Arts / Galleries

10 Must-See Works at the Houston Center for Photography’s Always Coveted Print Auction — Seeing the Big Picture

Portraits of Moral Courage and Much More

BY Haley Berkman Karren // 02.06.24

Houston’s thriving photography community will be celebrated at Houston Center for Photography’s 43rd Print Auction & Dinner. This event, which supports Houston Center for Photography exhibitions, educational initiatives and community programs, is set to take place next Thursday, February 15 at Hotel ZaZa in the heart of the city’s museum district.

This year’s auction honors Gay Block, a founding member of HCP and acclaimed portrait photographer. Her work explores identity and community, capturing the essence of her subjects in a way that is truly breathtaking. Her landmark series, Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, has been exhibited internationally at venues which include the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

As a founding member of HCP, Block was instrumental in the growth of the organization and served as one of the first board presidents. Although she no longer lives in Houston, the organization remains close to her heart. Block has remained active in the Houston art world too. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston holds the largest collection of her work, and the University of Houston will receive her archives, which include proof prints, negatives and contact film sheets.  

As for the auction. . .  There will be 81 lots available for bid, consisting of 70 photographs, six objects, four books and one portfolio. These include four lots from Magnum photographers, a handful from Houston Center for Photography instructors and a strong showing from photographers throughout the state of Texas.

The live auction will include 26 lots, and the other 55 are part of the silent auction. The live auction will surely be spirited, with Ruth Mauldin returning as the auctioneer. 

Usually, the live auction is only available to those at the dinner,  but for the first time this year HCP is allowing bidding by proxies, a practice recognized by auction houses. The bidding process for the silent auction is streamlined and available online through Qtego.

Valentine's Day Gifts For Her

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As an art advisor, I research and place artwork for clients while trying to educate. Here are my Top 10 Picks for the HCP auction:

Gay Block's <em>Untitled</em>, 1982-85, printed 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Gay Block’s Untitled, 1982-85, printed 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Gay Block, Untitled, 1982-85, printed 2023, Live Auction Lot 1

This auction would not be complete without a portrait by honoree Gay Block. This piece — one of two Block works in the auction — is from her Miami series, in which she photographs Jewish retirees in South Beach in the 1980s. I adore the two elderly women chatting in the beach chairs with their hands folded in their laps, while Miami’s iconic blue sky, palm trees and Art Deco architecture stretch out in the distance.

Dina Litovsky's <em>Satin Shoes, Fashion Week</em>, 2019, printed 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Dina Litovsky’s Satin Shoes, Fashion Week, 2019, printed 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Dina Litovsky, Satin Shoes, Fashion Week, 2019, printed 2023, Live Auction Lot 4

This photograph of a model’s raw and blistered feet in yellow slingback heels by Dina Litovsky went viral when it was posted by National Geographic on Instagram in 2022, triggering a heated discussion about beauty standards and the fashion industry. Many women can relate to the ordeal of wearing painful shoes, and this visceral photograph captures exactly that. 

Martín Wannam's <em>Hot Yellow Clouds, Monument,</em> 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Martín Wannam’s Hot Yellow Clouds, Monument, 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Martín Wannam, Hot Yellow Clouds, Monument, 2023, Live Auction Lot 8

Artist Martín Wannam critically examines and reimagines his homeland of Guatemala. The artist uses stickers and emblems sourced from Guatemala and cut-out plexiglass acrylic in this mixed-media piece. The bright colors and whimsical style belie the profound nature of the work. 

Yael Martínez's <em>Astros</em>, 2024 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Yael Martínez’s Astros, 2024 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Yael Martínez, Astros, 2024, Live Auction Lot 16

Magnum photographer Yael Martinez recently led a class at HCP on community. While in Houston, he made this unique piece specifically for the auction. The figure wearing the Astros jersey while wrapped in the American flag is truly emblematic of the Bayou City. What makes the photograph especially exciting is that the print has been manipulated through cuts and folds, and held in place by silver pins that stick out quite sculpturally.

