While most of us are taking selfies, groufies, or photos of our food, there are photographers who are making millions out of their breathtaking, visionary and creative photos. You might wonder, “What made these photographs worth a ton of money when cameras are very accessible today, especially because of the popularity of smartphones, and when photo editing software and apps are readily available?” We are not sure as well, but as for the acutioneers and for the people who bought these photos, they definitely thought they are worth the big bucks.
1. Phantom, Peter Lik – $6.5 million
Australian photographer Peter Lik set a new world record in 2014 by earning a staggering $6.5 million for “Phantom,” a black-and-white shot taken in a subterranean cavern in Antelope Canyon, Arizona. Previously, Lik earned millions from his other photos: “Illusion” ($2.4 million), “Eternal Moods” ($1.1 million) and “One” ($1 million).
2. Rhein II, Andreas Gursky – $4.3 million
“Rhein II,” the second most expensive photograph, was sold to an anonymous buyer in 2011 at a Christie’s auction in New York City for a whopping $4,338,500. Originally taken by German photographer Andreas Gursky in 1999, the sold photograph was a digitally modified depiction of the Rhine River in Germany. The people and the buildings were removed from the image as a “romantic hymn to the grandeur of the Rhine River,” according to the Museum of Modern Art.
3. Untitled #96, Cindy Sherman – $3.9 million
Originally taken in 1981, “Untitled #96” is a portrait taken by American photographer Cindy Sherman that sold for $3,890,500 in 2011 at a Christie’s auction in New York. The work is the highest-selling image of a female photographic artist, depicting Sherman as a young teenager in a domestic scene. Sherman avoids giving titles to her work to allow the interpretation to come from the viewer’s imagination.
4. For Her Majesty, Gilbert & George – $3.7 million
Artists Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore, known as the collaborative art due Gilbert & George, have made an outstanding photography career by taking photos themed with various topics around the world and society. “For Her Majesty,” which was taken in 1973, is their priciest work sold for $3,765,276 in an auction in Christie’s London.
5. Dead Troops Talk, Jeff Wall – $3.7 million
Canadian artist Jeff Wall’s “Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986)” is a montage originally taken in 1992, using a constructed scene featuring performers as victims of the Soviet-Afghan War showing “a dialogue of the dead.” The photograph fetched $3,666,500 at a 2012 Christie’s auction in New York.
6. 99 Cent II Diptychon, Andreas Gursky – $3.3 million
Andreas Gursky had three entries on this list. The “99 Cent II Diptychon” was sold for $3,346,456 to a Ukranian steel tycoon Victor Pinchuk at a Sotheby’s auction in London in 2007. This photograph taken in 2001 is a cibachrome two-part image showing bargain products inside a supermarket store on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.
7. Chicago Board of Trade III, Andreas Gursky – $3.3 million
The “Chicago Board of Trade III” depicts a bird’s eye view of a chaotic activity at the Board of Trade in Chicago, showing a stunning image of the contemporary world of the 20th century socioeconomics. Taken in 1999, it was part of Gursky’s seminal stock exchange series he started in the 1990s, when he also captured scenes at New York and Hong Kong’s stock exchanges. The photo was sold in 2013 for $3,298,755 in a Sotheby’s auction in London.
8. Untitled (Cowboy), Richard Prince – $3 million
American photographer Richard Prince earned $3,077,000 in an auction at Sotheby’s New York in 2014 for his work, “Untitled (Cowboy).” The photo shows an unknown cowboy in action using his rope to catch a horse, with a backdrop of a clear bight sky and disheveled clouds.
9. The Pond – Moonlight, Edward Steichen – $2.9 million
Taken in 1904, this is the oldest photograph on this most expensive list. American photographer Edward Steichen’s “The Pond – Moonlight” depicts the wetlands near Mamaroneck on Long Island Sound in New York using gum-bichromate layer printing. It was sold for $2,928,000 at a Sotheby’s New York auction in 2006.
10. Los Angeles, Andreas Gursky – $2.9 million
“Los Angeles” is a stunning image of a landscape of the city at night taken in 1998, showing the grid-like patterns made by city lights as it blazes underneath a dark sky. The photo was bought in an auction at the Sotheby’s London in 2008 for $2,900,000.