Charcoal led to pigment for cave paintings, linseed made colouring for oil paintings, then light sensitive silver nitrate changed the world - photography was born.

Man has been using photography for creative self-expression for over 150 years. Historic pictures, born of celluloid film rather than memory card, are growing in rarity and value. A renewed appreciation has seen a rise in collectors of iconic images, with prints earning the same reverence as classic paintings.

Bloomsbury Auctions are meeting this demand with photos gathered from around the world - their latest stock of over 200 prints is due to go under the hammer on Friday.

Bloomsbury's collection may not have the same exposure as feted museums and galleries, but the auctioneers can boast to host treasures equal to those seen in venues such as the National Portrait Gallery.

With each photo of cultural significance, a fascinating story comes attached. HuffPost UK perused Bloomsbury's latest treasure trove to bring you some of the tales beneath the photographic veneer.


Afghan Girl, 1984
By Steve McCurry (b.1950)

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The piercing eyes of the girl that graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985 became known as the 'Afghan Mona Lisa'.

Legendary photographer Steve McCurry was on assignment in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, photographing a story on the border regions. Walking past one of the tents he heard voices coming from within. Peering inside, a schoolteacher invited him to join a lesson with her class of girls.

McCurry noticed one young student with striking green eyes. After taking a couple of frames, it took the encouragement of the teacher to convince the girl to look into the lens with her intense and focused gaze.

Immediately after the photo the girl leapt up and ran away - an historic picture caught in a mere moment.

Speaking to Phaidon publishers at the Chris Beetles Fine Photos gallery in Piccadilly, London, McCurry shared his thoughts on the child: "There's a real emotion and a real beauty in the picture. Her expression is ambiguous - she's obviously poor because she has a rip in her shawl and her face is kind of dirty. But through that there's a dignity and a perseverance and fortitude."

Bloomsbury expect this signed print to raise £3,000-£4,000 at auction.


Abbey Road, 1969
By Iain Macmillan (1938-2006)

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In a photo session lasting just 10 minutes, the enduring image that graced The Beatles' final album was born in 1969. The long-haired musical legends walked across the zebra crossing on Abbey Road whilst photographer Iain Macmillan snapped away.

Just six pictures were shot - Bloomsbury Auctions are offering five prints of the outtakes that didn't make it to the album cover. Macmillan died in 2006, having signed the back of just one of these prints, with the intention that all five photos be kept together as one collection.

This rare opportunity to own a piece of history is a dream for any fan of the fab four - Bloomsbury expect the photos to reach £5,000-£7,000.


The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, 1874
By Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)

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Pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron was ahead of her time when producing poses of literary figures in the 19th century.

It all started with a rather famous author - Cameron’s friend Alfred Lord Tennyson encouraged her to make a series of photographs to illustrate his Idylls of the King, poems on Arthurian legends.

Spending three months recreating her imaginative scenes for Tennyson, Cameron was driven by the firm belief that photography was equal to other more traditional forms of illustration.

Husband Charles Hay Cameron stepped in as model for the intrepid photographer, complete with a cotton wool beard, portraying the mystical Merlin.

Taking 245 photos for Tennyson, only 12 were submitted to the poet, with three making it into Tennyson’s edition as woodblocks reduced in size.

Undeterred, Cameron published all 12 of her pictures as a gift book in time for Christmas 1874 using her full-size prints with handwritten excerpts of Tennyson’s poems.

Bloomsbury expect Cameron's photos to reach £6,000 to £8,000.


Marilyn Monroe with Orange and Yellow Striped Scarf (from the Last Sitting), 1962
By Bert Stern (b. 1929)

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This 1962 photo of a smiling Marilyn Monroe is tinged with tragedy - just six weeks later the icon was dead. Known as "The Last Sitting", Bert Stern undertook Monroe's final photo shoot over three days at the Bel-Air Hotel for Vogue magazine.

As the last dazzling flourish from the world's most famous symbol of glamour, Stern's shoot went down in showbiz history.

