The Top 10 photographers sold for USD 5,000–15,000



Fridays are the Best! Every other Friday, Artprice offers you a themed auction ranking. Beyond record hammer prices, the leader of information on the Art Market reveals the list of the ten most sold artists in the USD 5,000-15,000 price range. This week, the Top 10 is focussed on photography.

According to this ranking, contemporary photographers are not the most in-demand in this price range. Neither Thomas Ruff, nor Cindy Sherman, nor Nan Goldin appears in this Top10. Instead, it is the legendary figures of 20th century photography who excel. The only living artist managing to hoist himself into this ranking is Sebastiao Salgado, born in 1944. The others, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, André Kertesz, Horst P. Horst, Harry Callahan…are among the major European and American photographers who shaped modern photography.

The Top 10 photographers sold for USD 5,000–15,000
Rank Artist Number of photographies sold in 2014
2 MAN RAY 62
3 Ansel Easton ADAMS 46
4 Berenice ABBOTT 41
5 André KERTÉSZ 36
6 Horst P. HORST 35
8 Harry CALLAHAN 27
9 Irving PENN 26
10 Sebastiao SALGADO 25
copyright © 2015


Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), the pioneer of photojournalism, landed six six-figure hammer prices during the last decade. His street scenes capturing daily life captivate collectors not only with the impact of the stories they tell, but also for the feeling of rhythm and the concept of a “decisive moment” this major artist illustrated. His most valuable shot dates from 1932. In it, Cartier-Bresson is taking the photo of a man running across a huge puddle of water behind Gare Saint Lazare, a 1946 print of which sold for the equivalent of USD 594,000 including fees, in Paris in 2011 (Christie’s, 11 November 2011). This celebrated photographer, almost surrealist, was the subject of many printings. This is why great pioneers of photography such as Cartier-Bresson can be found affordably for less than USD 15,000. Recently, a late printing of the same subject (Derrière la gare Saint-Lazare, or Behind Gare Saint-Lazare) changed hands for less than USD 12,000 including fees (sold at auction for USD 9,500 at Sotheby’s New York, 1 April 2015). More than USD 580,000 separates the price of a print from that period and that of a more recent print. This price difference reveals this feature specific to photography: the market rewards historic prints, created under the artist’s control.


The same is true for Man Ray, from whom a Photogramme from 1922 earned the distinction of a million-dollar bid two years ago (sold at auction for USD 1m, or USD 1.2m including fees, Christie’s New York, 4 April 2013). Man Ray, who can be among the most expensive photographers on the market, is far from being out of reach: 62 shots have been exchanged for USD 5,000–15,000 at auction in 2014. Some were even sold for less. Some silver prints bearing the Man Ray studio stamp sold for less than USD 2,000, which is especially possible in French and Spanish auction houses. The most in-demand and expensive prints remain the renowned images of Lee Miller and Blanche et Noire where the prints stand out as solarised works in the surrealist spirit. This surrealist spirit is moreover one of the most coveted sensibilities of 20th century photography. It starts to be valued at the height of its aesthetic and historic interest and the prices have certainly not stopped climbing for the great manipulators of images. Notably, we think of André Kertész (1894-1985), spiritual father of celebrated photographers including Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said, incidentally, “We all owe something to Kertész”. Kertész, who is not considered a true surrealist, developed a poetry of the image offering alternative readings of reality. Less shared with the general public than Man Ray or Cartier-Bresson (despite his huge exhibit at Jeu de Paume in Paris in February 2011), he has had less than 15 hammer prices greater than USD 100,000, especially for photos taken in the Mondrian studio… We note that Kertész is carried by the powerful New York market where he obtains 70 % of his turnover. His Distorsions – female nudes distorted by concave and convex mirrors—falls in our price range: only five of them have passed the threshold of USD 15,000 but the majority sell for USD 2,000–5,000 including fees.


Artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész have conquered the United States in their lifetime. Sustained by the market and critics, disseminated by magazines like Harper’s Baazar and Life, they benefited from an important aura in the 60s, notably thanks to the work led by John Szarkowski, curator of the MoMA photography department until 1991.
Recognition of photography occurs more solidly in the United States than elsewhere, even if France was also a birthplace of modern photography. This Top 10 is proof of the importance of top American artists, who occupy seven spots in the ranking: Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, André Kertész (who obtained American nationality), Horst P. Horst, Harry Callahan, Robert Mapplethorpe and Irving Penn. These huge names in photography are more affordable today than some contemporary photographers. Promotion of the avant-garde continues…