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Wednesday, 09 November 2011


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Could someone explain for this layman why this photo is worth this much?

Other than this being an absurd amount of money, I can't understand why anyone would pay anything for that picture. It just looks depressing and uninteresting... Is there a story to go with that explains the price?


Um, as made famous by Tom Hanks in Big...I don't get it...

and people say that Leica cameras are expensive... perspective is everything.

Why why why. With your latest idea of running an open print sales contest many of your readers including myself have asked the question are my prints good enough to sell and will people want them. Well the answer is yes someone will buy them and frankly if you pointed your camera at something and exposed, focused it right then yes it is good enough.

I am at a loss for words, other than 'wtf'?

I hope the online jpg doesn't do it justice, otherwise, it doesn't really do it for me....

That gives me an idea for the print sale, and it will sell for only $1M :)

Time for a photo interpretation question.

Can somebody explain to me what makes this a $4.3M photo and not a random snapshot that I wouldn't have even printed. I don't get it. thanks, Jeff

Somehow, I find this offensive.

Listen, I am far from the sharpest tool in the shed and may even be a plate or two short of a picnic, but four million for a photo of what, grass? Please, that is utterly absurd. But thanks for sharing, of course. Always entertaining.

The image represents highly abstract art yet at the same time a woefully uninteresting photograph. Art won, photography lost.

....and I wonder if it would have made the cut if submitted by a reader in the upcoming print sale.

I want to be anointed too!

Wow, I just don't understand art. I don't care if Jesus Christ took that picture, it's boring. Anyone could snap this with a kit lens. This guy's got all those rich people right where he wants them, I guess. On the other hand, "art" like this does give the rest of us some hope...

The size as a C-print is relevant - 81 x 140 inches. A 3 inch web photo has almost nothing to do with any sense of the original...

And out they come. "My kid could have taken that" etc.

The interesting question would be: did Gursky or his agent give the other prints to the named institutions in order to inflate the price of #1? A fairly common practice, I hear. The collector gets validity by association with major public collections, the collections get free art and the artist gets a whopping paycheck.

I really need something that drink or ingest the critics, gallery owners, museum curators, etc. I want to see the same they see. I only see a boring picture that I know thanks to TOP is very expensive too. And Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life. Maybe is the effect of the expensive champagne.

If he edited it as you say in Photoshop then it is no longer a photograph but a piece of fine art. Therefore it isn't the most expensive photograph ever sold. Cindy still holds it.

Unless . . .

I assume this is a gigantic print? 8 feet wide? 10? 12?

Somebody has more money than brains!

You missed massimo vitali at Look3 this summer in Charlottesville Va.- he makes extremely large format digital images of beach scenes. No sunsets...just bald overhead noon sun. His prints sell for not as much as Gursky but a lot- he explained his gallerist, which I think is Marianne Boesky educated him early on, they are not photographs, they are art objects- meaning it includes the presentation, display and care. Scratch the front of your plexi mounted Vitali? A charming italian polisher man arrives at your door to fix that. Chromogenic print fades after you have the audacity to display the print in your direct sunlit home- no problem, he mounts another one for you. You are buying a "thing, and art object, and so you are paying not for a photograph- anyone can make a photograph. But not everyone can make an art object. And not everyone can afford these objects. Thats what he said. He's very nice too.

Kind of wonder what he photoshopped out - the interesting stuff, perhaps?

I kind of see elements of interest to it; especially when I imagine it at the full size mentioned. I like the textures, and the sequence of colors, for example.

I wonder what sort of prices I'd pay for art if I'd had 20 years of having more money than I could conceivably spend?

I seriously doubt just removing elements from the picture is all he did in post. In fact this image looks very much like a digital creation to me (as a photoshop expert). Try opening the image in Photoshop, then place a guide on the horizon and the upper waterline. You'll get the idea.

Hmm.. this proves that not all rich collectors are smart.

Cindy Sherman's 'Untitled #96' is looking better and better to me.

"Hmm.. this proves that not all rich collectors are smart."

You're assuming facts not in evidence. Actually, the purchase could turn out to be very smart--we don't know. Remember the story of the $5,500 lens hood!


Sunrise? Or sunset?

Not being familiar with Gursky's work I had to go do a search and find some of his photos. Nice stuff and I saw a few I like better than this one. Of all the photos that could set records in value I'm quite surprised this and Cindy Sherman's lead the way. I don't keep up with the collectors scene but I'd be less shocked if it was instead a HCB or a Weston.

I thought it was supposed to be a Bad Idea to place the horizon smack in the middle of the frame.

