In preparing and researching each issue of Red Dog News, I look for interesting articles that will (I hope) serve to educate, enlighten, and create more thought about the wonderful field of photography. Sometimes, the pieces fall flat and generate no interest, and sometimes they create a bit of interest. Such is the case with one of the articles in Red Dog News #108. The article, “The 19 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold,” was written by photographytalk.com.
Photography has fought for many years to be recognized as a ranking member of the fine art community. Some will say the medium has arrived, and then there are some who are still waiting. Photography still has a long way to as far as evaluation of classic and iconic images are concerned. The top ten most expensive paintings ever sold (Wikipedia) are all valued in excess of $100,000,000. In photography, “Rhein II” (above) by Andreas Gursky (2011 value) comes in at the highest valuation, $4,338,500. You can agree that we do have a long way to go.
While most photography experts and resources agree on several prints to be considered “Top Ten” material, I found two particular images that confuse me. Both were the product of Alfred Stieglitz’s incredibly creative and artistic eye, and both are of Georgia O’Keeffe. In fact eight of the nine highest prices paid for his prints are of O’Keeffe.
The two images below are both included in a couple of “top prices” lists. While both are, indeed, valued highly, they are two different images. The one on the left was printed in 1918, and the one on the right was printed in 1919. On two of the lists I used as input for this post, Aputure.com and Wikipedia, they both list those images with the title, “Hands,” and value them both at $1,470,000, and sold in 2006. Hmnmnmnmnh?
Alex Novak offers this: “Tim, the story of the most expensive photographs is incorrect on several levels. It misses several important sales, including the Le Gray of “Ships Leaving Harbor” (over $1.25 million), The De Prangey (over $1 million), the Le Gray of the “Oak Tree” (over $900,000), etc. Plus it misses the multiple sales at different pricing levels of the photos already showing such as the Gursky 99-cent, which has come up at multiple millions several times, plus the Richard Prince (not only Marlboro Man, but variant images), which also broke the million mark multiple times. Just an FYI.”
Thanks, Alex, for the input. So, what would you think are the “10 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold?” Who/What is the real authority?
I have discovered that with the three lists I used, Wikipedia, Business Insider, and Aputure.com, I just came away more confused than when I started. Why would a Billy the Kid tintype be on two lists and not on the other. We also have “Cindy Sherman #153” on one list, and not on the other two. Avedon’s, “Dovima with Elephants,” was also on only one list.
So, we are left with a choice: What does it really matter to you and I? Probably not much, unless you are someone who can afford to pay more than a million bucks for a photographic print. I guess one of the main reasons paintings are much more expensive from the collecting viewpoint (besides being really old), is that they are truly “one-of-a-kind!” We certainly can’t say that about photography. We have so many variations of so many images, it’s dizzying.
Probably a better way to measure painting and photography, as far as value is concerned, is to discover what is the highest valued print of an original painting. Now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? Any takers?