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The 10 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold

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Most of us are wondering how to sell our images. And then we stumble across photographs for which a buyer was happy to pay millions of US dollars.

Let’s have a look at the 10 most expensive photos.

A close up of dollar bills

10. The Pond – Moonlight

Edvard Steichen – 1904

The artist created the early photograph by applying light-sensitive gums. This gave the final print more than one colour.

There are three versions of The Pond -Moonlight. Each of them is unique because the layering of the gums is done by hands.

The photograph cost its buyer $2,928,000 in 2006. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for a photo at an auction. The two other versions are exhibited in museums.

The Pond - Moonlight Photograph by Edvard Steichen - 1904

9. Untitled Film Still #48

Cindy Sherman – 1979

The photograph is part of a series that the artist made between 1977 and 1980.

Sherman herself appears as fictitious female characters in the 69 black and white photos. She used makeup, wigs and vintage dresses to recreate female cliches from films.

Photograph #48 was bought for $2,965,00 in 2015.

Untitled Film Still #48 by Cindy Sherman - 1979

8. Untitled (Cowboy)

Richard Prince- 2000

Prince’s work is a photo of a photo. He rephotographed pictures while he was developing his own style.

In this case, the image is from a Marlboro campaign, and it depicts the ‘Marlboro Man’. The piece was bought for $ 3,077,000 in 2014.

Untitled (Cowboy) by Richard Prince- 2000

7. Chicago Board of Trade II

Andreas Gursky – 1999/2000

The picture exhibits the trading floor of the Board of Trade in Chicago. To express the sense of movement, Gursky double-exposed several parts of the image.

He often scanned the images and edited them on a computer.

The photo was auctioned for $3,298,755 in 2013.

Chicago Board of Trade II by Andreas Gursky - 1999/2000

6. 99 Cent II Diptychon

Andreas Gursky – 2001

Below is the chromogenic colour print that was sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2007. The two-part photo depicts a supermarket with several aisles. Gursky altered the picture digitally.

What did it fetch? An astounding $3,346,456.

Surely it should have ended in .99 cents.

99 Cent II Diptychon by Andreas Gursky - 2001

5. Jeff Wall – 1992

Here is the image in question, sold as transparency in lightbox.

It depicts a fictional scene with a battlefield. The soldiers are coming back to life, resembling a zombie horror movie.

This went on sale at Christie’s New York in May 2012.

It made a cool $3,666,500.

Jeff Wall photo - 1992

4. To Her Majesty

Gilbert & George – 1973

These photographic provocateurs created this installation as a Gelatin Silver print. The series of photos commemorate drunk evenings of the duo.

It went under the hammer at Christie’s London in June 2008.

It made $3,765,276 ($4,971,030.33 in today’s money).

To Her Majesty by Gilbert & George - 1973

3. Untitled 96

Cindy Sherman – 1981

Cindy Sherman is no stranger to expensive prints. This one netted her a welcomed $3,890,500 when it was auctioned at Christie’s New York in May 2011.

Sherman used the centrefolds of men’s erotic magazines as inspiration for this work. She appears as the complete opposite of a model who we would find in those pictures. Many people claim that her facial expression and body language shows vulnerability.

Sherman depicts rape and abuse in the photo. The model looks scared instead of being seductive. The image was presented as a Chromogenic colour print.

Untitled 96 by Cindy Sherman - 1981

2. Spiritual America

Richard Prince – 1981

It is one of the most controversial photos in history. It depicts the 10-year old and naked Brooke Shields. Her childish body is in great contrast with her seductive and mature facial expression.

The police banned the work from the exhibition in the Tate Modern in London.

Ektacolor print. Sold at Christie’s New York in May 2014: $3,973,000

Note: This image features an undressed Brooke Shields as a child. We aren’t showing it here, so if you wish to see the photograph, you must follow this link to Christie’s website.

1. Rhein II

Andreas Gursky – 1999

Another chromogenic colour print, but this time, costing an individual $4,338,500. The image shows the Lower Rhine. The river is depicted between green grass fields and under the overcast sky.

Gursky removed dog walkers and a factory building in digital editing.

Sold at Christie’s New York in November 2011, it was the held the world record for most expensive print ever sold until 2014.

Rhein II Andreas Gursky - 1999

+1 Phantom

Peter Lik – 2014

This image is a black and white print of the famous Antelope Canyon in Arizona, USA.

It is unverified, as the buyer is ‘private and anonymous’. Its place as the costliest photo in the world is still the source of heated debates.

You may be tempted to think that Jeff Frost inched past Australian photographer Peter Lik by selling his image for $6.5 Million and ten cents.

Judging by his chosen counsel, it is nothing more than a prank.

Phantom by Peter Lik - 2014

Conclusion

The last thing I’m going to say is this: don’t be disheartened.

Yes, the images are quite interesting, but who on earth decides on these prices?

Most of these, except for the number one spot, were sold at auctions. What this means is the artists don’t think they are worth this much. The people with the deep pockets decided that is how much the image is worth to them.

Maybe one day we’ll have a shot at the big time. In the meantime, we have advice on selling images here.

Looking to get ahead with your portrait photography business? Don’t miss out on our eBook – Profit from Portraits

Show Comments (2)
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