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Meet the Experts: Michelle Lamunière, Photography Specialist

Expert appraisers work together at Skinner auction house to find, appraise, and research rare, beautiful, and historically important items. In this blog series, we will meet some of these experts and learn the stories behind their success.

How did you first become interested in photography?

My father was an art director and graphic designer so visual imagery was all around me growing up. I’ve always been interested in photography because of the way it straddles art and real life.

What is your favorite genre of photography?

I like portraits and street photography. Conceptual photography also appeals to me when the execution of the concept is well done. I’ve done a fair amount of work with contemporary photography in recent years, as a curator and in acquisitions.

Can you tell us about an exhibit you curated?

I curated You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé at the Fogg Museum/Harvard Art Museums. The exhibition traveled to four venues, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, and we published a catalog along with the show. Keïta and Sidibé lived and worked in Mali, and became well-known for the quality of their portraits. As part of my research, I traveled to Mali to meet them.

What do you love most about your work?

I love working with objects. It’s fascinating to look at a photograph that’s a mystery and unravel the context in which it was made, who made it, and what their intentions were. Even when the artist and object are well known, you get a richer experience of the image when you dig deeper.

The Fogg recently acquired a Juliet Margaret Cameron photograph of a woman with long, flowing hair. I researched the image and learned that Cameron used family, friends, and even household staff as subjects, selecting them for physical characteristics, and then transforming them into literary or religious figures. This background gives viewers more context and meaning with which to appreciate the image.

What are your plans for Skinner?

I’d love to grow Skinner’s offerings in fine art photography and build relationships with collectors. I have 12 years of experience working with a major museum collection, and strong connections to a wide network of collectors and dealers both nationally and internationally. I’m looking forward to seeing a broad range of images come through auction and also going on the road and meeting people.

Can you pick three favorite images from the September 20th Fine Prints & Photography auction?

Manuel Alvarez Bravo is a Mexican photographer with surrealist tendencies. I’ve always liked his work. We’re offering a couple of his images, and one shows the side of a building that seems to be made of stone encrusted with plaster or stucco. I appreciate the strong contrast of lights and darks and the variety of textures in the image.

We also have some wonderful Walker Evans photographs of sign paintings in Manhattan and several interiors of a home in Enfield, New Hampshire, from 1972 that are untraditional portraits in the sense that the objects in the picture reflect the personalities of their inhabitants.

The cover image of the catalog is by Lalla Essaydi. If you’re interested in finding out more about female photographers from the Arab world, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston just opened an exhibition titled She Who Tells a Story that includes Essaydi’s work. The show is on view through January 12, 2014.

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