Here is a list of the ten most expensive photographs as of August 2011. Each picture is accompanied with brief insight into it’s history.







Untitled #96 (1981)

1. Cindy Sherman is an American photographer best known for her conceptual portraits. The Centrefolds or Horizontals series began when the publication ArtForum commissioned Cindy Sherman to create a portfolio of images for display in the magazine. Inspired by the magazine’s horizontal format and the fact that the publication required Sherman to make 2 page spreads, she decided to create pictures that would mimic centrefolds from pornographic magazines. In the Centrefold series, Sherman assumes the role of the subject and portrays various women in each photo. In Untitled #96 embodies what seems to be a young teenager, portrayed as innocent at first glance, but on continued inspection, the image becomes increasingly seductive. Critics panned the series, claiming Sherman was reaffirming sexist stereotypes. Eventually, ArtForum rejected the series and images were never published in the magazine.

Price tag: $3,890,500 as of May 2011.

Auction house: Christie’s New York.





99 Cent Diptychon II (2001)

2. The artwork is a two part photograph made by Andreas Gursky, a German visual artist known for his enormous architecture and landscape colour photographs, often employing a high vantage point.  It depicts an interior of a supermarket with numerous aisles stocked with colourful goods. The work has been digitally altered to reduce perspective. The work is a two part work, also called a diptych, and have the size of 207 x 337 centimetres (6.79 x 11.06 ft).

Price tag:  $3,346,456 as of February 2007.

Auction house: Sotheby’s London.




The Pond-Moonlight 1(904)

3.  Pond-Moonlight is a pictorialist photograph by Edward Steichen. The photograph was made in 1904 in Mamaroneck, New York, near the home of his friend, art critic Charles Caffin. It features a forest across a pond, with a glimpse of the moon appearing over the horizon in a gap in the trees. The Pond-Moonlight is an early colour photograph and was created by manually applying light-sensitive gums. Only three known versions of the photograph are still in existence and, as a result of the hand-layering of the gums, each is unique. In addition to the auctioned print, the other two versions are held in museum collections. The extraordinary sale price of the print is, in part, attributable to its one-off character and rarity.

Price tag: $2,928,000 as of February 2006.

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York.





Billy The Kid (1879-1880)

4. According to legend, he killed 21 men but he is generally accepted to have killed between four and nine. This photograph, taken by an unknown photographer, is of William H. Bonney also known as Billy the Kid, a 19th -century American frontier outlaw, gunman and semi-folklorish figure. The 2×3 inch ferrotype is one of the last artifacts remaining of Billy’s life and is the only picture of Billy that is universally agreed upon on as an authentic photo of Billy. It survived because after Billy’s death, one of his rustler friends Dan Dedrick, held onto the picture and passed it down in his family. It is currently owned by Florida billionaire William Koch.

Price tag:  $2,300,000 as of June 2011.

Auction house: Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction.





Kremlin of Tobolsk (2009)

5. This picture was taken by none other than third and current President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev. The Russian President is also an avid amateur photographer and in January 2010, one of his photographs was sold at a charity auction.

Price tag:  $1,750,000 as of January 2010

Auction event: Christmas Yarmarka, Saint Petersburg.





Nude (1925)

6.  Edward Weston was a 20th century American photographer. He is undoubtedly one of the most innovative and influential American photographers and one of the masters of the 20th century photography. Over the course of a career that spanned forty years Weston indulged in a broad spectrum of subjects, including landscapes, still lifes, nudes, portraits, genre scenes and even whimsical parodies. It is said that he developed a “quintessentially American, and specifically Californian, approach to modern photography” due to his focus on the people and places of the American West.

Price tag:  $1,609,000 as of April 2008.

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York.





Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands) (1919)

7.  Alfred Steiglitz was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was essential, over his fifty-year career, in making photography an accepted art form. The hands in this photograph, however, belong to an American artist by the name of Gerogie O’ Keefffe, whose abstract imagery of the 1910s and early 1920s is among the most innovative of any work produced in the period by American artists. Along side her revolutionary large-format paintings of of enlarged blossoms, O’ Keeffe also depicted New York buildings which have been recognised as among the most compelling of any paintings of the modern city. Shortly after some of her charcoal drawings were exhibited at Steiglitz’s 291 gallery, he started photographing her and between then and 1937, when he retired from photography, he made 350 portraits of her.

Price tag: $1,470,000 as of February 2006.

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York.





Georgia O'Keeffe Nude (1919)


8. See above.

Price tag: $1,360,000 as of February 2006

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York.





Untitled (Cowboy) (1989)


9. This photograph was taken by Richard Prince, an American painter and photographer. Prince began appropriating photographs in 1975 and the photograph above  is part of a an ongoing series and group of rephotographs known as Cowboys, produced from 1980 to 1992.  Taken from Marlboro cigarette advertisements of the Marlboro Man, they represent an idealized figure of American masculinity.

Price tag:  $1,248,000 as of November 2005

Auction house: Christie’s New York.





Dovima With Elephants (1955)

10. One of Richard Avedon‘s most recognised images is that of Dovima, born Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, and for whom the term ‘supermodel’ was coined. Admired by Avedon as “the last of the great elegant, aristocratic beauties… the most remarkable and unconventional beauty of her time.” For him, she posed in many photographs that came to be the most iconic fashion images of the century. The above picture was taken by Avedon at the Cirque d’hiver, Paris, in August 1955, and in it she wears the first evening dress designed for Christian Dior by his new assistant Yves Saint-Laurent.

Price tag:  $1,151,976 as of November 2010

Auction house: Christie’s Paris.

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2 Responses

  1. Sinem

    Love love love #10 – I would have it on my wall any day. On a separate note, do you know how often this list is likely to change? Every decade as new photography is added or longer?

    • Olumide

      I don’t know how often it changes but many pictures in this list might may not be here ten years from now. It would be great to see a wider spread of images from a wider spread of the world.


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