Art photography is a strange and unstable market that can change very quickly. While most photos sell for reasonable amounts, the price of some of them inflates to numbers that most photographers can only see in their dreams. For example, in February 2018, a group of 10 investors paid $1 million for a cryptographic photo called The Forever Rose, taken by Kevin Ebosh. Forever Rose is not a physical photo, but the most expensive virtual image in the world. And each investor received a “token” that he can keep or sell. However, even $1 million is a trifle compared to the amounts paid for the most expensive photos in history.
10. “Lake in the moonlight”, Edward Steichen Photo
Photo estimated at $ 2.9 million. The list of the most expensive photos in history opens with a picture taken back in 1904 and sold in 2006. Steichen was one of the first photographers (if not the first) to use autochrome. For coloring photos, he applied potato starch granules filled with paints of different colors to the film. And there are two copies of this photograph: one was sold at Sotheby’s auction, and the second is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
9. “Chicago Stock Exchange III”, Andreas Gursky
The picture was sold for $ 3.3 million. The first, but not the last work of Gursky in the selection of the most expensive photos in the world. The picture shows the trading floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. To express the feeling of movement, the author exposed several parts of the image twice. As with his other photos on this list, Gursky also changed the colors to make them more vivid.
8. “99 cents. Diptych”, Andreas Gursky
The picture was sold at auction for $ 3.3 million. This is a chromogenic color print, stylized as a diptych and consisting of two photographs. It is very large – 2.07 x 3.37 meters. The action takes place in a store in Los Angeles, where goods are sold for 99 cents. Gursky uses semi-symmetrical lines and colorful packaging on the shelves to create a high-contrast image that is sure to attract attention.
7. “Untitled (Cowboy)”, Richard Prince
Sold at Christie’s auction for $ 3.4 million. Richard Prince began his foray into artistry at Time-Life, Inc., where his job was to cut articles from magazines for staff writers. As an aspiring photographer, Prince studied what was left of magazines after cutting out articles – advertising pages. “Cowboy” represents the peak of Prince’s fascination with American archetypes, and the picture is actually a photograph from an advertisement in Time magazine and depicts a Marlboro cowboy. This work is “in the broadest sense, a reflection on the constant attraction of the whole culture to spectacles, and not to life experience.” It’s funny that the photographer who took the first advertising photo did not appreciate the high art and sued Prince for using a copyrighted image. But the court ruled in favor of Prince.
6. “Conversation of dead soldiers”, Jeff Wall
Price – 3.6 million dollars. This picture was taken by Canadian photographer Jeff Wall in 1992 and is a fictional resurrection scene of a Red Army patrol ambushed near Mokor, Afghanistan, in the winter of 1986. Revived fighters talk to each other, not paying attention to severe wounds and severed limbs. At the same time, Wall has never been to Afghanistan, and the filming of actors portraying soldiers took place in the studio. “I didn’t make the dead soldiers speak in order to comment on the Afghan war. I did it because I wanted to take pictures of the dead talking. It was a theme or an image, or both, that arose spontaneously, I do not know why. So, the picture had a personal or internal starting point,” the photographer said in an interview with Photoworks.
5. “For Her Majesty,” Gilbert Prosh and George Passmore
The picture costs $ 3.7 million. Gilbert and George are partners in life and work in the genre of performance photography, but the couple is adamant that they are “two people, but one artist,” as George said in an interview with Reuters. And as one artist, they created a collage of black-and-white photographs, which is dedicated to the memory of the period of alcoholic libations of the duo in the early 70s of the last century. Thus Gilbert and George are both subjects and objects, art and creators of their paintings, as they prefer to call them.
4. “Untitled No. 96”, Cindy Sherman bought the picture for $ 3.9 million.
The works of Sherman, known for her provocative self-portraits, are extremely popular among collectors. Once, according to Bloomberg, she earned $ 13.7 million at just one auction. Sherman was responsible for all aspects of her photographs, including makeup, hairstyle, lighting, staging, and photographing herself. When creating “Untitled No. 96”, the photographer was inspired by the spreads of men’s erotic magazines. At the same time, in the picture she looks like the complete opposite of the models who usually pose for such publications. Many people claim that Sherman’s facial expressions and body language demonstrate vulnerability and fright.
3. “Spiritual America”, Richard Prince Photo at Christie’s auction was estimated at $ 3.9 million.
In one of the most controversial photos in history, 10-year-old Brooke Shields posed for a photographer. Her naked baby body contrasts sharply with the seductive and mature expression of her face, which is covered with bright makeup. The name “Spiritual America” is taken from another work: a photograph of a castrated workhorse taken by Alfred Stieglitz in 1923. The image and the name contrast with each other, comparing hard, honest work with the fact that people these days easily achieve fame and glory.
2. “Rhine II”, Andreas Gursky
Price – 4.3 million dollars. The most expensive work of the German photographer Andreas Gursky is “Rhine II”, sold at Christie’s auction in November 2011. It depicts the Rhine River flowing between green grass fields and under a cloudy sky. This photo is the first number in a series of six pictures and depicts a section of the Rhine River near Dusseldorf. Until the 1990s, Gursky did not digitally alter his images, but the Rhine II was an exception. Wanting to create a desert landscape, Gursky removed distracting elements, including the factory building, pedestrians and cyclists.
1. “Phantom”, Peter Lik
The cost of the photo is 6.5 million dollars. On December 9, 2014, a black-and-white image of Antelope Canyon in Arizona, USA, made by the famous Australian landscape painter Peter Leake, allegedly broke all existing price records. We say “allegedly” because the transaction was private, and it is known about it only from Peter himself and from the lawyers who accompanied the transaction. Therefore, the place of the “Phantom” as the most expensive photo in the world still causes heated debate. “The goal of all my photos is to capture the power of nature and convey it in a way that inspires someone to feel excited and connected to this image,” Peter said of his work. A private collector purchased not only a monochrome “Phantom”, but also two more works by Lik – “Illusion” for $ 2.4 million and “Eternal Moods” for $ 1.1 million. The total amount of the transaction was $ 10 million.