Jackson Photograph, "Currecanti Creek," ca. 1875
Appraised Value: $3,000 - $5,000
IMAGE: 1 of 2
Appraisal Video: (4:00)
Vice President & Director of Photographs
Swann Auction Galleries
GUEST: I purchased it a number of years ago in a small town in Colorado. It was called Eckert. It's near Grand Junction. I go back every year or so to do some fly-fishing and prospecting, and I've always been a fan of this person's pictures, but I never knew if these were real, or if they were print off of a photograph.
APPRAISER: Well, you've brought in a photograph by William Henry Jackson, from the 1870s. And if we look at the bottom of the picture area, we see that his name appears on the lower right, W.H. Jackson, Denver, and he always signed in the plate-- in the negative-- in that block lettering. The title of the photograph is at the lower left, "Currecanti Creek." Then we have an inventory number, which allowed tourists, visitors, to order pictures from Jackson. Of the 19th-century landscape photographers, Jackson is among the best. We have Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, William Henry Jackson. These are some of the primary figures associated with the American West and the landscape tradition. What I find so wonderful about this picture is that it's a photograph that manages to combine the documentary approach and the fine art approach. In the lower area of the frame, we have this moving water, which is why that portion of the frame is out of focus. In the central area here, we have a number of figures who are posing for the camera, and still. So the overall image gives us a sense of Currecanti Creek, and then the figures and the composition of the frame tell us that this is something that was formally composed and has an aesthetic component to it. Have you been to Currecanti Creek?
GUEST: I haven't. I don't think it exists anymore. I think there's a big old lake. I think the whole thing might be flooded now with, what, Blue Mesa or some huge reservoir for water.
APPRAISER: Interesting... so this, again, underscores the fact that it is a document. The kind of version that we have of photography today is really a very different experience than photography of the 19th century, which was more of a scientific adventure. Jackson had a mule that was loaded down with 100 pounds of equipment, most of it glass-plate negatives the size of this picture, which is a mammoth albumin print. So it is an original photograph. The glass-plate negative was coated with a wet collodion substance. While the negative was wet, it was inserted into the camera. The picture was exposed. The negative would be removed from the camera-- the camera was a gigantic, heavy wooden thing-- and then taken to a tent and processed on site.
GUEST: And the negatives were this large?
APPRAISER: The negatives were actually this large. What did you pay for this picture?
GUEST: Well, I bought four of these. I paid $15 apiece three or four years ago.
APPRAISER: When we look at Jackson's photographs, we really are not only looking at the content, looking at the subject matter; we're looking at the condition of the photograph itself. And albumin paper of the 19th century should have a nice, rich, brownish-eggplant tone, and yours does. If I were to value this picture for an auction, I would put the estimate at $3,000 to $5,000.
GUEST: Wow! It's a beautiful piece.
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