Since the early Nineties, when commercial photographer Bill Diodato began collecting 20th century photographic literature, he has amassed a collection of 1500 volumes, including first editions and out-of-print books by Irving Penn, Brassai, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ed Ruscha, Andre Kertesz and other masters. On February 27, Swann Galleries in New York City will be auctioning 250 lots of books from Diodato’s collection. Diodato explains, “It’s a great time to say I got everything I needed out of them. It’s nice to share them with collectors and galleries and institutions.” While the Swann auction contains only the books most likely to fetch high prices, Diodato says, “I’m probably going to donate the other 1,000 books or so I have.”
Diodato says he began collecting photo books as a way to educate himself. He first bought books by the photographers who had the greatest influence on his own fashion and still life photography. “Penn was the biggest influence,” says Diodato. “Horst, Penn and Avedon are my earliest memories of purchasing photographic literature.” But he wanted to learn more and “cultivate my knowledge of photographic history.” He adds, “I set a personal goal to collect
and know the most influential people in each genre.” While some collectors focus solely on photo books in one specialty or one country, Diodato collected photojournalism, portraiture, still life, conceptual photography.
Over time he acquired—usually through private dealers, gallery owners and Swann Galleries—works by W. Eugene Smith, Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, Aaron Siskind, Bill Brandt, Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Ed Ruscha, as well as photographers who had influenced them or been inspired by them. “Every time I got into another genre, it opened another door to another genre,” he says.
His purchases included some rare collectibles. He has a first edition of Lewis W. Hine’s Men at Work (Swann set its estimate at $3,000 – $4,500), a first edition of Brassai’s Paris de Nuit (estimate: $3,000 – $4,5000), and a copy of Alexei Brodovich’s Ballet in its clamshell box (estimate: $7,000 – $10,000). He has a copy of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family, which the photographer and her kids, whose photos appear in the book, signed for him. (Diodato’s keeping that volume, he says.) He also acquired prints by many of the artists he admired; some of these will be sold in the Swann auction.
Diodato stopped looking for 20th century master works to buy a few years ago. In 2010 he published his own book, Care of Ward 81. Several fellow photographers bought copies. “It changed my philosophy about collecting books,” he says. “I got a lot of support from other artists. That’s when I got the bug to buy new books.” For example, he recently purchased the latest book by Edward Burtynsky, an artist he admires. Diodato explains, “I want to get back to supporting artists, not chasing elusive books.”
About the 20th century photobooks he’s acquired, Diodato says, “I’m just a custodian now.” Being their custodian means storing them away from light or moisture. “They’re expensive to insure,” he notes. “If there was a fire, it would be a disaster.” Diodato is also a father with young kids. “I started to think: How would I feel if one of the kids tore a page out of Robert Frank’s The Americans?”
Diodato has previously sold books on consignment through photo-eye in Santa Fe. When he decided to let go of the bulk of his collection, he contacted Swann. “We collaborated on assessing values and conditions, and [on] descriptions.”
When those are sold, he’ll have more room in his home, and derive another benefit, too. “I’ll be happy to share them, and they’ll be exposed to the world.”
All photos: Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.