They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what is one worth in dollars?
Although the market for fine art photography has never reached the soaring heights of other contemporary genres, it remains an exciting niche with a consistent crew of all-star artists at the top. On the occasion of Artnet Auctions’s current Important Photographs sale, featuring photographic works by top sellers such as Ansel Adams, Andreas Gursky, and Cindy Sherman, we’re using the Artnet Price Database to highlight some of the nuances of success in the photography market.
Due to the fact that many contemporary photographers fall into general Contemporary art sales, as opposed to strictly photo sales, it is challenging to pinpoint a singular photography market. Despite this, there remains a strong and reliable roster of all-star blue-chip photographers who dominate the market year after year.
For instance, photographs by Richard Prince, Gilbert & George, and Sherman have brought in a collective $3.3 million worth of sales this year from their works Untitled (Cowboy), Dark Shadow No. 3, and Untitled #150, respectively.
Meanwhile, works by classic and prolific photographers like Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson continue to retain both their value and their popularity. This lasting reach is, in part, due to the sheer volume of their work that appears on the secondary market each year.
When it comes to contemporary photographers such as Sherman, Gursky, and Vik Muniz, to name a few, their role in the photography market is harder to trace. These artists often appear in contemporary sales, performing at levels akin to contemporary painting and sculpture. In fact, their auction results dwarf those of more traditional photographers.
Contemporary photographers are also known for their increasingly high sell-through rates. The sell-through rate for contemporary photographs increased from 57 percent to 62 percent between 2019 and 2020. So far this year, the sell-through rate for contemporary photographs is even more impressive: 66 percent.
The market success of contemporary photographers can be exemplified by the cases of Sherman and Gursky. A collection of Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, one of which is included in Important Photographs, sold for $6.7 million in 2014, according to the Artnet Price Database. And that’s not the first time her work has raked in millions. To date, 18 of Sherman’s masterpieces have sold for $1 million at auction.
Similarly, more than 30 works by Gursky have sold for over $1 million, with his most expensive sale ever, Rhein II, bringing in $4.3 million in 2011. A seminal Gursky photograph, Pyongyang III, is available now on Artnet Auctions through September 29.
The combination of diverse collecting opportunities and continued upward momentum makes the photo market worth watching.
To learn more about the markets of your favorite photographers, contact us to order your own custom Analytics Report. You’ll gain access to valuable data including global auction sales volume, adjusted average sale prices, sell-through rate, and more.
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Artnet Analytics Dive: What’s Happening in the Photography Market?