Top photography results


In Artprice’s fortnightly series of auction rankings, this week’s Friday Top looks at the best auction results in the art market’s photography segment.

Positive secondary market stats show that the universal language of photography is increasingly accepted as a valid and important segment of the art market, and a number of recent auction records confirm this. While these records are much less spectacular than those generated by painted and sculpted works, they are nonetheless reassuring and suggest that the photography market is beginning to mature.

Top photography results
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Cindy SHERMAN $2,965,000 Untitled Film Still #48 (1979) 2015-05-13 Christie’s New York NY
2 Thomas STRUTH $1,810,000 Pantheon, Rome (1990) 2015-05-12 Sotheby’s New York NY
3 Andreas GURSKY $1,744,346 Shanghai (2000) 2015-07-01 Sotheby’s Londres
4 Andreas GURSKY $1,390,000 Pyongyang IV (2007) 2015-11-11 Sotheby’s New York NY
5 Richard PRINCE $1,327,527 Untitled (Cowboy) (2001) 2015-06-30 Christie’s Londres
6 GILBERT & GEORGE $1,265,000 Cherry Blossom No. 5 (1974) 2015-05-13 Christie’s New York NY
7 Richard PRINCE $1,145,000 Untitled (Cowboy) (1986) 2015-03-03 Phillips New York NY
8 Richard PRINCE $920,921 Untitled (Cowboy) (1980-1986) 2015-10-14 Phillips Londres
9 Helmut NEWTON $905,000 Walking Women, Paris (1981) 2015-04-01 Phillips New York NY
10 Lee FRIEDLANDER $850,000 The Little Screens (1961/70) 2015-04-01 Sotheby’s New York NY
copyright © 2016


Our Top 10 ranking contains works by seven Modern (born before 1945) and Contemporary artists. With photography being a relatively young artistic medium, the Contemporary period obviously provides the bulk of its material and is naturally more in tune with the tastes of contemporary collectors. Among the seven artists in our ranking, three have generated new auction records with prices ranging from $850,000 to $1.8 million. These were Thomas Struth (born 1954), Helmut Newton (1920-2004) and Lee Friedlander (born 1934).

Thomas Struth’s new record of $1.81 million (May 2015) for Pantheon, Rome (edition 5/10) has given him access to the 7-digit club. On 26 June 2013, the same work fetched $1.26 million including fees at Sotheby’s in London (i.e. $547,000 less). Meanwhile, Helmut Newton is still not in 7-digits, but three new results have consolidated his personal Top-10 in just one year. One of these was $905,000 at Phillips New York (1 April 2015) for his famous triptych Walking Women, Paris (1981) while a diptych with the same defiant ladies (dressed and undressed) fetched $670,000 on 4 April 2016 at Sotheby’s New York, a new record for those two pictures. Newton’s market seems to be enjoying renewed dynamism, a good sign for this iconic American photography whose price index shows a modest increase of 52% in 10 years.
Lastly, the American photographer Lee Friedlander (born in 1934), pioneer of documentary reportage, has a new auction record with a series of 38 photographs taken between 1961 and 1970 (The Little Screens). Estimated $200,000 – $300,000, this museum-quality collection went under the hammer for $850,000, multiplying his previous auction record by ten in April 2015 (a portfolio of 15 photos from the same series printed in 1973 fetched $84,000).

Apart from these records, the Top does of course contain the habitual leaders of the art photography market, namely Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky, Richard Prince and Gilbert & George.
Cindy Sherman remains the market’s favourite. She embodies the success of Contemporary American art through photography and the power of a market that will pay several million dollars for Contemporary images. Recall that her absolute record is $6.77 million for a series of 21 silver gelatin prints from her famous series Untitled Film Stills (sold at Christie’s New York on 12 November 2014). Admittedly, Cindy Sherman is not perceived ‘just as a photographer’ but rather as a mult-media artist working with performance art and staging as well. The major retrospective that the MoMA dedicated to her work in 2012 established her as one of the most influential artists of our time. Following that show, the market’s response was unequivocal: her famous Untitled Film Stills #48 reached $1.565 million in 2013, then $2.225 million in 2014 and nearly $3 million in 2015.

A culture that shows an endless appetite for images, a medium that is easy to transport and store, an art form that is particularly well adapted to online transactions… photography has a lot of advantages for collectors. Its market is stabilizing with some 15,000 photographs sold at auction last year, i.e. twice the volume of 10 years ago. Demand has therefore considerably expanded for a medium that still only represents a tiny fraction of the global art market: only 4% of total lots sold (versus 8% for sculpture and 21% for prints) and less than 1% of global art auction turnover.