ERIC MILES: Photography Book Collecting

Cindy Sherman, 1987 Whitney Museum catalogue

Robert Frank: The Americans (1st American edition)

ERIC MILES is Director of photo-eye Auctions. He is a specialist in rare photo books and contemporary photography and a contributor to Foam magazine, American Photo, and photo-eye Booklist. He holds a Master's in art history from Hunter College and completed additional graduate work at City University of New York Graduate Center. In 1990-1991, he was a participant in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. He has taught art history and criticism at Hunter College, Fashion Institute of Technology, and Pratt Institute as well as been a reviewer and presenter at the Santa Fe Workshops, Review Santa Fe and PhotoLA.

I recently asked Eric Miles a few questions about the art of rare photography book collecting:

Can you give a brief history of your work with photo-eye Auctions, beginning in Santa Fe and expanding to NYC?

EM: I started working with photo-eye in January of 2004, just a few months after the auctions launched. Initially, I was hired to do cataloging. As with many positions at photo-eye, job descriptions have a way of rapidly expanding to include many other tasks. Thankfully, in my case, most of these had to do with administering the auctions: cataloging, scanning, and working with consignors. Within about six months, they had become more or less my exclusive domain. For this reason, the move to NY in the fall of 2007 was pretty much seamless. Being in NY, I obviously get out more and am able to secure more and better consignments.

What is the criteria for the books that make it into your Auction? Are they all 1st editions and must be signed by the author (photographer)?

EM: I try to be fairly selective about what makes it into the auctions. I am always looking for fresh material. Books do not have to be signed, but for the most part, they do need to be out of print; otherwise, I am competing with booksellers offering new books, which is not what the auctions are set up to do. Occasionally I will take books that are still in print IF they are signed. The main criteria are rarity and condition. The two are related in that some books are really pretty common in just o.k. condition, but in perfect condition they are very rare. The older the book, the greater the extent to which this holds true. Likewise with signatures: some artists just don't sign very many books–Cindy Sherman is a good example; many Europeans and Japanese who don't make it to the States that often as well. Finally, I am always looking for material that just isn't easily found on the used book sites. Also, books with interesting inscriptions that tell some sort of story; for instance, I have a copy of a wonderful book by Hiroshi Hamaya called Ura Nihon (Japans Back Coast) that is inscribed by him to "Mama San Capa". Hamaya was the first Asian member of Magnum; this inscription to Robert & Cornell Capa's mother is a wonderful memorial to Capa and a fascinating bit of history documenting a relationship between the two photographers. Also, supplemental material can also be of interest to collectors. For example, I have a copy of Diane Arbus' first monograph, which contains the image 'Two Girls in Identical Raincoats.' Along with the book, I have the card that Aperture sent out to its subscribers offering the book for sale.

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph
Rare 1st Edition with 'Two Girls In Identical Raincoats'

Josef Sudek: Fotografie (Signed in 1959)

Scarce Hiroshi Hamaya Monograph

Are Vintage photography books more collectible than Contemporary photography books?

EM: Sometimes. Again, much has to do with condition and completeness; for example, some books from the period between the two world wars are quite common. However, dust jackets from the period are often missing. With the incredibly high volume of new titles published each year, buying new books for their collectibility can be a crap shoot. That said, if a) the book is by an artist with a well-established reputation, and, b) the edition is small (500-1000 or less), it is pretty hard to go wrong. J.H. Engstrom's books are a good example.

Are there any rare copies you regret having to sell?

EM: This one: Milano by Giulia Pirelli and Carlo Orsi. It comes up so rarely for sale.

What has been the finest rare book collection you've ever seen?

EM: Without a doubt the collection belonging to Manfred Heiting. He was a marketing executive and designer for Polaroid in the 60s and 70s. He sold off a collection of prints about 7-8 years ago in order to focus on books. He is a fanatical completist–he must have every dust jacket, every belly band, every publisher's insert, etc....He is building a database that includes all such information, much of which got lost back in the day when libraries would simply discard dust jackets and anything else they thought would deteriorate or just get in the way.

Most interesting book in the past that you've sold?

EM: Again, there are so many: Moriyama: Bye Bye Photography; a first edition of Willy Ronis: Belleville Ménilmontan with a rare variant cover; a couple of Mao propaganda books that rarely show up in the west; a rare Japanese quarterly called Ken that was put out by Shomei Tomatsu; finally, an incredibly haunting Czech book called Toto mesto je vespolecne peci obyvatel. (This Town is Under the Control of its Citizens) with surreal photographs by Miroslav Peterka that look something like an Atget on bad acid!

Would you reveal the most expensive book PEA has sold in the past (and why)?

EM: We've sold many, many books in the $1000-2000 range. We've also sold many in the $3000-4000 range. As for most expensive, a Willy Ronis portfolio of collotypes (not a book, strictly speaking) sold for over $6000 back in '07; a limited edition of Sonia Bulaty's Josef Sudek bio for over $5000; a suite of Sally Mann nudes (prints, though, not a book) for over $9000; a reasonably nice copy of Robert Frank's The Americans in it's first American edition for $4500. It being an auction situation, sometimes enthusiastic bidding can push the price of a lot up way above its market value. Anytime one bids in an auction, due diligence is the name of the game!

What are a few of the finest rare books you were not able to acquire?

EM: Again, too many to mention: the three issues of Provoke magazine come to mind. They were a short-lived but very influential Japanese collective of whichDaido Moriyama was the best known member. Another would be the first edition of Moi Ver's Paris

Are you personally a fine art book collector?

EM: Yes, I have a small collection, but I've got some pretty severe space restrictions!

Rare and Collectible Photography Books


Caio Fern said...

what is this i am feeling now ?
oh yeah .
envy .

delightfull post . perfect for make me dream in a sunday rainny evening .

Olivier said...

malheureusement mon anglais n'est pas assez bon pour lire toute l'interview, mais j'aimerais bien avoir dans ma collection le livre "Robert Frank: The Americans (1st American edition)".......Hummmm

O Profeta said...

Lembrarás tu que as manhãs
Acordam da tua luz fugidia
És esperança de perdida estrela
Quem recolhe a dor em Deus confia

Assombração que o luar esqueceu
Nas margens de um lago azul
Hoje passou a voar por mim
A última garça a caminho do sul

Era alva como a espuma do mar
Graciosa como mulher feliz
Voava de encontro ao vento
Com olhar brilhante de petiz

Boa semana

Mágico beijo

Anonymous said...

Most Informative. Thank you

Susan May Tell said...

Very interesting interview!

troy holden said...

My library in San Francisco has an incredible amount of out of print (large) photobooks by some of the 60s-70s street shooters as well as some of the more well know volumes from the masters.

Thanks for posting this interview.