Have you ever wondered what the most expensive photographs ever sold were? How about how much it brought at auction? Most photographers that have ever sold a picture or even thought about selling a photo have pondered.
While photos from all different disciplines of photography have sold successfully, if we are talking about the most expensive photo ever sold, we are going to be talking about “fine art” photography.
Fine art photography can be a strange and volatile market that can rapidly change. While most photos sell for what people would consider reasonable amounts, some inflate to numbers most photographers can only ever see in their dreams.
The value and final selling price of artistic photograph prints are generally not set by the artist themselves but by the people who buy the photos. Most of these kinds of prints are sold at auction, which is the case for 9 of the 10 photos on this list.
As photographers, it is important for us to remember that these prices are extraordinary and are not based on the artist’s abilities alone. Otherwise, it would be easy to be discouraged by seeing this type of success in such a difficult market.
Table of Contents
10 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold
#1 Peter Lik, Phantom – (?)
Peter Lik took this image in the area known as Antelope Canyon in Arizona, US. The black and white image sold in 2014 for a whopping $6,5000,000.
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Its place as the most expensive photograph ever sold is debated because the buyer was “private and anonymous,” meaning the sale could not be verified.
#2 Andreas Gursky, Rhein II $4,338,500
This image of the Lower Rhine river was taken by Andreas Gursky. In the image, the river Rhine flows across the print with green fields showing on either side.
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The sky is overcast which adds a dull and gray tone to the photo. It was the second of a set of six taken by Gursky depicting the Rhine. It is a chromogenic color print that sold for $4,338,500 in 2011.
#3 Richard Prince, Spiritual America $3,973,000
This image also comes with its fair share of controversy. The image is of a naked ten-year-old child posing in a bathtub. The child is an American actress and model, Brooke Shields.
The nudity of a child in a photograph was not accepted well by some of the art world members, and the photo was finally removed from the exhibition at Tate Modern after a stern warning from the police.
The image sold at Christie’s Auction House in New York in 2014 for $3,973,000
#4 Cindy Sherman, Untitled 96 $3,890,500
Untitled 96 is a self-portrait featuring a young Cindy Sherman dressed in “retro” style clothing. She is lying on the floor and her gaze if fixed off camera. The orange hue of the photo from the dark and light orange colors of her clothing gives the photo a certain overtone.
The photo was taken in 1981 and sold for $3,890,500 in 2011.
#5 Gilbert & George, To Her Majesty $3,765,276
This work by British artists Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore, known collectively as Gilbert & George, is a gelatin silver print that was sold in London for $3,765,276 in 2008.
#6 Jeff Wall, Dead Troops Talk $3,666,500
Officially titled “Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patro Near Moquor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986),” this image was a staged and digitally stitched work by Jeff Wall in 1992. The models were shot in a studio and then digitally placed onto the outdoor landscape.
The image sold for $3,666,500 in 2012. The photo is transparency in lightbox.
#7 Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent II Diptychon $3,346,456
Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent II Diptychon is a chromogenic color print that was styled as a diptych. The picture is very large, spanning over 11 feet wide and nearly 6 feet tall. The scene is that of a 99-cent store in Los Angeles. Gursky uses the semi-symmetrical line and colorful packaging on the shelves to create a high-contrast image that will catch anyone’s eye.
It sold in London in 2007 for $3,346,456.
#8 Andreas Gursky, Chicago Board of Trade II $3,298,755
Here we have another chromogenic color print by Andreas Gursky, Chicago Board of Trade. Gursky captured this image at the Board of Trade in Chicago, Illinois, the US, in 1999.
The picture was taken from above, looking down into “the pit,” and shows brokers moving quickly while wearing their bright-colored jackets. Gursky used digital editing to layer multiple exposures of the image to create the “blurred” look of the movement you can see around the brokers.
Chicago Board of Trade II sold for $3,298,755 in June of 2013.
#9 Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy) $3,077,000
This photo is actually a photo of a photo. Deemed “rephotography” by its artist Richard Prince, the style eventually helped to shape an art form of its own, generally referred to as “photography of photography.” This particular scene depicts the “Marlboro Man” and was taken of an ad in Time magazine.
Prince was sued by the original photographer for using a copyrighted image, but the judge ruled in Prince’s favor.
The picture was an ektacolour print, and it sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2014 for $3,077,000.
#10 Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still 48 $2,965,000
Untitled Film Still #48 by Cindy Sherman depicts a woman standing on the side of a road in a curve with a suitcase sitting beside her. The girl is facing away from the camera and is dressed in a plaid skirt and sneakers, which gives a particular schoolgirl type of innocence.
This black and white image has deep contrast and an overall dark, subdued theme, leaving viewers with many questions.
The picture is a chromogenic color print — this photo sold for $2,965,000 in May of 2015.
Most Expensive Photographs | Conclusion
The 10 most expensive photographs show that people are willing to spend money on art. These photographs range in price from $2.9 million to $6.5 million. Some photographers who took these pictures are well-known, such as Andreas Gursky and Cindy Sherman. Others are not as well known, but their work is still highly valued.