Money, Photography and the Peter Lik Machine
There are few exceptions to the money and power equation. Photography as a commodified art is almost as old as the medium itself. The early practitioners such as Alexander Gardner plied their artistic wares to the sophisticated buyers of New York City during the Civil War. Even the banality of war, didn’t deter Gardner from mounting an exhibition of the carnage from the Antietam battle in 1862.
Some 150 years later a different type of economic parable.
“I’m the world’s most famous photographer, the most sought-after photographer, most rewarded photographer,” Peter Lik says. From the cavernous conference room of a 100,000 square foot Peter Lik USA, the photographer stakes his claim. In a shameless news release in December 2014, his company claimed that this self-promoting landscape “artist” had shattered all previous records with a $6.5 million sale of his image, “Phantom.”
“It’s an abomination,” Michael Hoppen, a leading British photography gallerist, says of Phantom, which shows a shaft of light entering a canyon. “I remember when he sold the picture in 2010, my jaw dropped. I thought, who could be persuaded to part with $1m for a piece of tat? You could have done it with an iPhone.”
Employing a CFO to validate the financial success of the money printing enterprise disguised as a photography studio, Peter Lik USA, has sold over $440 million worth of prints, in 15 galleries nationwide. He has no interests outside of photography, travels three months of every year to shoot the landscapes, which he prints and sells in limited edition sets. But the MBA lesson, is taught when the graduated sales commence. In a Ponzi-like scheme, the first of the 950 prints sell incrementally higher until prices reach $200,000 for the last of the edition. Artist’s proofs are limited to 45 prints of every photograph, and start at $10,000.
His primary buyers, not well-versed in the secondary art market, tend to lose on their investment over the long haul. The volume of images flooding the mass market, and his lack of cachet with resectable museum curators, only devalues the work. According to Artnet subscription service, which collects data on auction results, a Peter Lik photography retains only a fraction of it’s original sale price. When asked repetitively for comment Lik replied, “It’s like a Mercedes-Benz. You drive it off the lot and it loses half its value.”
His images, super-saturated compositions that are more the function of digital technology and expensive printing equipment than a soulful mission. Lik will liken himself to his Aussie fictional hero, Crocodile Dundee, but in the end his photography lacks the bite and passion of the noble art form.
All images copyright of Peter Lik USA.
Peter Lik links:
Alexander Gardner/Antietam 1862