Speaking to The Huffington Post, Stern recalled his time with Monroe: "I never saw her cry," he said. "I didn't see her as a sad figure at all. She had her problems but who doesn't? She didn’t seem at all unhappy to me."

According to Stern, the smiling Monroe we see in his pictures is a true reflection - at odds with the notion of a secretly broken and unhappy woman: "She was great. She was sexy, beautiful, funny - the perfect all-American girl. I loved her."

Bert Stern's signed prints are expected to fetch £1,000 to £1,500 at auction.


Lella, Bretagne, ca.1947
By Edouard Boubat (1923-1999)

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"Photography is made from everything and of nothing … We can only say thank you, to the lovers, the beaches, the sun, the encounters. These are all fleeting and after them only a photograph remains. And for that, I am thankful," - the reflective words of Edouard Boubat in 1988, the man behind this world-famous photo of his muse, Lella.

Born in Paris in 1923, Boubat studied typography and graphic arts, but did not take up photography until after the second World War in 1946.

Just a year later, Boubat took this photo of Lella, now considered his masterpiece - a confident woman gazing into the distance, looking to the future, her back to the horrors of the War, yet holding a warrior's stance. The black bra and transparent blouse hint at the blossoming of womanhood.

The photographer and model shared a passionate love, for which they were famous. Lella was the subject of much of Boubat's work.

Bloomsbury estimate this print to reach £10,000-£15,000 at auction.

The Bloomsbury Photography Auction is on Friday 23 November. You can view the full brochure of photos here.

Flick through our favourite photos from the collection in the slideshow below:

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  • Sebastião Salgado (b.1944) Tigray, Ethiopia, 1985 Gelatin silver print, printed later, photographer’s blindstamp in the margin, signed, titled and dated in pencil verso. £2,000-3,000 Lot No. 226

  • Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Rothschild Proust Ball, 1971 Gelatin silver print, flush mounted to contemporary card, signed on the mount in red pencil, photographer’s stamp verso. A gift from the photographer to Brian Hammond, owner of Gerry’s Club, Soho, 1970s and thence by descent. £1,500-2,000 Lot No. 222

  • Michel Comte (b.1954) Cindy Crawford, Vanity Fair, 1992 Chromogenic print, printed later, signed, titled and editioned 7/20 on accompanying document. £3,000-5,000 Lot No. 215

  • Sebastião Salgado (b.1944) Iceberg between the Paulet Islands and the Shetland Islands, Antarctica, 2005 Gelatin silver print, printed later, signed, titled and dated in pencil verso. £7,000-9,000 Lot No. 178

  • French Army Detonation of French Thermonuclear Device at Mururoa Atoll, 3rd July 1970 Chromogenic print. £500-700 Lot No. 173

  • Ernst Haas (1921-1986) Leaping Horse on the Set of The Misfits, Nevada, 1960 Gelatin silver print, photographer’s Magnum stamp, and French Magnum stamp verso. From the collection of Victoria Haas £800-1,200 Lot No. 125

  • Fay Godwin (1931-2005) Maen Serth Standing Stone, Drovers Road, Wales, ca.1977 Gelatin silver print, signed in pencil on the mount recto, titled in pencil with photographer’s copyright stamp on mount verso. £400-600 Lot No. 121

  • John Davies (b.1949) Agecroft Power Station, Pendlebury, Salford, 1983 Gelatin silver print on Agfa paper, printed 1985, signed, titled and dated in pencil in the margin, print dated with copyright in pencil verso. Literature: John Davies, The British Landscape, 2006, front cover & pl.35 (fig.2); John Davies, A Green & Pleasant Land,1987, p.38; Val Williams & Susan Bright, How We Are: Photographing Britain from the 1840s to the Present, 2007, p.158, no.115 (fig.1); £3,000-5,000 Lot No. 105

  • David Ross Kate Moss, First Sitting, 26.10.1988 Gelatin silver print, printed later, signed in black ink in the margin, signed, titled, dated and editioned 1/5 in pencil verso. £800-1,200 Lot No. 111