I guess I'll join the minority which doesn't dislike the photo and imagines it could be quite moving as a huge print (to get some idea, I took the largest jpeg I could find: http://bit.ly/us1eNF and maximized it on my screen in a dark room). It's an interesting minimalistic abstraction of a river, with the gray-green inversion both identifying and contrasting water and land, land and sky, and sky and water. The interpretation of both path and river as conduits sets up further resonances.

Sort of in the same way that Sugimoto's seascapes (which I like a lot) are abstractions of the ocean.

Of course, the $4M price is quite another matter entirely.

PS: I did not like "Untitled #96". At all.

I couldn't help but burst into laughter looking at the picture. Gee wheeze, that is one heck of a nondescript photo. A very expensive nondescript photo. Stare at it long enough, and you might be induced into catatonia, so laugh...

Dear Mathias,

OK, what am I looking for (in Photoshop) when I do that?

pax / Ctein

Boy I'm sure not going to get into a discussion about this! But it seems useful to add two comments to the base story.

First, Gursky was not the seller. This was a print was owned and offered by a German collector. I don't know what Gursky actually earned from the original sale but I doubt it was anywhere near this astronomical figure.

Second, yes this is quite a deadpan pic. I've never seen it first-hand. But I have seen a few of Gursky's other prints and have to say they're almost hypnotic in their technical presentation. Always large, always technically impeccable. If you ever have a chance to see one in exhibit do it. I think you may at least walk away with a new respect for his work. You may not like it but you'll be impressed. Is it really photography? Well, it was originally...

The art market operates in a warped reality field where value is based on things that mere mortals cannot conceive of.

That being said, I kind of like it.

Actually, I kind of like it, probably because it looks like something I might do (i.e simple composition, verging on the abstract). But then I wouldn't expect to get more than a 100 bucks or so for an 8x10 if I were lucky enough to get it selected for a TOP print sale.
As for it being boring, well, Weston took pictures of peppers. How boring is that?

amazing . In any photo book review , this picture would have been bashed for its poor composition and lack of interest

generally images that sell at record high levels have some historic value
this HAS GOT TO BE the most overvalued image in the history of Photography

I am surprised by two things..

1. That Andreas Gursky isn't more well known among TOP readers.

2. With all of the incredible, very recognizable Gursky photographs with impressive detail that exist... This is the one that sells for all that money.

All of which just proves that the value of an Art Object isn't any inherent quality of the object itself, but the degree of fame of the artist in the world, the opinion of quality of the "art experts", and the demand for the object among buyers. The Art Market is not a very rational thing-it is driven by fads, publicity, and many other non-economic considerations. Yet, it may be a good investment.
And don't forget, it must have cost Gursky a couple of hundred bucks to have a print that size made and mounted.

Gursky reclaimed the most expensive photograph ever sold badge, that before Cindy Sherman's 'Untitled #96', his '99 cent' bore. And '99 cent' brought me originally to Gursky, the Düsseldorf School of Photography and Bernd and Hilla Becher. I remember that this "Rhein II" was my favorite Gursky when I googled him back then. I still like it, would make me happy to see its gigantic self. I very much enjoyed the comments here, most of them are very thoughtful and true, still they show how dramatically the cream of the world's contemplative photographers and photo enthusiasts is detached from the photography as art world.

Worth 12 million? Single edition :)


"And don't forget, it must have cost Gursky a couple of hundred bucks to have a print that size made and mounted."

I'll guess six to ten grand.


I much prefer Gursky to the one trick pony Cindy Sherman and the image 'appropriator' Richard Prince.

I think it's kinda of nice, but then again, I do like "minimalist" photos though I much prefer things made minimalist by the photographer before it goes into Photoshop.

However it was worth the price to at least one person, and I'd guess that it would command a high price should that person decide to sell it today. So it's worth it.

It's a predictable, age-old debate on how much any art work is worth since it's hard to measure by methods used for other "products" and in most cases you can't really do anything with it but derive enjoyment from some aspect of it.

Congrats Andreas,

Great picture and Andreas didn't even have to travel far for it to make it (it is made along the Rhine in Düsseldorf opposite the powerplant Lausward):


Now that is about 760 meters from Gursky's home. He lives in Oberkassel. What did he leave out of the picture:

- A few disturbing trees
- A powerplant (Lausward powerstation)

Now what did he accomplish:

- He made a representation of a river Rhine, which was usually shown haevely romanticied (Rheingold, Rheinschlucht, Burg Maus und Katz, Kaub am Rhein and so on and so on). Then he striped it of all of its decorum and turned into a functional structure, almost like a canal. So what he did (and that is what he always does) is to use his computer (by the way it was done on a Quantel Paintbox if I know my Gursky) to create his own imagery of a world gone haywire. Therefore I consider him to be the world most ambitious photographer and one of the few who can call his photography "Art". Now the fact that some of you may not like this shot of a river as much a mine of another river in Germany:


does not change that. My picture is not that much Gimped, but in a fact Gursky's sticks a lot more to the truth then mine. Since rivers in general are reduced to transport and wastewater canals and rationalised beyond recognition as Rhine II shows with unparalelled harshness.