Stuart Allen's <em>AA 2408 - OVER CALIFORNIA - 02/01/2017, 4:47 PM</em>, 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Stuart Allen’s AA 2408 – OVER CALIFORNIA – 02/01/2017, 4:47 PM, 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

 

Stuart Allen, AA 2408 – OVER CALIFORNIA – 02/01/2017, 4:47 PM, 2023, Live Auction Lot 20

I am incredibly intrigued by this photograph by Stuart Allen, whose work explores perception and time. This photograph was initially taken through the window of an airplane on an iPhone. The artist then applied an algorithm that breaks down the snapshot into a grid of small dots, so that a record of the color of atmospheric light remains. 

Chris McCaw's <em>Sunburned GSP#1069 (Olympics)</em>, 2022 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Chris McCaw’s Sunburned GSP#1069 (Olympics), 2022 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Chris McCaw, Sunburned GSP#1069 (Olympics), 2022, Live Auction Lot 21

Chris McCaw is internationally recognized for his unique approach to contemporary landscape photography. Sunburned GSP#1069 (Olympics) records the passage of time through the movement of the sun in a handmade large-format camera. Due to the lengthy exposure time, this unique gelatin silver paper negative has been solarized in the camera, reversing the tonality of the landscape. 

Mark Sink's <em>Lionel Richie,</em> 2018 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Mark Sink’s Lionel Richie, 2018 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Mark Sink, Lionel Richie, 2018, Lot 129

This fun, unique gelatin silver photograph of Lionel Richie was taken by Mark Sink in the early 1980s, when he worked for Andy Warhol and documented celebrity culture. Sink repurposed this vintage print by adding the vinyl dots, activating the image while exploring memory and time.

Troy Ezequiel Montes' <em>Sigo El Camino</em>, 2022 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Troy Ezequiel Montes’ Sigo El Camino, 2022 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Troy Ezequiel Montes, Sigo El Camino, 2022, printed 2023, Lot 133

Houston-based photographer Troy Ezequiel Montes documents his annual pilgrimages to his ancestral home of El Porvenir, Mexico. This photograph immediately caught my eye due to the artist’s understanding of color and composition, as well as the extreme shadows that slightly obscure the figure’s face.

Brigitte Bauer's<em> SeoulFlowers&amp;Trees_n°71</em>, 2018, printed 2024 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Brigitte Bauer’s SeoulFlowers&Trees_n°71, 2018, printed 2024 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

 

Brigitte Bauer, SeoulFlowers&Trees_n°71, 2018, printed 2024, Silent Auction Lot 149

This piece by Brigitte Bauer is about the act of viewing and being viewed. The park in the photograph is surrounded by a wall printed with a black-and-white image, likely of the park itself. A square window in the wall allows the passerby to peek in, revealing a burst of soft greens and a tree trunk rising from the ground. In the midst of the tree’s beautiful branches is a pole with cameras, watching and recording. I particularly like this photograph for its peculiarity and how it provoked my continued contemplation of surveillance.

Samuel Ryde's <em>Hackney Picturehouse, London,</em> 2020, printed 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)
Samuel Ryde’s Hackney Picturehouse, London, 2020, printed 2023 (Courtesy Houston Center for Photography)

Samuel Ryde, Hackney Picturehouse, London, 2020, printed 2023, Silent Auction Lot 156

Samuel Ryde is a British photographer who captures often-overlooked items of the everyday. Hackney Picturehouse, London is part of a fascinating study of hand dryers throughout the world. I’m a fan of Ryde’s photography and have included his work in exhibitions, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this piece in the auction.

 

The Houston Center for Photography’s 43rd Print Auction will take place next Thursday, February 15 at Hotel ZaZa. The lots are available to see in person at the Houston Center for Photography galleries through this Sunday, February 11. For more information and tickets, go here. View lots and register here. If you would like to bid on a live lot but are unable to attend in person, contact [email protected]

Author’s note: Haley Berkman Karren is an art advisor, appraiser, independent curator and writer who has contributed to the Houston Center for Photography’s Spot Magazine as well as juried the HCP exhibition, “Learning Curve 11.” She is also the founder and director of Karren Art Advisory, specializing in modern and contemporary art, photography and digital art.

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