He is a legendary auctioneer of the world of photography.
He organized some of the biggest auctions in the history of the still image. And yes, he is also a photographer!
Philippe Garner is exhibited at the Hamiltons Gallery until October 4.
I have two very fond memories of Garner.
The first encounter was in the mid-1970s. The Photographers Gallery in London asked Sotheby’s to organize its first charity sale. Roger Thérond, my boss at PHOTO, curious sent me over to follow it.
It was held at Sotheby’s Belgravia, Garner was at the hammer.
There was about sixty people including a very handsome man dressed in black, a sort of Gary Cooper look-alike.
He bought enormously and especially the last lot: Colette by Penn, a sublime print.
His hand was raised throughout the auction.
At 875 pounds he won, the room went wild: a madman, a joker: 875 pounds a photo: what was going on?
In the evening, Garner invited me to dinner with the man in black: it was Sam Wagstaff.
A beautiful friendship was born between the three of us.
A year later, the Museum of Modern Art offered PHOTO to host its Amateurs competition.
150 large prints, the exhibition was great, the purists were baying like famish wolves!
Drama: an image was stolen, a large nude. It was a photo by Philippe Garner: he was delighted!
Hamiltons Gallery presents the exhibition Summer – Seventies – Saint-Tropez, the first solo show of photographs by Philippe Garner, a figure already well known and respected as a long-standing champion of photography through a fifty-plus years career as an auction specialist and historian.
The images – all shot on Kodachrome film, notable for the rich and vibrant saturation of its colours – take us back half a century to discover now-long-erased traces of an old Provence in and around Aix-en-Provence, where Garner was born. A discrete suite of images made on the now-legendary La Voile Rouge beach of Saint-Tropez capture the spirit of its raffish, chic-bohemian heyday.
Garner explains: “I was twenty-three when I took the first of these pictures. Thinking back to those years, I recall how driven I already was to make images that captured the essence of all that engaged me.
I had spent much time as a child and teenager in the South of France, based in Aix-en-Provence, where my grandmother lived. That region – including Marseille and the coastal resorts to the east of Marseille and their hinterland – became an important part of my life.
In the Seventies, camera in hand, I was able to respond to my fascination with such subjects as the artisanal typography of commercial signage, the emblematic weathered traces of a Provence that was slipping away, the qualities of the summer light, the sensuality of textures – be they of flaking paint, of food, or of tanned skin. It was fundamental to my approach then – and it remains the case for me today – that the technical aspect of my making photographs should be of the utmost simplicity. My challenge has always been to identify and frame the precise subject that could perfectly reflect my curiosity and my sensibility.”
Garner has enjoyed a long career as an auction specialist in the fields of photographs and 20th century decorative arts and design. He joined Sotheby’s in 1970 after graduating in French and Latin from Bedford College, London. He was instrumental in establishing the modern auction market for photographs. He joined Christie’s in 2004, retiring from his full-time commitments as a deputy chairman in 2016 to become a consultant. He continues to play a valued role in bringing major works and collections to auction.
Since his childhood, Garner has been fascinated by many aspects of the visual and performing arts. As a consequence, his specific knowledge as a specialist in the history of photography is supported by a wide and rich culture. All this has served to inform and refine his discriminating eye, not only within his professional activity but in the passion that he has invested through the decades in making photographs – a passion that he had, until very recently, kept private.
Philippe Garner : Summer – Seventies – Saint-Tropez
4 September – 4 October 2023
Private View: 12 Sept, 6-8pm
13 Carlos Place
London, W1K 2EU
+44 (0) 207 499 9494