The most expensive photo in history now clocks in at an impressive $6.5 million. The work of Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik, Phantom is a black-and-white shot of Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, a piercing beam of sunlight appearing like a ghostly figure in a cavernous space.
The sale, to an anonymous Los Angeles collector, also included two other photos by the artist: Illusion, which sold for $2.4 million, and Eternal Moods, which fetched $1.1 million. Add that to a $1 million photo from 2012, and four of Lik’s images are, astonishingly, among the top twenty most expensive photos of all time (see New York Times Exposes Peter Lik Photography Scheme and What Are People Saying About Peter Lik’s Photo Sales Scheme?)
Joshua Roth of the Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro, who represents the buyer, described his client in a press release as “a long-time collector of Lik’s works” who “is delighted to add these one-of-a-kind photographs to his impressive collection.”
Previously, the record was held by German visual artist Andreas Gursky, for his Rhein II (1999), a digitally-manipulated color photo of the River Rhine which fetched $4.3 million at Christie’s in 2011. Earlier that year, Cindy Sherman‘s Untitled #96 (1981), a self-portrait of the artist lying on the floor in an orange outfit, sold for a then-record-setting $3.89 million, also at Christie’s.
The historic Lik sale has already raised some hackles in the art criticism world: in an editorial for the Guardian, Jonathan Jones argued that photography is a technology, not an art, and that the “record-setting picture typifies everything that goes wrong when photographers think they are artists.” He attacked Lik’s use of black and white as “outmoded” and “affected,” and claimed that the image relies on the natural beauty of its subject (Antelope Canyon is very popular with photographers), rather than any artistic vision or skill on the photographer’s part.
Lik has yet to defend his work against these charges, but in a press release announcing the sale, he described his efforts to “capture the power of nature and convey it in a way that inspires someone to feel passionate and connected to the image.”
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