Richard Gere hesitates to call the dozens of photographs he has acquired over the years a real collection. “I just started buying things I liked,” he says. The Hollywood Reporter in a phone interview, “and I guess it’s a collection, but I don’t see myself as a collector.”
Yet when he recently visited Christie’s auction house in New York to see around 40 of his photos displayed in one room, he was moved to see so many of them together. “It was objectively beautiful. It resonated with me so much. I’ve lived with them for 40 years and they go way deeper than just a picture you see in a magazine or a book to me,” the actor says.
Christie’s is not being so modest in promoting its upcoming online auction of the works (which will run from March 23 to April 7) by proclaiming it as “Photographs from the Richard Gere Collection”.
“Sharpened by years in front of and behind a camera, Gere’s passion for image making and collecting is on full display in this wonderfully diverse collection. They are artists who have mastered the art of capturing and evoking human emotion, which resonated with Gere as an actor,” says Darius Himes, Global Head of Photography at Christie. “On display are highlights from the collection, reflecting his time spent in Los Angeles, his admiration for 20th-century photographers, and the friendships he made along the way.”
156 lots are included in the sale, which carries a low estimate of just under $2 million and was led by Christie’s photography specialist Joslin Van Arsdale. The pieces span the history of the medium, beginning with photographs by 19th century pioneers such as Gustave Le Gray and Carleton Watkins and through pieces by early 20th century icons such as Tina Modotti, Edward Weston, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Alfred Stieglitz. .
Says Gere of Le Gray’s work, “He was shooting in the 1850s and 1860s. It was really the birth of photography and it was hard to photograph horizons, and he found a way to put negatives together, so his seascapes are amazing. One of my favorites is a photo of Napoleon II at a bivouac with his army and a horse in full view. It’s a sort of dreamlike, ghostly image from the early 1860s that is truly extraordinary.
The most recent masters represented range from Robert Frank and Walker Evans to Joel Peter Witkin, Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Graciela Iturbide, Horst P. Horst, Frederick Sommer, Weegee, Duane Michaels, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Beard, Richard Avedon and Sally Man. “One of my favorites is Irving Penn, whom I’ve met many times. I was completely engrossed in his work and his platinum prints are just amazing,” says Gere.
Highlights from the auction will be on public display at Christie’s Los Angeles Gallery (336 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills) March 23-26.
(The actor also sold a collection of over 100 guitars with Christie’s in 2011, which sold for a total of $936,000. “I played all of those guitars and they all meant something to me,” remembers Gere.)
Gere began collecting photography at an early age with his friend Herb Ritts, even before Ritts embarked on a career as a photographer. “I was in my mid to late twenties. Herb Ritts, who was a close friend of mine, and I would go to these photo auctions and at that time in Los Angeles, you could get really amazing photos for a few hundred bucks We are talking about 45 years ago Herb and I just enjoyed encountering these amazing prints as objects not just as pictures and looking at the processes of ‘print and paper,” says Gere. (Ritts’ iconic 1977 photos of Gere, taken at a gas station in the desert, spear the career of the photographer.)
Gere – who recently registered a 50-acre Hudson Valley estate he’s owned for more than two decades for $28 million – also spoke to THR about the movie he just made started filming (his first in three years) and talked more about his love of photography.
I read that you recently started shooting a movie that also stars Diane Keaton, William H. Macy, Luke Bracey, Susan Sarandon and Emma Roberts. What was it like going back to filming?
I started five days ago and I hadn’t shot in, I think, almost three years, and it’s so weird to do what we naturally did without thinking about it. It’s about three couples and they’re all in some level of chaos, interacting with themselves and each other.
Beyond the imagery contained in the photos you have collected, what draws you to the printing processes involved in photography?
The first processes were very delicate and ephemeral. They were salt prints. They were brominated. They were daguerreotypes. They experimented with all kinds of things that allowed an image to come out of paper, attach to paper and sometimes they were attached to metal [as with] daguerreotypes.
Have you ever gone through phases when it comes to the types of photos you were interested in?
I kind of went through a period where I loved [early] photographers who liked things more painterly, that is, 19th century and early 20th century photographers who really tried to imitate paintings. And then there were experimenters who just weren’t interested in it. They didn’t tell the stories the same way; they had a deep sense of face and eyes. Irving Penn certainly has an incredible sense of bodies, of bodies in space.
How did your interest in photography come about?
I have always been interested in photography since the first Brownie camera I had when I was a kid. I had a fascination for film, for recovering negatives, which doesn’t happen anymore, seeing contact sheets and then later deciding how to print them and what process. I have tried many different processes of my own photographs, from salt to platinum to silver and almost everything in between. It’s sort of ingrained in me, an interest in images, whether it’s a dreamlike or definitive suggested moment. The process of the film itself is really interesting. There’s really nothing there. It’s just grain or in the current process it’s just ink that’s pulled onto paper, but there’s really nothing there. They are only suggestions and the mind creates images and stories. The brain creates the images.
You have known some of the photographers whose works you have collected. What interesting things did they say about the medium?
There was a wonderful story that Herb [Ritts] told me about [photographer] Helmut Newton. He was talking to Herb about the camera and he said, “You know, the picture is not in the camera.” And then he pointed his head and his heart and said, “Here it is.”