The sale of artistic prints has seen a steady increase in high end prices in the last few years. The record books are updated almost annually with ever higher prices for works. December 2014 has seen a huge leap with Phantom – a photographic print made by Peter Lik, Australian photographer, selling for $6.5 Million. There’s little to no information about how the picture was made and adjusted. Firstly, what makes a photographic print more expensive is it’s exclusivity. No stock image will sell for more than a few hundred dollars. What gives value to most prints is the fact that they are critically acclaimed and in very limited quantity. So how limited is the Phantom really? There’s no way of telling, but for the price tag we presume it was limited to one print only. We have however found a red-hued version of the picture on his website, this one called Ghost. This last one is exhibited in the Smithsonian museum It appears to be the same picture but differently processed. The artist endorses Phase One – a famous medium format camera company. Phase One arguably makes the highest quality cameras today. They manufacture digital cameras with some of the biggest megapixel counts on the market. It could be a digital capture or maybe a film (as the artist often appears with medium format and large format film cameras in his hands.
Having a duplicate image, even if it’s slightly modified, brings the value of the picture down. Lik has received an abundance of critique from experts for this and many other reason. On his website there’s no specified number of prints possible for any particular picture, which, in theory, should reduce their prices to stock images prices. Of course having trendy framing options is always a good selling point. One thing critics and journalists agree upon is: the man has a good marketing team. The website is quite smartly put together, you can find the “shop” section very easily. Many artist would deal with the sales directly: you call them up or order trough email. Having a shop on his website has definitely improved his sales. You still have to get a quote from him for some pieces. But somehow it’s hard do believe someone called to get a quote for the Phantom and the asking price was 6.5 Million.
The most unusual fact about this record breaking sale is that there was no auction house handling it. Apparently it was sold directly by the artist. Along with two other works: Illusions for $2.4 Million and Eternal Moods for $1.1 Million bringing Lik a rounded up Christmas bonus of a cool 10 million. Achieving this without an Sotheby’s or Christie’s is just unheard of. The idea of selling a photo, that’s likely printed from a digital medium for $6.5 Million is almost incredible.
It’s hardly anybody’s place to determine that the artwork is worth $6.5 Million or not. A free market doesn’t impose or dictate. If the artist’s marketing team found the right buyer, and knew how much to ask, their strategy worked. The art elite, sitting in their ivory tower will say that it is preposterous, considering Lik isn’t even an acclaimed artist. The art world doesn’t embrace landscape photographers. Even in popular art very few achieve prestige – like Art Wolfe, who looks trough his viewfinder as a painter looks within himself, always looking for classic painting elements.
From a composition perspective the images he takes are well tought. It’s clear he borrows elements from traditional visual arts. The Phantom has a pretty transparent rule of thirds – with the two canyon walls on each side, roughly framing the middle path and the shaft of light. It’s a neat and clean composition, almost minimal, which is always trendy. Along with his options of glamorous minimalist frames made out of styled woods or stainless steel, it’s definitely a modern and attractive artwork.
This isn’t the first major sale of the photographer, he has sold a piece called “One” in December 2010. In an older news article it’s been claimed he has sold $150 Million worth of limited edition prints. Apart from all the critique Peter Lik has received, his sales are a statement for the world, that art has value, and photographers can charge as much as famous painters. Most fine art photographers claim they’re not in it for the money, Peter Lik might be the exception. Crass statements about his value as a top photographer might not be to critic’s or other artist’s liking, but it has definitely brought more attention to the art form. For this, we salute you, Peter Lik!