With news this past weekend of one of the largest tropical storms in recorded human history still fresh, our antennae are up. We believe in looking back in the interest of looking forward. The beginning and ending lines of this article can induce even those most unlikely to visit Sotheby’s next week:
For more than 100 years, nearly every time a ship ran aground off the coast of Cornwall, a man would arrive on the scene to document the wreckage.
That man, most likely, would have the surname of Gibson. The family tradition—documenting shipwrecks, obsessively and artistically—started with John, a fisherman-turned-professional-photographer, who learned about the new technology in Penzance in 1860. Gibson trained his two sons, Alexander and Herbert, as apprentice photographers. The Gibsons, armed with their cameras, soon made a habit of traipsing out to every accident in the area as it occurred, capturing haunting scenes in the process…
…Alexander’s son James carried on the work throughout the 20th century, and after his death in 1985, his son Frank carried the torch until his own death in 2012.
Next week, the archive of these now-famous Gibson family shipwreck photographs is going on auction at Sotheby’s in London. The vivid images have been praised over the years by authors John Fowles and John le Carre. “Other men have taken fine shipwreck photographs,” Fowles put it, “but nowhere else in the world can one family have produced such a consistently high and poetic standard of work.”