From Click to Riches: Discover the Top-Selling Photographs in the World
Photography has evolved from a niche art form to a lucrative investment, with some photographs fetching staggering prices in the art market. Our masters all make money selling photographs in galleries and online on their websites. They give their experiences and advice on how to make money by selling your photographs in their courses. They cover a wide range of possible solutions from working with galleries, selling photographs online, finding the right market and obviously creating amazing art. (https://mastersof.photography/).
As this is a subject that we get asked a lot, we thought it would be interesting to explore the most expensive photographs ever sold, showcasing the intersection of artistic brilliance and financial prowess. This list is subject to a lot of debate and you’ll find different rankings on the web. We’re not trying to provide the definitive list here but to give you an insight into the genres, styles, subjects and money that these expensive art photographs were sold or valued at.
“Phantom” by Peter Lik (Sold for $6.5 million in 2014) – Image at the top of the page (© Peter Lik)
In 2014, Australian photographer Peter Lik captured the attention of the art world with his photograph “Phantom.” This black-and-white image, depicting a ghostly shaft of light in Antelope Canyon, Arizona, exudes a sense of mystique and natural beauty. Lik’s unique approach to landscape photography, combined with his mastery of composition and lighting, contributed to the photograph’s extraordinary sale, making it one of the most expensive photographs ever sold.
“Rhein II” by Andreas Gursky (Sold for $4.3 million in 2011)
© Courtesy Monika Sprueth Galerie, Koeln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn and DACS, London 2024
Renowned German photographer Andreas Gursky claimed the top spot with his photograph “Rhein II.” Captured in 1999, the image depicts a serene and surreal landscape along the Rhine River. Gursky meticulously composed the photograph, digitally removing signs of human presence to create a sublime representation of nature. The photograph’s minimalist aesthetic and Gursky’s mastery of scale and detail contributed to its record-breaking sale at an auction in 2011.
“Untitled #96” by Cindy Sherman (Sold for $3.9 million in 2011)
© Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman, celebrated for her groundbreaking work in self-portraiture, achieved an impressive feat with her photograph “Untitled #96.” Part of her Untitled Film Stills series, this 1981 image features Sherman in a vintage Hollywood-esque pose. The photograph challenges traditional notions of identity and representation, and its sale in 2011 at a Christie’s auction marked a milestone, making Sherman the highest-selling female artist at that time.
“To Her Majesty” by Gilbert & George, created in 1973, (Sold for $3,767,960 at Christie’s in London in 2008)
© Gilbert & George
Created in 1992, this large-scale tableau photograph presents a haunting scene of soldiers seemingly engaged in conversation amidst the aftermath of battle. Wall meticulously stages each element of the composition, blurring the lines between reality and artifice. The photograph confronts viewers with the harsh realities of war while also raising questions about the representation of violence and the role of photography in shaping collective memory. With its intricate detail and powerful narrative, “Dead Troops Talk” commands attention and sparks contemplation long after viewing, solidifying Jeff Wall’s reputation as a master of contemporary photography.
“Dead Troops Talk” by Jeff Wall (Sold for $3.7 million in 2012)
© Jeff Wall
This photograph, part of the duo’s renowned series, depicts the artists themselves donning their signature formal attire against a backdrop of vivid colors and bold patterns. Gilbert & George, known for their confrontational and politically charged artworks, utilize symbolism and imagery to challenge societal norms and critique authority. In “To Her Majesty,” the artists subvert traditional notions of reverence and decorum by addressing the reigning monarch directly, invoking questions about power, class, and the role of art in society. With its striking visual impact and layered socio-political commentary, “To Her Majesty” remains a significant and enduring work in the oeuvre of Gilbert & George.
“99 Cent II Diptychon” by Andreas Gursky (Sold for $3.3 million in 2007)
© Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky makes a second appearance in the top 5 with “99 Cent II Diptychon.” This 2001 photograph captures the interior of a 99-cent store in Los Angeles, presenting a dizzying array of consumer goods. Gursky’s ability to transform mundane scenes into epic compositions, coupled with the sheer scale of the photograph, garnered significant attention in the art world. Its sale in 2007 solidified Gursky’s influence and the market’s willingness to invest heavily in his distinctive vision.
“Billy the Kid” (1880) by an Unknown Photographer (Sold for $2.3 million in 2011)
The only photograph on this list not created by a contemporary artist, “Billy the Kid” is a rare tintype capturing the infamous American outlaw. The image, believed to be one of only two authenticated photographs of Billy the Kid, fetched a remarkable sum at auction in 2011. The mystique surrounding the Wild West and the scarcity of such historical artifacts contributed to the photograph’s exceptional value.
These record-breaking sales underscore the increasing prominence of photography in the art market, reflecting not only the technical skill of the photographers but also the market’s recognition of the cultural and historical significance embedded in these visual narratives.