The Quick 10: The 10 Most Expensive Photographs Ever


You know the photo of Einstein with his tongue sticking out - we use it all of the time here at the _floss. One of the originals was sold at auction last month for a shocking sum of money, which made me wonder... what are some other insanely expensive photos that have sold at auction? And in the interest of full disclosure, Einstein's doesn't even rank in the top ten. But since he's our mascot, I thought it was appropriate to throw him in the mix.

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1. Arthur Sasse, Albert Einstein's tongue photo, $74,324. In 1951, Einstein was celebrating his 72nd birthday at Princeton University. It's a lighthearted gesture, but Einstein, of course, had a deeper meaning behind it. This particular photo is signed by the genius, and he even explains the meaning behind the gesture. In German, he wrote, "This gesture you will like, because it is aimed at all of humanity. A civilian can afford to do what no diplomat would dare. Your loyal and grateful listener, A. Einstein." It was for news anchor Howard K. Smith.

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2. Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent II Diptychon, $3,346,456. Yep - this two-part photo of shelves at a grocery store is the most expensive photo sold to date. Kind of inspires you to head out to your own neighborhood market and start clicking away, doesn't it?

3. Edward Steichen, The Pond-Moonlight, $2.9 million.
In sharp contrast to Gursky's modern-day depiction, Steichen's 1904 snap shows a forest and a pond in Mamaroneck, New York. There are only three known copies of the early color photograph known to exist.

4. Edward Weston, Nude, $1,609,000.

This 1925 nude - which looks almost like a stark landscape - was the subject of a heated bidding war at Sotheby's last April. When the dust finally settled, the winner was Peter MacGill of the Pace-MacGill Gallery. It is the most a piece by Weston has ever sold for.

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5. Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands), $1,472,000 and Georgia O'Keeffe Nude, $1,360,000.
Stieglitz holds two of the top ten spots, but since I cheated you out of one by sticking Einstein in there, we'll just count this as one spot. Stieglitz, as some of you probably know, was married to O'Keeffe. But when he took the 1919 nude photo, he was married. In fact, his wife walked in on one of their nude photo sessions (which took place in their apartment), and her suspicions of his affair were confirmed by Stieglitz - some historians believe he purposely arranged for her to walk in on the nude sessions so he had an easy way our of their marriage.

6. Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), $1,248,000.
This was quite controversial, because the photograph actually violated copyright laws. A chunk of Prince's portfolio comes from "rephotographing" existing works. He first started doing it in 1977, when he rephotographed four pictures from the New York Times, and continued doing it through the '80s. Untitled (Cowboy) is one of those pieces; it was taken from an ad for Marlboro cigarettes.

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7. Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, 113. Athènes. 1842. T.[emple] de J.[upiter] Olympien. Pris de l'Est., $922,488.
This dagguerotype is the earliest image of the Athenian Temple of Zeus. At the time of its 2003 sale, it was the most expensive photograph ever sold.

8. Gustave Le Gray, The Great Wave, Sete, $838,000.
Le Gray found it difficult to get the exposure just right for photographs that had both sea and sky in one frame - if the sky was just right, the water was wrong, and if the water looked good, the sky was off. He solved the problem by printing two negatives on one sheet, then exposing one for the sea and one for the sky.

9. Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, $643,200.
You might know this one, even if you're not a huge art lover. The series features Warhol wearing a black turtleneck on a black background, making his platinum hair stand out starkly by comparison.


10. Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez,, $609,600.
You knew Ansel Adams had to be on the list somewhere, right? The story goes that Adams had a particularly difficult day shooting where none of his images seemed to be turning out the way he wanted. He was headed back to Santa Fe when he happened upon this shot in his car; he immediately pulled over to the side of the road and pulled out equipment in a hurry because the light was fading fast. He had just barely gotten the picture when the light that illuminated the crosses moved on. His efforts obviously paid off to the tune of more than half a million dollars.