Andreas Gursky Rheinn II

The photograph in question. Incidentally Gursky will not receive a penny from the sale of his image as it was sold from one collector to another.

I’ve written before about the value of photography, but finding out that Andreas Gursky’s photograph, “Rhein II” (above) has just been sold for $4.3 million at Christies has caused me to consider this again as it relates to photography as an artform.

This is the most expensive photograph ever sold, but why is it worth $4.3 million? What is a fair price for a technically proficient rendering of a moment. Is this photo actually worth this much?  Well, yes it is. Because that is what someone has paid for it. 

In real estate circles they say a house is worth whatever someone will pay for it. I think this applies to photography as well, or more broadly to art. A piece of artwork, be it a photograph or a painting or a sculpture, is such a personal and varied thing that it is almost impossible to give a value to. There is no formula like for example a car, where the maker might calculate the cost of parts and overheads to build the car and also add in marketing and shipping costs and then a margin to come up with a price per vehicle. But while you could take these things into account when pricing art, a piece of art is a one off. Although it may be copied, it is the only one of it’s kind that will ever exist. It may be a social commentary or an expression of some inner conflict, but either way it is something that only that artist could have produced and has much more emotional value than a car ever will.

Most of us can tell if a car is well made, but because art is so subjective, there is no way to tell if a painting is well made (is that line supposed to be there?). We can only tell if it speaks to us or not. And that I believe is the only measure by which we can give art a value. There has been a bit of outrage over the price paid for Gursky’s photograph. A lot of “I could have done that with my Iphone” type sentiment. But one person was so moved by the image that they forked out a $4.3 million for it, therefore it is worth $4.3 million dollars.

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