  • Patrick Ward (b.1937) Slum Homes, Gorbals, Glasgow 1969 Two gelatin silver prints, printed later, both signed, titled and dated in pencil verso. Literature: Patrick Ward, Brief Encounters, 2011, unpaginated £300-500 Lot No. 102

  • Lot No. 92 Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen (b.1948); Marketa Luskacova (b.1944) Girl on the Bouncing Ball, 1971 Gelatin silver print, signed, titled and dated in ink verso. This lot also includes an early, signed and titled print by Marketa Luskacova, On the Promenade, 1978 £200-300

  • Jean-Philippe Charbonnier (1921-2004) Le Jour du Marché, 1958 Gelatin silver print, printed 2003, signed, titled, dated, annotated and editioned 1/50 in pencil verso. Acquired directly from the photographer by the present owner £1,000-1,500 Lot No. 85

  • Roger Mayne (b.1929) Girl, St. Stephens Gardens, 1957 Gelatin silver print on Agfa-Brovira paper, signed, titled, dated and annotated in pencil verso. Acquired directly from the photographer by the present owner £1,000-1,500 Lot No. 90

  • William Klein (b.1928) Gun 1, New York, 1955 Gelatin silver print, printed later, signed, titled and dated in pencil with photographer’s stamp verso. Acquired directly from the photographer by the previous owner Literature: William Klein, New York 1954.55, 1995, p.125 £3,000-5,000 Lot No. 79 "... This seems to be considered my key image... It's fake violence, a parody. I asked the boy to point the gun at me and then look tough. He did, and then we both laughed... [I see it] as a double self-portrait. I was both the street kid trying to look tough, and the timid, good little boy on the right." - William Klein.

  • Yoshiyuki Iwase (1904-2001) Untitled, ca.1955 Gelatin silver print, photographer’s red stamp with seal verso. Acquired directly from the photographer by the present owner £800-1,200 Lot No. 69

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  • André Kertész (1894-1985) Lovers, Budapest, 1915 Gelatin silver print, printed later, signed and dated in pencil verso. Literature: Pierre Borhan, André Kertész: His Life and Work, 2000, p. 61; Nicolas Ducrot (ed), André Kertész: Sixty Years of Photography, 1978, p. 35 £1,000-1,500 Lot No. 68

  • Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003) Nach dem Sprung (After the Dive), 1936 Gelatin silver print, printed later, signed and titled in pencil on mount recto, photographer’s copyright stamp and editioned 22/25 in German on mount verso. Literature: Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia, 1994, p227 £1,000-1,500 Lot No. 49

  • Homer Sykes (b.1949) Copy of David, Victoria and Albert Museum, ca.1970 Two gelatin silver prints, one signed and dated in black ink recto, titled and inscribed in black ink verso, the other titled in pencil with copyright stamp verso. Both approximately £400-600 Lot No. 41

  • Robert Doisneau (1912-1994) La Dame Indignée, 1948 Gelatin silver print, printed late 1980s, signed in black ink in the margin, initialled, titled and dated in black ink verso. Acquired directly from the photographer by the present owner £2,000-3,000 Lot No. 38

  • Inge Morath (1923-2002) Window Washers, 48th Street, New York, 1958 Gelatin silver print, printed later, signed in pencil verso. Acquired directly from the photographer by the present owner Literature: Inge Morath, Life as a Photographer, 1999, p.108. £2,000-3,000 Lot No. 31

  • Elliott Erwitt (b.1928) The National Congress Building by Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia, 1961. Gelatin silver print, printed later, signed in black ink in the margin, signed, titled and dated in pencil verso. £1,800-2,200. Lot No. 30

  • Martine Franck (1938-2012) Tory Island, County Donegal, Ireland, 1995. Gelatin silver print, signed in ink with photographer’s blindstamp in the margin. £1,500-2,000. Lot No. 23