Sorry You Weren’t the One to Buy “Afghan Girl”

My apologies.

It’s been more than two months since the National Geographic auction at Christie’s, and I need to set something right.

It’s quite likely that at least one of you, dear readers, saw my post about the sale of Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl at auction, arrived at Christie’s on December 6 with only $12,000 in your pocket, and watched in horror as other bidders immediately left you behind . . . far behind . . . so far behind that you weren’t able to lift your paddle even once.

The pre-auction estimate that I quoted for McCurry’s iconic photo was indeed cited at $8,000 to $12,000 in October, but the estimate listed on Christie’s website, where the photo was displayed, was $30,000 to $50,000. Not that that would have helped a lot anyway, as the print’s winning bid came in at a whopping $178,900 (with the buyer’s premium added to the “hammer price”).

And Afghan Girl wasn’t the only item to bring in an enormous amount of money. N.C. Wyeth’s Duel on the Beach topped the sale at $1,082,500. The entire auction brought in $3,776,587.

I was wondering what would make a print of a photograph worth so much. The anonymous buyer didn’t get the original Kodachrome slide. He didn’t purchase future licensing rights. And he didn’t buy the last copy of the photo ever made.

I think I’ve figured it out, though. The print is signed, of course, and dated. But then comes the really special part. Next to the signature is the marking “1/1.”

That does it for me. Not 1 of 200 or 1 of 10 . . . but 1 of 1.

Afghan Girl truly is an iconic photo. Monica Hess of The Washington Post calls it “the photograph of photographs of photographs” and then describes “the ragged red scarf, the scissors-sharp green eyes, the hungry, hunted, haunted beauty.”

Ah, yes, the eyes.

If you’d like to get a better view of what $178,900 got for one bidder, do this: Go to this link—which will bring you a larger-than-life image of Christie’s “Sale 2603 / Lot 194″—and click on the zoom-in symbol a few times. Re-center the photo and look into those “scissors-sharp green eyes.”

Those eyes. Two of two.

(Monica Hess, “National Geographic’s Auction of Images Fetches $3.8 million,” The Washington Post, December 6, 2012)

[photo: “Steve McCurry: On the Outside Looking In,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license]