How AP covered the story last year. The image, called ‘Phantom’, sold for $6.5m. It is a black & white version of ‘Ghost’, a photo Lik captured at Antelope Canyon in Arizona
When Peter Lik sold one of his images for $6.5m last year, his PR people were quick to point out that this made it the world’s ‘most expensive photograph’.
It sold to an unnamed private buyer who preferred not to be identified for ‘security and privacy reasons’.
Since then, some have questioned the marketing methods used by Lik and the way he targets potential buyers who have a high disposable income, in places such as Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip where the photographer runs one of a string of galleries.
A recent New York Times (NYT) article pointed out that the most anyone has ever paid for a Lik photo at auction is $15,860, citing figures compiled by the Artnet database.
Yet, he has amassed $440 million in print sales, Lik’s chief financial officer told the newspaper.
‘He stands apart from the mainstream art market, but he has benefited from the hype that surrounds it,’ continued the NYT article, which explained that Lik exploits a technique used by artists who make several copies of their work and raise prices as each one is snapped up.
‘Mr Lik vastly expands that concept, selling 950 limited editions and 45 artist’s proofs of every photograph…
‘Every time a limited edition sells another 10%, the price ticks up, in increments as they grow…
‘When all the copies of a photograph are sold, it can gross the company more than $7 million.’
Separately, art market website artnet.com accuses Lik of ‘artificially inflating his market’ and ‘selling pretty, pleasing, banal images that are wildly popular with a certain class of inexperienced collectors, but are barely recognised by the art establishment’.
Lik now hits back.
Speaking to Amateur Photographer (AP), a Las Vegas representative of Lik’s public relations firm, R & R Partners, said: ‘We do not feel the statements made about artificially inflated prices are accurate.
‘The prices for Peter Lik’s photos are set up based on availability.
‘However, recent headlines have questioned the validity of Peter Lik’s recent $6.5 million sale of “Phantom”.
‘The fact remains, the sale is documented and legitimate.
‘The buyer wishes to remains anonymous due to privacy reasons.’
The New York Times studied the way Lik achieves high prices for his work, pointing out that previous records in photography were set by ‘competing bidders in public auctions for images that were familiar and celebrated’.
The NYT article, published on 21 February, added: ‘This was a private sale for a newly printed photograph, and scant details were offered.’
The photographer’s PR people supplied AP with details of Los Angeles lawyer Joshua Roth, who represented the buyer of ‘Phantom’ – should the magazine wish to seek confirmation that the sale actually took place.
Roth has previously confirmed to the New York Times that the client does exist.
Commenting on the controversial photograph, Lik said at the time: ‘The purpose of all my photos is to capture the power of nature and convey it in a way that inspires someone to feel passionate and connected to the image.’
Explaining how he takes an artistic approach to landscape work, Lik added: ‘Certain textures and contours found in nature lend themselves beautifully to black & white photography.
‘The intensity of contrasting light and dark spaces was surprising, but make for some of the most powerful images I’ve ever created.’
Born in Australia, Lik emigrated to the US in 1984, where he discovered a passion for panoramic photography.
Lik became a US citizen in 2013 and his work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.