Is photographer Peter Lik’s ‘Phantom’ really the world’s priciest picture?

worlds expensive photo sold 6 5 million raising critics eyebrows suspicions lik phantom

Peter Lik’s work, "Phantom," was shot in the famous Antelope Valley in Arizona, where many go to see the beams of light that shoot through to the canyon bottom.

On December 9, photographer Peter Lik announced that his work, “Phantom,” was sold to a private buyer for a record-breaking $6.5 million, making it the most expensive photograph in the world to date. But the high price tag – $2.2 million more than the previous record-holding photograph – has raised eyebrows as to the sale’s authenticity.

“Lik’s work has been ignored by major public art galleries and dismissed by critics,” arts reporter Andrew Taylor of Canberra Times wrote in an article. He points out that the only way we know of the sale, which includes two other photographs – “Illusion” for $2.4 million and “Eternal Moods” for $1.1 million – is from Lik’s press release and a statement from a counsel to the private buyer. Previous record-breaking photographs were handled by auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

The article also noted that art consultant David Hulme explained in 2012 that he would be “extremely wary” of purchasing a Lik photograph for over a million, because they are not appreciated by critics. “[They] have no secondary market presence or value,” he said.

So, how likely is it that this sale actually happened? Photographs being sold in the millions is not unheard of, and private art sales, in which the buyer requests anonymity, are also not rare (it is not ridiculous to think that Lik knows wealthy buyers who want to remain out of the public eye). What draws scrutiny is the fact that all four of his above million-dollar sales have been private, paired with unfavorable critic reviews of much of his work.

With that in mind, what is truly the most expensive photograph in the world? Because Lik’s sales have yet to be verified, here are five photographs that are considered the world’s most expensive.

Rhein II by Andreas Gursky, $4,338,500


(Image via Christie’s)

Rhein II was shot and then digitally edited to remove human items, such as buildings, to provide a natural view of the the Rhine river. A similar photo, Rhein I, was sold by Sotheby’s for $1.8 million.

Untitled #96 by Cindy Sherman, $3,890,500


(Image via Christie’s)

A self-portrait of Sherman dressed as a teenager around the WWII era. Sherman does not give titles to many of her works, to allow for more interpretation.

Dead Troops Talk by Jeff Wall, $3,666,500


(Image via Christie’s)

Wall’s photo, like a few of his other works, was staged with actors in a studio. It was taken in several shots and digitally pieced together.

99 Cent II Diptychon by Andreas Gursky, £1,700,000 ($3,346,456 at time of purchase)


(Image via Sotheby’s)

Also by Gursky, the photo is one of a set of two, presenting a massive display of cheap supermarket items.

The Pond – Moonlight by Edward Steichen, $2,928,000


(Image via Sotheby’s)

Shot in pictorialist style, this photo was taken in Mamaroneck, New York. Shot in 1904, it was at the forefront of color photography.