BLACK ARTISTS LED the Photographs: Art & Visual Culture sale at Swann Auction Galleries on Feb. 21. A group of 38 silver prints in custom frames by Malick Sidibé (1936-2016) was the top lot. The photos yielded $87,500 (including fees), an artist record, according to Swann. The individual and group portraits were made by the West African photographer between 1964 and 2001.

“Dancers (Harlem),” a silver print by Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), garnered the second-highest price. It sold for $52,500 (including fees), an artist record for a single photograph. The 1955 image was printed in 1982. DeCarava is known is for masterful use of light and shadow. The image is a fine example of the photographer’s technique.

The 325-lot auction also featured three Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998) images, including a portrait of the Pittsburgh photographer who documented the city’s black community for much of the 20th century. There was also a strking image of Congress of Racial Equality workers, “Peace and Freedom Walkers, Albany, Ga.” (1963), by Consuelo Kanaga (1894-1978). A writer and photographer who spent significant periods of her career in San Francisco and New York City, she became recognized for her images of African Americans.

In addition, a portrait of President Barack Obama (2009) by Martin Schoeller, was offered. An earlier print of the Obama image is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The portrait was originally commissioned in 2004 by GQ magazine, in advance of his run for the White House.


Lot 140: ROY DECARAVA, “Dancers (Harlem),” 1955, printed 1982 (silver print, image: 13 x 8 3/4 inches / 33 x 22.2 cm; sheet: 14 x 11 inches / 35.6 x 28 cm.). | Estimate $20,000-30,000. Sold for $42,000 hammer price ($52,500 including fees)


A COMMUNITY PHOTOGRAPHER whose images are known around the world, Sidibé captured the pulse of his hometown of Bamako, Mali. Particularly active in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, he was known for his formal studio portraits, and candid images of youth culture, and the night club and music scenes.

Particularly active in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Malick Sidibé was known for his formal studio portraits, and candid images of youth culture, and the night club and music scenes.

In 2007, the pioneering artist was the first photographer and first African to receive the Venice Biennial’s prestigious Golden Lion lifetime achievement award. His photographs have been exhibited around the world and are in the collections of major museums.

In the catalog documenting “Malick Sidibé: Mali Twist,” the retrospective exhibition recently presented at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporainin in Paris, art historian Robert Storr distilled the significance of the photographer’s artistry.

“That Sidibé was a ‘popular’ photographer rather than a satirical pop commentator on vernacular culture—which is to say he was a photographer firmly grounded in his environment who combined work-for-hire portraiture with his own exploratory documentation of the quotidian excitement of his Bamako neighborhood—made him one among several recording angels of a new generation of urban Africans, of which the other most important Malian example was his elder, Seydou Keita,” Storr wrote.

“Together they framed our vision of this crucial period of postcolonial history, and, while there were certainly many other perspectives in play, theirs are the signal oeuvres we have in this medium.”

Representing four decades of work, the Sidibé lot sold for nearly twice its $30,000-$45,000 estimate. Nineteen of the images were custom framed in 2003. Sidibé often housed his photographs in hand-painted frames made by Checkna Touré, a local artisan who had a shop around the corner from his Bamako studio. CT


TOP IMAGE: Lot 229: MALICK SIDIBÉ, Installation of 38 Exuberant Photographs, 1964-2001 (silver prints, some in reverse painted custom frames). | Estimate $30,000-$45,000. Sold for $70,000 ($87,500 including fees)


READ MORE about Malick Sidibé and his photography on Culture Type

FIND MORE about how artists and their estates might benefit from secondary market sales


Fully illustrated, “Malick Sidibé: Mali Twist,” documents the retrospective recently presented at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporainin in Paris. Countless black-and-white images are complemented by brief scholarly writings by André Magnin, Brigitte Ollier, Manthia Diawara, and Robert Storr. The contributions include a first-person essay by Malick Sidibé that details his path to photography. First published in 1998, the account was updated for this publication. More than 60 years after it was originally published in 1955, a new edition of “Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes: The Sweet Flypaper of Life” was published last fall. Paying homage to life in Harlem, the collaboration features heartfelt prose by Hughes and captivating images by DeCarava, and includes a new afterword by Sherry Turner DeCarava, the photographer’s widow.


Additional images from the Sidibé lot follow:













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