Monday, May 3, 2010

The most expensive photograph in the world

Here's a list of the world's most expensive photographs

99 Cent II Diptychon by Andreas Gursky
The photograph sold for $3,346,456 in February 2007 at an auction at Sotheby's London.

I've been thinking a lot lately about this stunning irony: The current most expensive photograph in the world is an image depicting some of the cheapest goods a city has to offer (the interior of a 99 cent store). This demonstrates an extreme disconnect between a photograph and its image content. The world of photographs as objects for fine art investments of millionaires and the world of photographs as a visual means of expression and communication are perhaps farther apart than they have ever been since the invention of photography.

Another way to put would be: count every single product shown in Gursky's diptych and estimate a dollar value if you were to purchase everything in the store. Then add that value of all the products to what it would cost to purchase the entire 99 cent store building, along with the land that it sits on. It's entirely possible and very likely that it would cost MORE to purchase one photograph of the store's interior than to buy the entire store and all of its contents.

And even another way to understand this photograph is to consider how many people on the planet currently live on less than a dollar a day and then consider the products in the store in relation to that fact. Currently about 1/5 of the Earth's population, or 1.1 billion people, live on less than one dollar a day. In that sense, how many full days of work would it take to purchase every product in the store? For over a billion people in the world, all of the cheap products shown in that photograph would resemble objects of inaccessible wealth in colorful packaging, each one requiring a tremendous or even impossible amount of sacrifice and labor to acquire. And the photograph of these objects? It translates to at least 3,346,456 full days of work, as long as someone could save every penny they ever earned.

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