Greetings, Ed

Eh Mike (well researched) I guess the fifth one is still in possetion of the artist (at least in 2007 it was).

Greetings, Ed

This was owned by a collector, the artist gets nothing financially out of this.

I wonder how much the seller paid Gursky - or rather his gallery - for it? This has as much to do with investment speculation as anything else. Considerably more, probably

I think this image is beautiful, and I'd love to own it...if I had room for a 6 feet wide print. Of course, I'm a little short on cash, too. I'd certainly rather own this print over someone's cat portrait or flower macro. ;)

This is exactly the time to watch the 10-minute documentary Gursky World! The maker of the documentary has linked to this upload himself, so I don't think there's any harm in linking. It's a very enjoyable watch. Furthermore, they actually visit the location THIS exact photo was taken!

It seems to me that the reason that these photographs sell for enormous prices has more to do with who took the photograph than the photograph itself.


I like Gursky alot. Along wirh Sugimoto he is one of my favorite photographers right now.
Their work is not about the pictures, but about the story around them (life of candles, and theaters series from Sugimoto comes to mind). They are not making beautiful pictures they are making art (or what the mainstream art scene think it is art - that`s a completely different story).
I find also very humorous that both those photographer`s pictures that have rocket sky prices brake the rule that everyone is taught at a basic photography composition class: Put the horizon away from the center of the frame to make the picture more interesting ...

It's next to impossible* to render a competent opinion on this, first of all because it's concept art and not really photography, and second of all, the art is presented in a tiny .jpg form on a computer screen.

*Of course, anything is possible with a keyboard and an Internet connection!

Wow. On your average day I consider the TOP community to be a gemütliches bunch of well-informed, well-educated, considerate people.

And then, suddenly, when

(A) A photographer achieves high status in the Art world
(B) Someone pays a large sum to acquire a photographic work of Art (as defined by (A) above)

a photographer/art bash-fest erupts. It happened with Cindy Sherman, and now again. I guess it's my turn to say "wtf?" and stare in disbelief at the spectacle.

Isn't it actually nice that photography is accepted and embraced by the art world? And if people are willing to pay high prices for photographic works, all the better for photography I should think? Why this collective below-the-waist punching at Andreas Gursky and his work? I truly don't understand... Jealousy?

That's amateur rubbish. The horizon goes straight through the middle of the photo. No, no, no. Learn to crop.

Mine is much better..and it is available for just $2 million.


Too much money to laundry.

well, I can see the compositional merits of it... its pleasant. However, it wasn't 'difficult' to do, it didnt rely on perfect timing, the light is crap and it doesnt 'depict' anything unusual. There also doesnt seem to be much 'narrative'. I appreciate i am not looking at it full size (thank god!)... MORE than anything else its really quite BORING. And I'd do you one for half the price... anyone interested?? Mark

Focusing strictly on the image, not on the annoying, even scary price paid for it (I somehow feel these kind of finances make the world unsafer than it could be): Why, and again, why, does Gursky turn a river (some river!) into a canal? There's lots and lots of canals around here in Western Europe that present exactly this picture - no need to photoshop the Rhine. But then, I am a photographer in love with the world (even when I don't like it). And not to be humble (I am not), I think that as far as photography goes, pictures become more interesting when there is less of me, or you, or Gursky, and more of everything else (the world) in them. Nota bene: this does not exclude a highly personal approach at all.

Pay close attention to the rule of halves. The horizon is at 1/2 of the picture height. The near river bed is at 1/2 of 1/2 (one quarter) of the picture height. The road is at 1/2 of 1/2 of 1/2 (one eighth) of the picture half. If you had been using the rule of halves in your photography instead of the old and outdated rule of thirds, your picture would be worth a lot more by now. Its all about keeping up with current trends.

Notice also the blown highlights in the reflections on the water. If the artist had used HDR or a polarized filter or maybe both, he could have prevented blown highlights making his picture much more valuable. Always check the histogram!

