The photograph “Phantom” by Australian/U.S. fine-art photographer has just made art history by becoming the world’s most expensive photograph. A private collector bought (a print of) it for a mind-boggling $6.5 million! The same collector paid $2.4 million and $1.1 million for two other Lik photographs.
Captured at Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, “Phantom” features memorable interplay between different textures and contours, between light and shade, energy and serenity. And a haunting, ghostlike beam of light in the centre of the image.
But…I have to admit that I am dumbfounded by the price tag. I am passionate about photography, and I am delighted that one can make money by carrying out commissioned work, by selling reproductions (prints) of photographs, and by selling usage rights to photographs. But how on earth does one arrive at a multi-million dollar price tag for a print that could in principle easily be reproduced identically, en masse? It’s not like an oil-on-canvas, say, where you’re paying for something that is truly a one-of-a-kind original. This is just a large digital print of a digital photograph. And no, it’s not printed on paper woven from unicorn hair, or hand-printed with the Gutenberg press.
The previous record-holder for the most expensive photograph - Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II”, which sold for more than $4.3 million - was undoubtedly pretty and memorable, but then again it was also just a large print of a digital photograph (depicting the River Rhine with buildings and people digitally removed).
Call me a cynic, but I have to agree with Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones, who wrote - "“Someone has been very foolish with their money, mistaking the picturesque for high art.”
The buyer, a long-time collector of Lik’s work, said he was ‘delighted to add these one-of-a-kind photographs to his impressive collection’.