Peter Lik: Australia's Most Famous Photographer

Peter Lik | © Bagima/Wikipedia
Peter Lik | © Bagima/Wikipedia
Photo of Monique La Terra
28 December 2016

The supersaturated landscape photography of Peter Lik is recognized throughout the world, but it was in Melbourne where this photographer’s journey began almost five decades ago. His photos are known for breaking auction records, and his marketing schemes are anything but typical – here is the story behind this Peter Lik’s rise to fame.

Peter Lik was born in Melbourne in 1959, after his parents immigrated from the Czech Republic following World War II. For his eighth birthday, Peter received a Kodak Brownie box camera with which he took his first photograph of a spider web. This camera accompanied Lik on every family holiday, where he proceeded to take photos of beach and country scenes. As a young adult, college was never on the agenda, instead Lik travelled to the United States where he discovered panoramic photography. In 1989 Lik returned to the U.S. with the goal of photographing all 50 states. These photos would later be used in a coffee table book titled Spirit of America.

Peter Lik | © Bagima/Wikipedia

By the early ’90s, Lik was back in Australia working as salesman and was soon employed by the Queensland Tourist and Travel Corporation as a photographer. Completely self-taught with no formal training, Lik began a successful postcard company, but he dreamed of moving to America. Thus, in 1994 he moved to Las Vegas and launched Lik USA, which was comprised of a printing facility and publishing company. In 1997, Lik published his first book titled Australia: Images of a Timeless Land, and in the same year he opened his first gallery in Cairns, Australia. In 2003, Lik’s first American gallery opened in Lahaina, Maui, and subsequently another followed at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

In 2010, Lik sold a photo of the Androscoggin River, New Hampshire, for US$1 million, and the following year one of his most famous photographs ‘Ghost,’ went on exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution Natural Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The same year he became the host of the TV show ‘From the Edge’ on The Weather Channel.

Breaking all previous records, Lik’s black-and-white photograph ‘Phantom’ sold for $6.5 million to an anonymous buyer in 2014. The image captures the Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Rumours circulated as to whether the buyer actually exists, but Joshua Roth, the client’s lawyer, ensures that the buyer is in fact real. In his career, Lik has sold more than 100,000 photographs, with over a million dollars’ worth of pictures sold each week, but according to Artnet the highest anyone has paid for a Lik photo is $15,860 – which has raised eyebrows about the ‘Phantom’ sale. Unlike most photographers, Lik sells ‘950 limited editions and 45 artist’s proofs of every photograph.’ The starting price of his artist’s proofs is a hefty $10,000, and as the photos begin to sell out the prices rise. This limited-edition, time-is-running-out concept creates a sense of urgency for buyers and in turn Lik’s profits increase.

Japanese Maple by Peter Lik | © Ryan Somma/Flickr

Peter Lik and his marketing methods are unorthodox in the world of photography, and although he is raking in the money, resale value for his work is low considering the original prices, due to the sheer amount of Lik photographs on the market. With this is mind the art consultants who roam Peter Lik’s galleries are trained to follow an eight-step procedure for which the focus is investment, but it’s not hard to sell ‘limited edition’ artwork in tourist destinations such as Las Vegas and Hawaii, where high rollers and big spenders are in holiday mode and loose with their spending.

Even with suspicions raised, there’s no denying that Peter Lik is an excellent photographer. Using a Linhof 617 Technorama Camera as well as Nikon and Phase One cameras, Lik captures epic panoramic shots full of vibrancy and clarity. Each photo is packed with exuberance and overwhelming detail visible due to the enormous scale of his work; yet, art critics continually shun him, and museums aren’t lining up to exhibit his work.

Mandalay Bay Vegas | © Cookaa/Wikipedia

In March 2016, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, in Las Vegas, unveiled five striking landscape photographs from Peter Lik on display in their lobby area. When talking about the news, Lik said, ‘To be included as a continual part of the guest experience is one of the highest compliments I could receive. I hope gazing at these grand images connects every viewer to the amazing power and beauty of Mother Nature.’ The images are perfectly suited to Mandalay Bay’s grand lobby and create an awe-inspiring first impression, but can one truly appreciate art and the artist when there are overshadowing money-making schemes at work? Or do we need to step back and allow the photos to speak for themselves and realize that every piece of art is either worthless or worth the money depending on the viewer.

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