Our culture might not pay as much attention to photographs today, as we did before. After all, our smartphones and tablets are capable of taking excellent quality photos. Whether we get together for family reunions, or we’re having fun with friends at the beach, or we’re on vacation and want to share our memories with others, more and more people these days are using devices other than true cameras to snap a photo.
But the fact is that photography remains an art, and as we shall see in this article, it can definitely be a very expensive art! Photographers who are masters at what they do continue to bewilder us with photos of simple things or people, but that speak to us in volumes about our culture. Many of these photographs are very thought provoking and cause us to sit down and think. This power definitely plays a huge role with regards to how much certain photographs are worth. Although, regardless of whether or not a photograph is considered a masterpiece, they are all thought provoking. The following ten photographs are the most expensive photographs ever produced, selling for millions of dollars at auctions, over the years. Besides thinking about the thought provoking photo, you’ll also have to think and ask yourself, if these photographs are worthy of the high quantity of money that they sold for. Would you pay the millions of dollars for these photographs, if you had the money? Only one thing is for certain, and that’s that the people who did buy these photographs, definitely thought they were worth the money.
10. Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico – $610,000
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is one of the cheaper photographs on the list, taken by Ansel Adams in November of 1941. Adams took the photo from U.S Route 84. The photograph immediately became very popular, leading to thirteen hundred prints of the photo throughout Adams’ career. The original photograph was finally auctioned off at just under $610,000, and today is undeniably considered a masterpiece of the photography world.
9. Nautilus – $1.1 million
Nautilus is a photograph that was taken by Edward Weston, in 1927. The photograph is of ‘one nautilus shell’ that stands against a black background. Even in its simple black-and-white, the photo remains an enduring masterpiece even today, with many considering it a watershed moment in the world of photography.
8. Tobolsk Kremlin – $1.7 million
This photograph is of the Tobolsk Kremlin that Russian President, Medvedev took in a small Siberian town. The photograph sold at an auction for $1.7 million. Medvedev boasted of the price of the photograph, as it overtook a painting by Vladimir Putin (Prime Minister at the time) that sold for $1.1 million.
7. Billy the Kid – $2.3 million
This iconic photograph of the famous, young outlaw of the American West, is one of the most famous and expensive photographs of all time. It’s also the only known portrait of Billy the Kid, who before the age of twenty-one, had gunned down some twenty men during his short but busy career as an outlaw and a gunslinger. Rumors have it that this photo is actually reversed, as there is controversy surrounding whether Billy the Kid was right or left handed.
6. Untitled 153 – $2.7 million
Untitled 153 is a photograph by the German photographer, Andreas Gursky in the year 1985. It has also been renowned as a masterpiece, which most likely explains why it sold for so much at an auction. The thought provoking photograph depicts a girl lying down on the grass, facing the camera, so it’s clearly up to the viewer to interpret the photo for themselves.
5. The Pond – $2.9 million
The Pond is a photograph by Edward Steichen, who took the photo in 1904, in the State of New York. The unique and familiar photograph depicts a forest that sits across from a pond, with the moon barely visible through the trees. The Pond is so notable among the photography world, not only for being one of the first color photographs, but also one of the first color photographs that was widely distributed. Today, the Pond is widely renowned for being one of the most ‘one of a kind’ photographs that exists. There are only three versions of the Pond, which greatly increases its value. One of the versions sold for $2.9 million in 2006 and at the time, was the most expensive photograph, although it has since been surpassed. It is unknown how expensive the other versions of the photograph will sell for, but it is estimated that they will be much higher (they are both being currently held in a museum).
4. Dead Troops Talk – $3.7 million
The photograph, Dead Troops Talk was taken by Jeff Wall, in 1992. This photograph is unique as it has been set up, something Wall had been known to do already throughout his career. For this photograph, Wall decided to depict the ambush of a Russian patrol during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1988, so he set up a group of ‘dead soldiers’ to make them look as if they are talking, perhaps as to create a statement about Wall’s opinion of the invasion of Afghanistan. The creative and unique ideas of the photograph were definitely what warranted its $3.7 million price at the auction.
3. 99 Cent II Diptychon – $3.8 million
Photographer Andreas Gursky actually made two parts to his 99 Cent II Diptychon photograph. Both photographs are a depiction of a supermarket of goods being sold, but Gursky heavily modified the works. Both photographs measured nearly seven by eleven feet and were both very expensive, but the first photograph sold for a near record auction price, of $3.8 million. The first print of the work originally sold for $2.25 million, but with each successive print, the auction price steadily began to increase, until it eventually reached the $3.8 million.
2. Untitled 96 – $3.9 million
Untitled 96 is a photograph taken by the photographer, Cindy Sherman in the year 1981. The photograph first made headlines in 2011, when it was sold at an auction price of just under $3.9 million. This made the exclusive piece, the most expensive photograph of all time, although it has since been surpassed by the final photograph that we will take a look at…
1. Rhein II – $4.3 million
Rhein II is the most expensive photograph of all time, selling in 2011, for $4.3 million and replacing Untitled 96 as the most expensive photograph that was ever sold. Rhein II was originally taken by the German photographer Andreas Gursky in 1999, and is a photo of the Rhine River in Germany, flowing between a field of grass and under a sky. Despite being the most expensive photograph ever taken, the Rhein II is actually very heavily modified. Originally, there were many people and a building in the photo, but they were digitally removed by Gursky, in order to display a more natural view of the Rhine River. This has caused some controversy by some who believe that a naturally taken photograph deserves the top spot as the most expensive photograph in the world, but until the next auction of million dollar photographs, the Rhein II is likely to keep its place. The expensive photograph measures seventy three by one hundred and forty three inches, a large photograph even by expensive photo standards.