The Fine Art Photography Market’s Most Bankable Stars

Every few months, it seems, a fine art photograph is sold at auction for an astronomical price and then takes its place among the world’s most expensive photos. The price tags are large, but pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollar shelled out for the world’s priciest paintings.

One reason for the price discrepancy may be due to the fact that art collectors are more wary of fine art photography’s long term value, and the fact that any reprints of the same images made in the future could drastically affect the value of their investments. However, a new report has found that confidence in the photography market is steadily rising, meaning we’ll likely see prices continue to balloon.

A print of this photograph by William Eggleston, titled Memphis (Tricycle), sold for $578,500 back in March.

Last week art market analysis firm ArtTactic published the results of a survey done on the health of the modern and contemporary photography markets. The numbers are promising: confidence in the market has grown 9.2% since May of this year, with the biggest increase in confidence at the high end of the market where photos are sold for over $100K.

92% of the surveyed experts believe that the modern photography market will grow in the next half year, while 34% believe that the contemporary market will. None of them think it will shrink.

The survey also lists the names of the photographers that collectors have the most confidence in (at least in the short-term). Here’s the ranking for modern photographers:

  1. William Eggleston
  2. Josef Sudek
  3. Man Ray
  4. Edward Weston
  5. Irvin Penn
  6. Richard Avedon
  7. Garry Winogrand
  8. Robert Mapplethorpe
  9. Diane Arbus
  10. Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Here’s the ranking of contemporary photographers:

  1. Stephen Shore
  2. Edward Burtynsky
  3. Peter Beard
  4. Sally Mann
  5. Sebastiao Salgado
  6. Philip-Lorca Dicorcia
  7. Simon Norfolk
  8. Martin Parr
  9. Nobuyoshi Araki
  10. Robert Polidori

It’s interesting to see the photographers that were left off the list. One is Andreas Gursky, whose photograph Rhein II currently holds the price record after being sold for $4.3 million a year ago. Other notable omissions include Ansel Adams and Cindy Sherman.

(via ArtTactic via Phaidon)

Image credits: Top photographs by William Eggleston, Josef Sudek, Edward Burtynsky, and Stephen Shore (clockwise from top left)

  • Mansgame

    Would it be extra to have the tricycle be in focus? I guess as with regular fine arts, it’s more about the name, reputation, and marketing than the final product.

  • Sean Lucky

    I’m surprised Jeff Wall isn’t on the list of photographers that collectors have the most confidence in. He once turned down the German Government who wanted to buy one of his prints for the Reichstag.


    it is in focus, that image is just a very degenerated jpeg.


    Most of them on the list are very technically inclined photographers.
    Perfectionist in lighting, development, and printing.
    The only thing is that thats not all the photographs are. They cease being 2 dimensional technically perfect products and become 3 dimensional commentaries of what ever the intention.

    I would be bored of photography. if the perfect final product was all that mattered.

  • Samcornwell

    In 1976, William Eggleston had colour photographs exhibited at MoMA, which at the time was nearly as shocking as placing an upside-down urinal on a plinth and calling it art. Eggleston’s 1976 show helped usher in a new era of photography; colour. Look past the colour and what do you have? A boring picture of a trike? Or a perfectly banal photograph of a boy’s tricycle? Eggleston’s uncanny knack of taking the banal and making it interesting has kept his newer work appearing in galleries the world over. Even recently I personally saw a selection of his pictures at the Fuji stand at Photokina, promoting the new X-Pro. Hope that helps with understanding the trike’s/eggleston’s importance as a photographer.

  • Victor98109

    No Gregory Crewdson?

  • SpaceMan

    No me??? Oh wait, maybe if I got off my couch and dusted of my camera…

  • Uncle Bob

    These photographers are awful. Emperor’s new clothes, and a crooked, manipulative totally fraudulent art market being staged for rich idiots.

  • Per

    And no Bae Bien-U, Candida Höfer, David LaChapelle, Tomas Ruff, Tomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugimoto..? Well good Shore is up there but could you really call him contemporary?

