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CURRENT COLUMN

The Case of the Olympic Posters
The Case of the Olympic Posters

The Case of the Solitary Surrealist
The Case of the Solitary Surrealist

The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt
The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt

The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity
The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity

The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys
The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys

The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard
The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard

The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

Aficionado
The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

Portrait
The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

Potter
The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials


Confessions Back

Leni Riefenstahl, Nuba Tribesman

Leni Riefenstahl, Nuba Tribesman (1975)

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
Finlay Fine Art
jim_finlay@telus.net

Chapter 43. The Case of Leni and the Nuba

My client, an elderly professional photographer, some years ago acquired this black-and-white photograph (about 4 by 5 inches in size) of a young male member of the Nuba people of southern Sudan. It was taken by internationally renowned celebrity photographer Leni Riefenstahl (1902–2003). Whether my client received this as a gift from Riefenstahl or was given it by someone else in recognition of his contribution to photography, he can’t quite recall, but it is signed “With kind regards, Leni Riefenstahl.”

What’s particularly interesting about this image is the ideological interconnection that exists between the subject and the photographer based on issues relating to revival and survival.

Leni Riefenstahl (born Helene Bertha Amalie Riefenstahl in Berlin) took this portrait of the Nuba tribesman while she was living in Sudan from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. As a film director, photographer, actress and dancer, she had gained notoriety for collaborating with the Nazi Party when she directed Nazi propaganda films during the Second World War. Her best-known work of that period was a film entitled Triumph of the Will, which brought her to prominence in the Third Reich. She became a personal favourite of Adolf Hitler.

After the war, Riefenstahl’s celebrity relationship with the Third Reich negatively affected her career and she was forced to reinvent herself. She turned to still photography, eventually producing a photographic journal of the Nuba, which was later published in book form in 1973.

Interesting to note is how Riefenstahl’s rise to celebrity status as a well-known photographer coincided in part with her photographic documentation of the demise of the Nuba in southern Sudan. Her ethnographic images captured a way of life that was quickly disappearing – as meanwhile her own popularity as a celebrity photographer was again quickly increasing. Also interesting is this connection between photographer and subject: while Riefenstahl’s most famous film Triumph of the Will alluded to Modernist notions of triumph, megalomania and the heroic, here was her photographic essay of the Nuba supporting Post-Modernist sensibilities of the wrongness of cultural disappearance, assimilation and decline.

An art object’s celebrity association has long been a source of prestige that often translates into increased intrinsic commercial value. The fact that an item was once owned, painted, sculpted or photographed by a well-known person adds cachet to the item and hints at a vicarious connection between that person and the next owner of the item. In a sense, that association is similar in intent to the “selfie with celebrity,” where the digital image-taker tries to suggest he or she has a close relationship with the celebrity.

A copy of the photographic print shown here was in a portfolio of 30 prints of the Nuba (each 22.8 by 16.9 inches in size) that most recently sold at Christie’s Paris for $99,203 USD.

One wonders if the celebrity association with the images had a bearing on the sale price.

Next: The Case of Mary the Holy Mother of Light

 Sun, Sep 7, 2014