Picture this: Mega African photo auction

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Johannesburg – More than 50 photographers from eight African countries took part in a huge photography auction hosted by South Africa’s Aspire Art Auctions in collaboration with the Photography Legacy Project (PLP).

The online auction featured a collection of 126 works by 56 photographers from Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa, Sudan and Zimbabwe. On offer were works straddling the historical and the contemporary, with bidding opening in October and ending last week.

PLP aims to raise the profile of African photography globally.

Ruarc Peffers, the MD of Aspire Art Auctions, said: “The underrepresentation of African artists and photographers has contributed to a visceral representation gap of black artists within collections globally. To date, African artists represent less than one percent of the overall market.  It is through efforts of organisations such as PLP that we are able to grow the value of artists from Africa to be more in-line with their American and European counterparts.”

Among photographers whose work was up for the veteran South African Ernest Cole, with 12 silver gelatin prints from his seminal 1967 book “House of Bondage” sold for an R569,000 (more than US$37,000) – a world record for the segment.

The portfolio from an archive once thought to be lost was presented by the Ernest Cole Family Trust.

Another big catch was documentary photographer Alf Kumalo’s famed image of a young Hugh Masekela after receiving a trumpet from American jazz legend Louis Armstrong in 1956. The picture sold for R79,660 (about US$5,200).

Another music-themed photo from Kumalo, the 1968 silhouette of South African saxophonist Mankunku Ngozi, sold for R27,312 (about US$1,700).

Drum magazine photographers from the 1950s and ‘60s - among them Ranjith Kally’s and Bob Gosani - also attracted much attention.

Kally’s 1957 image of singer Miriam Makeba seated with friends at the Durban City Hall during the theatre production of “King Kong” netted R68,280 (US$4,500); while three photographs by Bob Gosani sold for a combined R122,904 (US$8,000). 

Ghanaian Nipah Dennis and Angolan Kiluanji Kia Henda also attracted bidding interest, as did Kenyan multi-media artist Syowia Kyambi.

“We are pleased with the results achieved in this first ever stand-alone auction of African photography. We continue to share our passion for the medium and our unwavering belief that the work of photographers on the continent is amongst the most rigorous and compelling lens-based art being produced today. We look forward to working further to strengthen the market for African photography locally and abroad,” said Peffers.

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