On a more serious note, I agree with Mike on the Status + Rarity hypothesis, but surely aesthetics has to be in the equation also. I don't mean that the photograph must be beautiful, since that is in the eye of the beholder/check-holder. But surely the aesthetics of this particular photograph are in tune or symbolize or illustrate some very important trend in photography. What is that trend, and what does it mean for the future of aesthetics in photography?

How much would you pay for it? drop by my poll and re value the Gursky..


Yeah but it's sh*t though, innit?


For me this has an impact on the theoretical argument of Limited Editions vs. Non limited.
Theoretical, as most sales will never be effected by either the price nor the limitation in any way other than negatively. But in this case the limitation clearly is a major part of the sale.

The problem of money and value in the art world has nothing to do with any of the usual consumer criteria for value, such as: usefulness, need, providing comfort or convenience.

As Mike has said, those who set the value in the Art world are those with huge disposable sums to invest and a small, limited and exclusive coterie of academic experts and dealers who confirm the rarity value, and provide the justification and provenance for the merchandise. Other opinions, evaluations and judgements just do not matter - they are beside the point and are accorded no authority; their voices are excluded and marginalised.

So, whatever we may think something like this is really worth, it is, in the art market, actually worth what these people are prepared to pay for it and what they can later sell it for or insure it for.

It's a stich up.

"I really need something that drink or ingest the critics, gallery owners, museum curators, etc. I want to see the same they see."

They see money, profit and champagne laden opening nights.

I wonder how much the German collector that sold the photo paid for it ? I presume he/she made a considerable profit. How does Gursky feel about that?

On dpreview I found some photos that are even better:


The concept of "bourgeois formalism" is not entirely redundant, I'm pleased to see.

This atrocious phenomenon reinforces my Neo-Stalinist position.

Two observations. 1) This photographer is very intelligent and has brought to fruition a "capture" of an extremely interesting piece of the world in organized lines which can be considered a representation of the"orderly" society of Germany where the photo was taken. 2) When I realize that this is a stretch of the mighty Rhine River I cannot help but think how man has completely tamed (destroyed) nature in the western world. In this photograph the river is about as unnatural as could be. I enjoy the chaos and exuberance of some of the great American Rivers (the Amazon, the Iguassu, the Colorado, etc.) and definitely feel a sadness for the plight of the Rhine , having been transformed by man into a geometric pattern devoid of almost all life. The photo, like the place, is sterile.

I'm reminded of the king and his clothes. So being a huge print makes a difference. I'll remember that - possibly though it seems to me that there is at times a huge gulf between the critical aclaim and public perception. I have tried hard but I'm in the latter camp.

Mike, I hate to say this, but I'm afraid that your journalism failed us here. You didn't tell us how big the photo is. If this is really big, a lot wider than some of the other versions (I believe merely 10-12 feet), then that alone could justify the price. It might have not only aesthetic, but also civil engineering value.

As I was traveling in the northern portion of central Illinois I was amazed at the flat earth and the extent to which I could see in the distance. I was also amazed by the fact that I could not find one opportunity to stop and take a clean photographer, i.e a photo that would not include power lines, wind turbines, etc., Call me crazy but I began to wonder about, and appreciate, the value of a photograph that faithfully presented the open,uninterrupted expanse of the flat prairie. I like this photo.............I'd give $100 for a large print. Maybe my $100 is that same as some billionaire's $4.3M

But what did Gursky get paid?

(And what would the "out of pocket" costs be for a print like this?)

No comment on the value of a dollar or claims that I understand deconstructionism (which I don't) but this photo is interesting. If this image hadn't been shopped it would have been a very challenging shot to capture. Not technically but simply from the "where in the world can you find this view" angle.

I'd probably pay admission to a gallery to see the actual print.

"And out they come. 'My kid could have taken that' etc."

Apparently Gursky is unable to take the shot too given the fact that it was Photoshopped.

Wow..lots of nayers here, I think it's an interesting image in many ways, I'd love to see it live. If an Artist got some big squawk for his work then right the f*** on! power to the people!..and the gallery rep, and the auction house, and the guy who sold it...and the guy who bought it and who's kids will sell it after he croaks because they like Justin Beiber posters better.


Anything but the ol'..photo vest>rocks>lake>mountains>sunet routine and I'll give it a whirl

In the time it takes me to type this $4.34 million will have been spent on bribes to corrupt officials around the world. So, if they got the money(deserved or not)I suppose they can spend it any way they like.

PS: I made up that thing about the bribes. I have no idea how much money is spent on bribes every couple of minutes. The figure is probably too low.

Here we go again.

This is further confirmation that rich idiots who buy art have no clue what they are doing. If I took this photo I would hit the delete button on the camera and not even waste my time transferring it to my PC.

