Sept/Oct 2018 edition
Issue #1 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
I started collecting auto racing photography over 30 years ago when I invested in a couple of Jacques Henri Lartigue photographs of my favorite subject. I had just sold a 6-page spread of my own photographs to a magazine, the check arrived, and I promptly spent it all on the Lartigues. Little did I know at the time that this would lead to what I now must call a collection.
As I entered further into the subject, I concluded there needed to be some rules or this whole collecting thing would soon be out of control. I wanted real vintage photographs that were well taken and printed by the photographer, images that would hold up over time. While not always possible, I wanted to strive for images that were of important moments historically, but most of all I did not want to end up with thousands of photographs I only owned because they were available cheaply.
The photograph above is a prime example of a well taken image. The photographer was elevated enough to take in the whole scene which gives us a wonderful sense of place. You can just feel the excitement in the crowd as Leonce Girardot guides his CGV to a stop, probably to have his route book stamped. There are men and women eagerly standing on a fence to get a better view. There is even an artist in front of the crowd at left making a sketch of the scene.
Adding to the value of the photograph, the photographer has described the event (The Circuit des Ardennes) and driver, noting the year (1903). He even put his own name (Martinez) on the image face. While the print is not in pristine condition, the splotches, lines and general wear give it historical importance, an artifact, that is still here telling its story one hundred and fifteen years later.
A photo of this quality, age, rarity and condition could bring $150 to $250 at a swap meet, but a gallery would be in the $500 to $750 range. On the other hand it would take a lot more than that to get it away from me!
Much of racing photography consists of images of cars on racetracks winning, losing or crashing. But at its heart the love of motorsport revolved around the drivers, their histories and personalities.
We love the driver who consistently overcomes odds to win important races and there is no better example than driver, Tazio Nuvolari. While I prefer to have a car in the image, I do love photographs of my favorite drivers too, and when I find both driver and car in a well taken photo that’s my home run. The photograph of Nuvolari at right together with Raymond Sommer standing on the Alfa Romeo they used to win the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in 1933. It is a press photo meant to be used in a newspaper, and is stamped on the back as such. While I have several images of Nuvolari in my collection, this one is my current favorite, as I have always loved Alfas of this era, and Le Mans is a race of such epic proportions that it creates heroes.
I bought this Nuvolari photograph from a gallery in Paris that had an enormous price on it. I dithered over if for several weeks then made an offer that I knew they would bump up a little but which I was glad to pay. We came to my predicted agreement and I was able to purchase it for my personal collection. Because the Nuvolari name is still so recognizable, this is a very marketable image that could fetch between $300 and $600.
prove to you that I am not only interested in prewar photography.... and that I have a sense of humor, I offer up this last photograph. Seems that Citroen held a contest to find drivers for an event called ‘Raid Afrique 1973’, giving each of 100 drivers selected a variety of Citroen 2CVs. Along the route they actually crossed a portion of the Sahara Desert. So here we see one of the Citroens in sand, driver with arm hanging out the window, and co-driver on the rear bumper complete with cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Citroen made ‘Sahara’ 2CVs that were four wheel drive, with a second engine in the rear so this must be one of them, as there is little other reason for the co-driver to be on the rear bumper and it does look like the rear wheels are spraying sand. Or he could be there just to make a rather humorous photograph!
Vintage images of this quality are still avaiable on eBay in the $10 to $50 range although it takes time to find them. But then the hunt is almost as much fun as the acquisition, isn’t it?
To read more great columns like this one from automotive photography expert Dale LaFollette...
Vintage Auto Photography
Dale LaFollette, the owner of Vintage Motorphoto, specializes in rare and collectable original racing photographs. Explore his knowledge in this column.