  • DamianMonsivais

    Yes he is contemporary, very contemporary. including the fact that hes still working. And surprised as well HIroshi Sugimoto isn’t up there but hes not being widely collected is he?

    David Lachapelle isn’t a photographer “artist” per say he falls more with the commercial Folk and also isn’t being widely collected. Maybe in the future but not now. He isn’t much as a heavy hitter as those on the list.

  • DamianMonsivais

    Sure hes collected but not as widely as those on the list.

  • DamianMonsivais

    If i could down vote you I would. Really these photographers are awful?

    Other then being some of the century’s best master photographers whose work is still discussed and will be discussed for the foreseeable future. I don’t see how there awful or the emperors new clothes.

    They’re awful because you fail to comprehend their work and the impact it had in the photography world, art world, and popular culture.

  • Justasimplephotographer

    I’m sorry you can’t hide behind the name of art, the photo of the tricycle in particular is awful. The only ‘skill’ exhibited by the photographer is the ability to bend his knees.
    I find it unbelievable the amount of rubbish churned out in the art world now, and woe betide anyone who calls them out on it, apparently they just ‘don’t get it’. Well if ‘it’ is what is contained within these pictures I will stick to admiring photographs taken by proper (talented) photographers.

  • DamianMonsivais

    Again I would down vote you as well but I can’t we have to sign up now because people get hurt easily.

    Maybe If you did know what Eggleston accomplished prior-during 1976- and after you would understand the work a little better. The image is ONE of a WHOLE one man show at the MOMA ( a reputable museum and not just the overflowed internet). John Szarkowski knew what he was looking for in photography.

    I would love to see the list of these Proper “Talented” Photographers.
    But no over Photoshopped or cliche’ images please.

    Just sound like sour grapes to me though.

  • Daniel Lowe

    I looked at “Rhein II”. 4.3 Million for a symmetrical, full daylight shot that’s been digitally altered to remove cyclists. I’m afraid the only 4 letters that come to mind are GTFO. I don’t see it.

  • Daniel Lowe

    That’s another one I simply don’t understand. It looks like a Polaroid from my youth. Maybe I’m not destined to be a fine-art photographer. Some of the other shots I do like. You know who I really would like to see get famous? A street photographer named Thomas Hawk. I predict his work will eventually be collected like some of the people listed above.

  • Daniel Lowe

    You can down vote all you want, but wouldn’t that tricycle photo be MORE interesting with a blue, or even a partly cloudy sky? Flat Grey Sky, Uninteresting Perspective. Yawn.

  • Justasimplephotographer

    Well here is a list of some photographers I admire,yes there is a bias towards landscape, but that’s because I like landscapes :), however they still show far far superior technical and artistic talent than these so called ‘artistic’ photos.

    And yes I know you will say ‘yawn’ cliched images, overdone e.t.c. e.t.c, but I would say not cliched just very well executed, wonderful images (displaying a talented eye coupled with technical expertise) which make them popular as opposed to a cliche.

    Ansel Adams
    Joe Cornish
    Ian Cameron (Transient light)
    William Neill

    These are just a few, their are many many more talented photographers out their both professional and amateur that for me show a superior artistic and photographic talent than the so called ‘artistic’ photographers this article was looking at.

    And please don’t worry about offending me, debate (if polite) is always good.

  • Urs

    It would be a more interesting picture for a calender or something, yes.

  • DamianMonsivais

    Well it could be but it isn’t.

    It isn’t “interesting” by choice.
    Sorry you have turned a blind eye to all the ordinary and would just like eye candy that makes no sense to the reality in which we live.

    and the list is like trying to compare peaches and apples.

  • Urs

    Misunderstanding. In reply to the comment about the sky, I use ‘calender’ in a derogative way. I myself am quite puzzled by this notion seemingly wide spread among “photo enthusiasts” that ‘good’ photography has to smack you on the head with its ‘interestingness’ (whatever that may be) or, alternatively, has to be the equivalent of a Bob Ross painting.

  • Koos Fernhout

    No Fernhout. I’m wounded

  • David Kachel

    Dead for half a century = “Modern”. Lord, I rue the day that art fairies took over fine art photography.