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  An undisclosed buyer paid $4.3 million for a photograph by Andreas Gursky on Tuesday last week at Christie's Auction House in New York.  The photo was origionally estimated to bring in between $2.5 and $3.5 million.


 The question I have for all the expert photographers on this site is the same as the title. Is this photograph really worth it?  I am hoping to learn something here, aside from my own opinion and uneducated eye.  What do you think?



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And he's still alive. What you've touched upon is how photographers like Gursky have created a new medium called "big" and it's become the darling of the collector set. American Photographer Magazine (which is also the same publisher as Photo District News) popularized the big photograph by Gursky and others over the past fifteen years. I would like to think it's because of his creative talent but it's just a glamorized craft because he's working with materials that are out of the reach of normal creative photographers. Bottom line is all it takes is one or two important people to say they like it for it to increase in value.

I think Duggal prints and mounts his work.

There have also been photographers on the art show circuit who have only printed their boring images in very large sizes and have sold well and won awards, so maybe there's something to it.

Larry Berman

So when you say working with materials that are out of reach of normal photographers, which materials do you mean?

It does seem that a few people in the right spots can influence everything.

What I meant is that in cases like this, the cost of printing and mounting is usually out of the range of the average photographer.

About two years ago I went to see a lecture by the photography curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's interesting in that the artists (or photographers) they choose for their permanent collection are artists that other notable sources comment on and follow. It's almost like no one has their own mind and can choose things that they like unless they see someone else liking it first.

Larry Berman

Perhaps you should think a little more clearly about what you are actually asking. The photo was obviously worth $4.3 million to at least one person. It is also pretty safe to say that it is not worth that to a lot of other people. Just decide for yourself which "expert" you want to agree with. Its not magic, its marketing.

No, not magic, agreed.  I am getting ready to start a book called "Seven days in the Art World".  Someone recommended it to me.  If you have not read it, it deals with the marketing aspect, and how crucial in some circles it is to have favor of certain individuals, as well as those who influence the market for strictly financial gain, regardless of the talent involved. 

I really do want to understand photography better, not because it will ever be my medium, but because I do enjoy it.  That was part of my intention in posting.  The other part, is to me, it is remarkable that anyone would pay that amount for art.


Wow, I think if I had taken that photo I would have deleted it on the spot....

In your opinion Alison, is there a way to take a picture of the same area in a way that would make it more interesting?  It seems to be a somewhat severe landscape to begin with.

A photograph, like any other piece of art, is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. As Willie said, at least one person thought it was worth $4,338,500. That's a big number, isn't it? Peter Lik gets quite a bit for his landscapes, too. He prints large and charges large. And Peter Lik prints quite a few in an edition.

Both photographers have a masterful marketing machine behind their success. They are well-known, well-regarded, and manage to get the word out to many many people. Whether or not the work of these two artists appeals to you, it definitely appeals to people who are willing to part with a large sum of cash in order to own what is perceived as a unique piece by a unique master.

Gursky's work is face-mounted to plexiglas. The piece that sold at the Christie's auction was quite large, about 143" x 73". Duggal and Laumont in NYC both handle this type of work. It's not cheap, either. It's so popular, in fact, that smaller labs are popping up to offer similar services for the average human. It's a clean, modern look.

A couple of resources:

PC Colour Lab



Thanks Jim.  I enjoyed looking at Peter Liks work.  The lab links got me wondering how many normal people are using the grand format printing for their own photos, such as family photos or pet photos.  Of course, provided they can afford it.

I think a lot less people are printing pictures of their dog at 60x40... Seriously, you'd really have to love your dog to hang a photo of her over the fireplace that large. Not to mention, you'd need a large fireplace. But many more people are ordering canvas prints of their wedding day, their formal portraits and so on, in more reasonable sizes. Maybe Kim Kardashian has had a 90"x120" picture of their wedding day hanging above the nuptial bed.

But the fact that this technology is trickling down to the public level says something about the desire for new techniques and gallery "sanctioned" styles of mounting. Laminating to metal, wood substrates and face mounting (diasec process) has gotten a lot more popular, in part because these "masters" have been showing work like this in gallery settings.

And to answer your question to Alison, above, the image that Gursky took was actually retouched in Photoshop, to remove a factory and other "extraneous" features, in order to make it more like "the primeval river", which was no longer photographable in its present state. Personally, I enjoyed the photograph, and I suspect that it was much more interesting in its large presentation size than as a small jpeg on a website. Perhaps it has more impact. And on that subject, David Kachel has an amusing monograph on why photographs should not be as large as a house. His point is that photographs are meant to be intimate. Large plexiglas face mounts such as Gursky's tend to be cold, impersonal and the antithesis of intimate. Your opinion may differ, but I tend to agree. Mostly people buy these larger than life photographs to impress their friends. As far as I'm concerned, their money is as good as anyone else's. Come on down!


Maybe I could sell one of my pieces for over 4 million.  I wouldn't have to worry about the price of the next piece because I wouldn't ever try to sell another one.

That is amazing.  Looking at the piece, I don't see anything special about it.  Nice lines but no wow factor.  Of course, art is different things to different people and someone thought enough of it to pay 4.3 mill.    Peter Lik sold a print entitled "One" for one million dollars.  When looking at that piece, you can (or at least I can) see some artistic value and that it is a special shot resuting from being in the right place at the right time when nature blended together to create a fascinating tapistry.


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