Copyrighted Images of Famous Celebrities Hit the Auction Block
Fashion and celebrity photographer Milton H. Greene was only 26 years old when he photographed Marilyn Monroe for Look magazine. He went on to take thousands of photos of the Hollywood siren, capturing both her vulnerability and her sex-bomb persona.
Now, 3,700 unpublished black-and-white and color negatives and transparencies of Greene’s Monroe archive are going on the auction block - with copyright. They are but a fraction of 75,000 celebrity negatives and slides Greene shot in the 1950s and 1960s that are going on sale July 27 at Profiles in History in Los Angeles and online.
Copyrights are included with all the material, which is spread over 268 lots, meaning a potential buyer can print images from the negatives and transparencies, sell them and license the material.
"It’s a big, big deal. It’s like selling the recipe for Coca-Cola," said Joseph Maddalena, owner of Profiles in History, which auctions original Hollywood memorabilia and artifacts.
"It’s nearly unheard of in a public venue, particularly for an entire archive," said Christopher Belport, the photography consultant for Profiles in History.
The archive also includes hundreds of production stills of Faye Dunaway during the filming of "Bonnie & Clyde" and Cary Grant and Doris Day in "That Touch of Mink." Among others are Sid Caesar, Jane Fonda, Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, Ava Gardner and Marlene Dietrich.
Most of the lots are expected to fetch between $1,000 and $15,000 depending on the number of negatives in each lot and the featured celebrity. But it’s anyone’s guess what they will bring. "It’s unchartered territory," Maddalena said.
Peter Stern, an attorney specializing in arts-related matters, raised concern that unsigned prints made from the negatives could hurt the market. "It’s not that hard to sign a photo," he said.
But Maddalena noted: "There are no vintage Milton Greene photographs. ... He was a work-for-hire photographer" shooting covers for Look, Life, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and other magazines.
Like his contemporaries, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, Greene is credited with elevating fashion photography to fine art. But unlike them, Greene did not commercialize his work. "Only a handful was published," Maddalena said.
"The sudden opportunity to acquire a large number of camera artifacts from a historically significant photographer will likely amplify the value ... and provide fuller context to those that are sold in the future in auction or privately," Belport said.
The seller is an unidentified American photography collector who purchased the archive about 10 years ago.
The items came from the Greene estate "via a financial institute in Poland that had secured ownership from Greene in a business dealing" with the copyright, the auction house said in a statement.
The photographer’s son, Joshua Greene, called it "a bad business deal."