“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding.”
Although this sarcastic comment was made quite a while ago, it resonates equally well today. Indeed, it is a publicly accepted belief that artists do not make a decent living and can hardly hold a steady income based on their art alone. This stereotype, as all the others for that matter, is only partially true. The art market is a harsh battlefield, but it is possible to win it if you are truly determined.
After the invention of photography, a debate ensued about whether or not it could be deemed art. However, by the end of the 19th century, with the famous exhibition organized and curated by Alfred Stieglitz where he included the work by most famous pictorialist photographers of the time, photography had officially entered the realm of art. Pictorialists were known for their use of soft focus, which gave their photos an “artsy” quality and depiction of rural life scenery. Although photography started to be considered art due to the pictorialist movement, nowadays the variety of genres in photographic art is vast.
In order to gain an overall understanding of the current art photography market, let’s have a look at the list of the 15 most expensive photographs ever sold.
15: Untangling, By Jeff Wall
Sold For: $1,000,000
This work is a color cibachrome transparency created by Canadian photographer Jeff Wall in 1994. It was purchased in 2006 for $1,000,000.
14: Nautilus, By Edward Weston
Sold For: $1,082,500
Edward Weston was widely known not only for his nude studies, but also for his extraordinary POV on ordinary subjects. The piece was purchased for $1,082,500 in 2010, in New York.
13: Dovima With Elephants, By Richard Avedon
Sold For: $1,151,976
Dovima with elephants went for $1,151,976 in 2010. The iconic image was produced by Richard Avedon, American fashion and portrait photographer, known for his elegant and enchanting artistic solutions. Plasticity and unexpected combinations specific to his works make his style one of the most influential for young fashion photographers.
12: Untitled (Cowboy), By Richard Prince
Sold For: $1,248,000
This iconic piece was produced in 1989. It was sold for $1,248,000 in 2005. The artist, Richard Prince, is viewed by some art historians as a forefather of post modernism in photography, and certainly is the first well known figure, one who started to see image appropriation as another artistic method. Cowboy has also a strong conceptual basis: it is a copy of an advertisement, which depicts a myth created by the US cinema industry.
11: Georgia O’Keeffe Nude, By Alfred Stieglitz
Sold For: $1,360,000
This piece was made in 1919, and went for $1,360,000 in 2006.
10: Georgia O’Keeffe (Hands), By Alfred Stieglitz
Sold For: $1,470,000
This fascinating work was produced in 1919. It was sold for $1,470,000 in 2006 in New York. Alfred Stieglitz is one of the most iconic figures in the history of photography.
While during the early years of his career he was promoting pictorialism, we also owe him for starting a modernist approach in the development of photographic practices in America. During the last days of his career, he continued experimenting and was favoring abstract approaches.
9: Nude, By Edward Weston
Sold For: $1,609,000
This art piece was sold for $1,609,000 in 2008 in New York. The artist, Edward Weston, is the first photographer who was awarded a Guggenheim grant, and is considered to be the among the most influential and innovative figures in American photography.
8: Tobolsk Kremlin, By Dmitry Medvedev
Sold For: $1,750,000
Artists aren’t alone in trying their luck with photography. This image was taken in 2009 by the third Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, who was in office from 2008-2012. The black and white version of this photograph was sold for $1,750,000 during a 2010 Christmas fair in Saint Petersburg.
7: Billy The Kid, (Unknown)
Sold For: $2,300,000
This unique tintype photograph is dated back to 1879-1880. William H. Bonney or Billy the Kid, was famous 19th-century Irish American gunman. A tall handsome man, quick as the wind, cunning as a fox, with outstanding firearms skills. He was known both as a folk hero and a notorious outlaw. The image was sold for $2,300,000 in 2011.
6: Untitled #153, By Cindy Sherman
Sold For: $2,700,000
Another fascinating work by iconic photographer Cindy Sherman. The image, produced back in 1985 was sold for $2,700,000 in New York in 2010.
5: The Pond—Moonlight, By Edward Steichen
Sold For: $2,928,000
This is a pictorialist photograph taken in 1904 in Mamaroneck, New York. The Pond is an early color photograph, made with the help of a technique that predates the first widespread color photography technique. Artists created this work by manually applying light-sensitive gums.
Presently, only three versions of the work survived the test of time and each of the copies is unique because of the hand-layered gums. One of the copies was sold for $2,928,000 in New York in 2006.
4: 99 Cent II Diptychon, By Andreas Gursky
This photo shows an an interior of a supermarket. A combination of bright colors of goods makes it look almost like a hand woven carpet. The artist has digitally altered the photograph resulting in almost complete elimination of perspective. This chromogenic color print is a diptych mounted on acrylic glass, and has a size of 2.07 x 3.37 meters/6.8 ft × 11.1 ft. The shot was taken in 2001 and sold in 2007 in London for $3,346,456.
3: Dead Troops Talk, By Jeff Wall
Sold For: $3,666,500
Jeff Wall is a Canadian artist best known for his art history writing and large-scale cibachrome works. Dead Troops Talk shows Russian (Red Army) troops killed during the Afghan war. Some of them are sitting and talking to each other, others shocked and looking at their injuries. It was sold in New York for $3,666,500 in 2012.
2: Untitled 96, By Cindy Sherman
Sold For: $3,890,500
Untitled (61 cm×120 cm /24 in × 48 in) was sold for $3,890,500 in New York, in May 2011. This fine chromogenic color print is produced by the iconic American visual artist Cindy Sherman, who is best known for her innovative conceptual portraiture. Through her work, she has been able to address the issue of roles and stereotypes women play in our society.
1: Rhein II, By Andreas Gursky
Sold For: $4,338,500
Rhein II was produced by German visual artist Andreas Gursky in 1999 and was sold in 2011 in New York for $4,338,500. The sold version was a chromogenic color print mounted on 190 cm×360 cm/73in × 143in acrylic glass. Gursky digitally removed extraneous details from the print. The work is known for its fascinating detail and outstanding quality.