Just one word: Absurd!

Featured Comment by Jeff Damron: "I see what I've been doing wrong now—I've been putting subjects in my pictures."

Best. Comment. Ever.

Duane Michals- Never trust any photograph so large it can only fit inside a museum.

In the words of General McAuliffe when asked to surrender at Bastogne, "NUTS."

I voted $500-$2000, but I had to take into account my relative level of prosperity. In fact, though, that's only theoretical, because I have never paid as much as $500 for a photograph.


I think your lampoon falls flat....


"They do tend to be impressed by confabulated artworks that only look like photographs but aren't."

I share some of your bafflement at the value placed on what appears to be a very simple image, though I like a lot of Gursky's photographs a great deal. However... that "only look like photographs but aren't" business opens up a can of worms that I'm surprised to see you cracking open quite so casually, namely that whole question of trying to put a boundary around what "is and is not a photograph."

I think we've all been down that road enough times in the past that we should have learned out lesson by now. While there are cases in which something is clearly and virtually without argument "a photograph," trying to figure out where the boundary between "photograph" and "not photograph" might lie is fraught with problems. Certainly, we all understand that whatever we think of manipulations of images that might include adding or subtracting elements, arguing that adding or subtracting makes the thing not a photograph doesn't work. There are plenty (tons, actually) of things that are essentially inarguably photographs that turn out to have been created by adding and subtracting stuff to get the photograph to look the way the photographer wanted it to look. (One of my favorite examples is the Adams Mt. Whitney photograph with the foreground horse in a pasture against some dappled, sunlit hills. No one ever thinks to claim that it "is not a photograph," but Adams removed elements that did not contribute to his concept of the image, namely the giant letters "LP" that had been painted on the hillside at the upper left by the students of the Lone Pine high school.)

There are plenty of other interesting things to discuss regarding this sale... but questioning whether or not it is a photograph isn't going to get us very far along that path.


My comments are pretty long and incredibly interesting (!) so I posted them at my photo blog, linked in my signature (I hope).

P.T. Barnum was right, there is one born every minute...

It's worth what ever someone is willing to pay for it (for that particular person which may not be what its worth to someone else). End of story.

More full the ones that paid the money for it. I'd be asking questions if it was an art gallery or museum that parted that kind of money – then I'd want them fired!

This is my comment.


In my first b&w photography class, the teacher said, "If you can't make a good photograph, make it bigger. And if its still not good, make it in color." If only I had listened!

Dear Ctein,

You are seeing two perfectly straight lines. AKA marching ants selections. OK so he replaced the horizon, probably he replaced the whole sky part. Probably he also manipulated the water, so there wouldnt be reflections of that skyline in it. Probably doesnt matter at all what he did, since its an admitted creation. I just find it hard to call it a photograph.

This is GREAT, can't stop laughing, I wonder if the art dealers of the world could help out with the economic meltdown that the world is suffering through? They seem to have real wisdom and insight. I will need to go back into my archives of images that never got printed because I now have a treasure of Gurskys, I just hit the lottery !!!!! The true artist is the individual who created the video, now that's talent. Please tell me this is all a joke.

"I'll guess six to ten grand."
I stand corrected. You are probably right. I've never gone over 16x20, and just didn't scale my mind correctly.
Also, my comments shouldn't be considered a putdown of Gursky's work. I like some of his work, including this one. For me, its the image that counts, not the technique(s) used to create it. I use Pshop and just wish I was better at it. My comments were addressed at the dynamics and criteria of the Art Market. As others have mentioned, Gursky probably didn't see nearly as much from his sales. Still, he apparently knows how to work the market, and he can afford a Maserati, which ain't cheap. More power to him.

"And by the way, it's a Photoshopped pic—there were elements in the scene Gursky didn't like, so, in his words, 'I decided to digitalize the pictures and leave out the elements that bothered me.'"

I confess that I haven't read all the other comments, so maybe it has been mentioned before: Gursky does photoshopping with almost all his pictures! There was a tv documentary I saw about a year ago on German tv, and they showed Gursky in the process of creating "a work of art" (as I would call it).
The part I liked the most was when he took pictures of some guys painting his studio to merge these guy into another picture later in Photoshop... Gursky said something like "It looks better with more people in it" while looking over the shoulder of his graphic designer working at the computer.
Some of his pictures would have been impossible without merging pictures in Photoshop, e.g. the pictures of the German "Bundestag" (parliament) he put together.
Ok, I have to admit I'm envious that he gets so much attention and earns so much money with his "works of art"...

Nice capture

Bravo, GIno !!!

pax / Ctein

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