium had value due to its popular reception. Because Eisenstaedt’s works were heavily featured in magazines like LIFE, and reproduced in postcards, posters, and books, collectors of these images created a value in these replications due to the fact that this practice was a revelation of the time period. Even when collected images are not from the original photographer’s negative, they can have value depending on a variety of factors such as inscriptions, provenance, and date. In terms of appraising photography overall, the same factors are considered as with any other art form.
We at MIR enjoy the challenges that accompany the appraisal of photography. From original negatives to signed posters, there is always a story to uncover with the piece. Photographs, along with all other items we appraise at MIR Appraisal Services, possess a variety of factors that require consideration when calculating a value. It is not strictly the medium that determines it, but also the social and historic factors that determine a piece's significance.
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