Photography is Art


Photography as an art form is finally getting its due in South Africa, according to Anton Welz, Director of Stephan Welz & Co. Included in what Welz says is “an exciting selection of compelling photographs” up for sale in the June 4th Cape Town Decorative and Fine Arts Auction, are works by current Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Mikhael Subotzky and legendary Drum photographer Jürgen Schadeberg.

Stephan Welz and Co - CT June auction - Guy Tillim

Hot on the tails of a successful Johannesburg charity photographic auction in March, which raised in excess of half a million rand, for photojournalist John Liebenberg who required hip replacement surgery, the auction house is championing what Welz calls one of our most exciting new art forms.  More than 40 of South Africa’s finest photographers, from David Goldblatt to Subotzky, contributed some of their best work to this auction, which benefitted their colleague. “The response was just as enthusiastic from buyers as it was from the photographers,” said Welz.

“I believe that the increased interest we are seeing in collecting fine art photography is in part coming from increased exposure (no pun intended) to the dedication and craft of photojournalists, particularly since the release of the filmThe Bang Bang Club, about the daring photographers who covered the townships in the early ’90s,” said Welz.

“In addition, the fact that Standard Bank awarded its prestigious Young Artist of the Year award in Visual Arts to a photographer has notched up photographic art considerably in the eyes of the public,” says Welz. The impact of a photograph can be as profound as a painting, he says, referring to the well-known quote from influential American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

In the upcoming auction, there is imagery that demonstrates two very different styles – that of photojournalism, which with certain photographers like Jürgen Schadeberg, is more and more recognized as art; and a creative, artistic style expressed by photographers like Zwelethu Mthethwa and Mikhael Subotzky.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Subotzky’s career has grown exponentially since he started photography as an 18-year-old in 2000 and subsequently achieved 100% in his final year at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art. His creative photographs often explore the darker side of life, according to Welz. As the Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner, he currently has a solo exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesberg, called ‘Retinal Shift’, which runs through 15 June.

Subotzky’s Runner-Up Miss Teen Show Competition, Beaufort West, 2006, will be up for sale at the Stephan Welz & Co. auction in Cape Town. Valued at R20 000 – R30 000, the photograph allows the viewer a glimpse into a glamorous event, which takes place in a very bleak setting.

A photograph by Durban-born painter and photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa, who also attended Michaelis at UCT, a then whites-only university into which he gained enrolment with special ministerial consent will also go under the hammer.  He has exhibited his artistically composed photographs across the world. His untitled photograph produced as an edition of three is valued at R10 000 – R15 000.

Stephan Welz Co - Subotzky - small

In Black and White

A great documentarian of South Africa over the past 60 years is German-born Jürgen Schadeberg, who was one of the key Drum photographers during the turbulent 1950’s and early 1960’s. Many of his telling images of South Africa are etched in our minds forever, says Welz, like the black and white portrait going under the hammer of former President Nelson Mandela, revisiting his Robben Island prison cell in 1994, estimated at R30 000 – R40 000.

“Schadeberg’s photographs of Nelson Mandela feel particularly poignant and collectable at this later stage in Madiba’s life,” said Welz.

Known for his work in troubled regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, Guy Tillim was referred to as “arguably South Africa’s finest photographer not named David Goldblatt” by Richard Popack in the Daily Maverick.  “He began as a photojournalist, but has morphed into something much more profound,” says Popack. Tillim’s images, like the two photographs of Mai Mai child soldiers up for auction, are searing graphic documents of troubled places and times. Each photo is estimated at R15 000 – R20 000.

Stephan Welz Co - Schadeberg - small

Auction Photographic First

Photographer Chris Simpson may be British, but the 30-year veteran commercial and fashion photographer who now focuses solely on fine art photography, grew up in Mauritius and his body of non-commercial work clearly focuses on the world’s central belt. In the upcoming auction, Stephan Welz & Co. will be offering Simpson’s photos for the very first time.

Himba Mother is Simpson’s intimate portrait of a woman from northern Namibia’s Himba tribe, whilst The Grand Mosque at Djenne-Mali, focuses on the mosque, its evolution and the relationship people have had with it over the years, showing how interconnected and symbolic a monument can be. Each of these photos is valued at R24 000 – R26 000.

Stephan Welz and Co - CT June auction - Himba Mother Chris Simpson_small

Whether your focus is photography, or your zoom lens is set to capture other fine arts or collectables, you will find over 900 items for sale at the Stephan Welz & Co. Decorative and Fine Arts Auction that will take place Tuesday, 4 and Wednesday 5 June at The Great Cellar, Alphen Estate, Alphen Drive, Constantia. Pre-auction viewing open to the public at no charge from Wednesday 29 May to Sunday 2 June 2013, 10h00-17h00 daily.  For more information call 021-794-6461 or e-mail

The auction catalogue can be viewed at

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