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The Top 8 Most Expensive Photographs

The beauty of the photograph is in its singular ability to be recreated indefinitely, allowing a single image to travel the world in a variety of sizes and forms. As the camera allowed the hand and eye to act as one, the photograph became the first work of art to rely solely upon technology in order to realize its existence. As a result, photography was not immediately recognized by the art world, and it is only in the past decade that the prices have come to reflect its growing stature as a highly profitable investment. Here, Crave takes a look at the 8 most expensive photographs ever sold (so far).

1. Andreas Gursky: Rhein II (1999)

Rhein II © Andreas Gursky

Rhein II (1999) sold for $4.3 million in November 2011, setting the all-time high for the most expensive photograph on record. The photograph, which was produced as the second and largest of a set of six depicting the Rhine River, was sold to an anonymous buyer.

2. Cindy Sherman: Untitled #96 (1981)

Untitled # 96 © Cindy Sherman

Untitled #96 (1981) sold for $3.98 million in May 2011, setting the record as the most expensive photograph ever sold until it was bested six months later by Gursky’s work. A second print of Untitled #96 sold for $2.88 million in May 2012, technically making it #8 as well on a Top 10 Most Expensive Photographs list.

3. Gilbert & George: For Her Majesty (1973)

For Her Majesty © Gilbert & George

For Her Majesty (1973) sold for $3.7 million in June 2008. The artists, recognized for their distinctive and highly formal appearance and manner, are naturals for the Top 10 list. As they once observed, “Left equals good. Art equals Left. Pop stars and artists are meant to be original. So how come everyone has the same opinion? …. We admire Margaret Thatcher greater. She did a lot for art. Socialism wants everyone to be equal. We want to be different.”

4. Jeff Wall: Dead Troops Talk (1992)

Dead Troops Talk © Jeff Wall

Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of the Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986) (1992) sold for 3.7 million in May 2012. Taken in 1992, the photograph shows an ambush of Russian soldiers during the 1988 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, looking like nothing so much as a metaphor for a war with no end. Shot in a studio, using performers, costumers, special effects, and makeup, Wall staged the scene to show “a dialogue of the dead”, merging conventions from war, historical paintings, and horror movies to create a highly orchestrated fantasy that mixes black humor and pathos.

5. Andreas Gursky: 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001)

99 Cent II Diptychon © Andreas Gursky

99 Cent II Diptychon (2001) sold for $3.3 million in February 2007 is one of the artist’s most famous works, shows the inside of a supermarket and measures almost 7 x 11 feet. A second print sold for $2.48 million in November 2006, landing it on the Top 10 list a second time, in the #10 slot. And as a matter of honorable mention, a third print sold for $2.25 million in May 2006, placing it just outside the list at #12.

6. Andreas Gursky: Los Angeles (1998)

Los Angeles © Andreas Gursky

Los Angeles (1998) is a stunning landscape of the city at night, showing the electrical grid of the city as it blazes underneath a dark sky.

7. Edward Steichen: The Pond/Moonlight (1904)

The Pond/Moonlight © Edward Steichen

The Pond/Moonlight sold for $2.9 million in February 2006. Taken in 1904, this is the oldest photograph on the Top 10 list. It is also among the first color photographs widely distributed. With only three prints of this image are still in existence, the value of the work continues to rise. When it was sold in 2006, for a time it too held the title of “Most Expensive Photograph in the World.”

8. See #2.

9. Cindy Sherman: Untitled #153 (1985)

Untitled #153 © Cindy Sherman

Untitled #153 (1985) sold for $2.7 million in November 2010, is one of Sherman’s more disturbing works, leaving behind the more innocent, lyrical tensions of her earlier works (as embodied by Untitled #96). As Sherman observed, “Even though I’ve never actively thought of my work as feminist or as a political statement, certainly everything was drawn from my observations as a woman in this culture. And a part of that is a love/hate thing—being infatuated with makeup and glamour and detesting it at the same time.”

 


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.