‘Phantom.’ Photo: PRNewswire
On December 9 PRNewswire announced that Australian photographer Peter Lik sold a photograph entitled Phantom for a record-setting $6.5 million. Phantom, now the world’s most expensive photograph ever sold, was shot in a subterranean cavern in Arizona’s Antelope Canyon.
Well known for his black and white photography just as much as his landscapes, Lik has a particular eye for capturing America’s southwest. Lik, the recipient of numerous awards, also starred in NBC’s television series, From the Edge with Peter Lik.
The chart-topping photograph has an enchanting, eerie quality to it. A cloudy beam of light shining into the canyon from above seems to depict a phantom-like figure, while a sandy ground and curved cave walls remind us of nature’s guileless beauty.
“The purpose of all my photos is to capture the power of nature and convey it in a way that inspires someone to feel passionate and connected to the image,” said Lik. It appears he has achieved that goal, inspiring passion in the buyer—$6.5 million worth of passion.
In addition to Phantom, Lik’s Illusion ($2.4 million) and Eternal Moods ($1.1 million) were also sold to the same buyer. These, along with his sale of One ($1 million) in 2010, mean that Like now holds four of the top 20 spots for most expensive photographs ever sold. Due to privacy concerns, the buyer has requested to remain anonymous, but is represented by Los Angeles lawyer Joshua Roth. “Our client is a long-time collector of Lik’s works and is delighted to add these one-of-a-kind photographs to his impressive collection,” Roth commented.
And now, on to the (6.5) million dollar question: What makes Lik’s piece so valuable? There doesn’t seem to be consensus or clear answer, other than the buyer simply fell in love with the piece and apparently thought it was worth what he paid for it. Art moves people in strange, strong ways, and that might be the closest thing to reasoning we get. But there are critics who question this. “These prices are very high and certainly, in terms of other successful photographic artists, seem somewhat bizarre,” art consultant David Hulme told the Sydney Morning Herald. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones expressed an even harsher point of view in his December 10, 2014 piece. “Peter Lik’s hollow, cliched and tasteless black and white shot of an Arizona canyon isn’t art, and proves that photography never will be.”
As for other expensive photograph sales — in second place is Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II(1999) which sold for $4,338,500 in 2011. And Cindy Sherman’s Untitled (1981) sold for $3,890,500 in 2011, making it the third most expensive photograph.