'Over New York', the first Melvin Sokolsky Bubble photograph, tested a concept that he would soon make famous. A print from a large limited edition of the color image could sell for $20,000.

Update: The Sokolsky Bubble photograph sold for $20,160.

What you see: Over New York, a limited edition 1963 photograph by Melvin Sokolsky that measures 39 1/2 by 31 7/8 inches. Phillips estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Sarah Krueger, head of the photographs department at Phillips.

Who is Melvin Sokolsky? He’s a pioneer when it comes to 1960s fashion photography. He was bringing [then-new] Pop Art into his images, and it coincides with the [rise of] Harper’s Bazaar co-art directors Ruth Ansel and Bea Feitler. They were very young, very passionate about photography, and interested in bringing a fresh, creative element into the magazine.

Did one or both women bring Sokolsky in? He started with Harper’s Bazaar around 1954.  The Bubble pictures–including what we have on offer–are his most iconic fashion story and were completed under the tenure of Ansel and Feitler as co-art directors.

I understand that Sokolsky is now 87 years old. Is he still active as a photographer? He’s active with his galleries and with his studio, and has had work included in museum retrospectives around the world. He lives in Los Angeles.

How many series of Bubble photographs had Sokolsky shot when he created Over New York? This is the first. He conceived the idea when he was on assignment to shoot the Paris collection for the March 1963 issue. He was inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. He tested the concept on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, which is what we see here. It’s proof-of-concept before going to Paris to shoot the Paris collection. A variant of this image appeared on the cover.

And if it hadn’t worked, then, no Bubble photos? If it hadn’t worked, no bubbles over Paris, or he puts additional thought into how to make it a reality.

And the model really is inside a plastic sphere, yes? That’s the wonderful thing about the image. You must think of the image-making of the time in the early 1960s. Sokolsky set up a crane with a thin steel cable and a model inside a plexiglass bubble. The only alterations done was the cable was retouched out of the final photo.

And he can’t just pick any fashion model. She has to wear the clothes well, and not be claustrophobic or afraid of heights… The model is Simone D’Aillencourt. She had worked with Sokolsky before, and was a very notable model of the time.

I imagine at least some of her peers would have told Sokolsky, “What? Are you nuts? No! What if you drop me?” Over New York speaks to the creativity of the time. Successful, iconic, and memorable fashion images are direct collaborations between the model, the photographer, and the team putting it together. D’Aillencourt realized Sokolsky’s vision. She’s the model who had the nerve to do this with him.

How did Sokolsky get D’Aillencourt’s dress to floof out like that? That’s Simone. She fanned out the dress. The designer of the dress is unknown to me, but it’s a Grecian-inspired pleated dress. It’s her posing inside the bubble for Melvin to have options and to capture this one remarkable and memorable shot. 

How high off the ground was D’Aillencourt when taking this Sokolsky Bubble photograph? I’m not aware of the height, but she was high enough to not have anything in the foreground. Whether it was one foot or 10, it’s pretty remarkable.

What, if anything, do we know about the physical logistics of shooting the Sokolsky Bubble photographs? I would love to hear those stories. I don’t know them myself. You’ve got to look at them with a little bit of a sense of awe that it all came together–to be inspired by a Bosch painting, then to see it through, and have the picture resonate so much today.

What is this Sokolsky Bubble photograph like in person? What eludes the camera? The rich sense of color, the vibrant ochre-hued dress against the setting sun in the background. The colors really come through in person. And it’s really large in scale–30 by 40 inches. It has a mural-size component to it that doesn’t necessarily come across on screen.

What’s your favorite detail of the Sokolsky Bubble photograph? If I have to choose one, I have to choose the bubble, but the whole thing is wonderful–it’s hard to pick one detail. It’s a model, in a bubble over the Hudson River. It’s fanciful in how she’s playing and posing for the camera. It’s really spectacular.

I realize this Sokolsky Bubble photograph dates to 1963. Is that when the limited edition of 25 was made? I don’t know exactly when the edition was produced. I think it’s more recent than that, because of its scale.

Are there other limited editions of this Sokolsky Bubble photograph, maybe in different sizes? We’ve offered the limited edition of 25 at 30 inches by 40 inches before. And we have offered it at 40 inches by 60 inches, but it’s a much smaller edition.

What’s the world auction record for Over New York, and for any Marvin Sokolsky photograph? Were they set with you? We do hold the auction records for Sokolsky’s work. The record belongs to a portfolio he printed of his Bubble pictures of the Paris collection. It sold for $92.500 in April 2012 at Phillips New York. The world auction record for Over New York was set at Phillips London in 2019. It sold for £21,250, which is about $27,000.

I think it’s worth pointing out here that the known limited editions were printed much, much larger than the size of the cover of a magazine. How does printing it at a larger size than the public would have seen it change the impact of the Sokolsky Bubble image? The larger it is, the more magnificent it is. The conceptual nature of the artwork really comes across. The larger size creates wonder.

Why will this Sokolsky Bubble photograph stick in your memory? It speaks to a wonderful, creative time when we see Pop Art come into fashion and editorial. And it’s on the cusp of space-age fashion, which we see in the middle of the decade, and it’s still very 1960s. It seems like a precursor to space-age fashion, which is why it seems so strong.

I like how it captures the essence of fashion photography–a heck of a lot of work goes into making something that looks ethereal and effortless. A lot of work and a lot of thinking went into the image’s creation, and the vision Sokolsky was imagining for Harper’s at the time.

How to bid: The Sokolsky Bubble photograph Over New York is lot 199 in the Photographs auction scheduled at Phillips New York on April 8, 2021.

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