Narrowing a list of Famous Photographers that you should know if you love Photography, is a pretty dense task, and even more when you pursue a fixed number, but this is necessarily in order to make selections based on criteria, and objectiveness. We are going to talk about fifteen great photographers, that had become Famous in popular culture for their passion, dedication, and style when crafting their photographs. Without further ado, let's talk about Famous Photographers you should know.
Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
The Supreme Master of Landscape Photography. His prints are the perfect evidence that the work that happens after pressing the shutter button is extremely important. He was an American photographer and environmentalist, which is no surprise since his images depict a pure fascination for nature. His landscape photographs of the American West, especially Yosemite National Park have been his most iconic body of work.
Every Time many of us hear the phrase Landscape Photography, Ansel Adams is highly likely to pop right through our minds. And is no surprise, since his passion for landscape photography transformed his skills into mastery.
Adams used mainly large format cameras, which are also known as view cameras or field cameras. He used this particular cameras because of its extreme ability of ensuring extremely high resolution and sharpness when rendering images. Large format starts at 4"x5". Just to get an idea of the amount of information this format is capable of capturing, inside a 4"x5" negative (the smallest of large format) you can fit 15 35mm negatives. And inside an 8"x10" (another standard of large format) you get the same amount of information of 60 35mm negatives.
You can enjoy his work virtually here, and if you ever have the chance of seeing live prints of him, please do yourselves the favor, you'll be blown away and will understand how deep passionate he was about getting the best tones in his images while printing.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)
Founder of Magnum Photos with Robert Capa and David Seymour, and one of the most respected photographers in the Street Photography field. He is sometimes credited as the father of this movement, and it really makes sense. He also has been broadly known for the artistic term of "The Decisive Moment", which practically states that if you are able to see the moment, you'll very likely won't capture it, you have to learn to anticipate the social happenings in order to capture that decisive moment. So the term practically invites to develop an ability that will allow you to press the shutter button just before the moment happens.
You can delight yourselves with his images here.
Philippe Halsman (1906-1979)
He began contributing to fashion magazines when leaving Austria and arriving at France, and eventually stumbled into Vogue, and after that he gained the reputation of being the best portrait photographer in France.
You can look at his work thanks to the Philippe Halsman Foundation here. His most notable muse was Salvador Dalí, which is evident thanks to their accomplice in creating images out of this world like the famous Dali Atomicus.
Born in Transylvania as Gyula Halász and better known as Brassaï; he was a Hungarian-French Photographer that did a lot of work as a journalist while traveling through Europe. He was one of the numerous Hungarian artists who flourished in Paris beginning between WWI and WWII.
Today he is better known for his fantastic work of night photography, especially in France since the 1930s, a time where the photographic resources were tremendously limited. His images are filled with shapes that were subtly perceptible under the little available light of night.
His compositions had a great presence of shape and form, which were later and are still considered as great studies of shape. Thanks to the natural contrast enhanced by wet surfaces and little available light, his compositions were reduced to the basic essential amount of elements needed to transmit a concept.
He captured the essence of Paris and many other cities through his photographs. There is a great book titled Paris de Nuit, published in 1933, and is also known as the first of many books compiling his work. It was very well received and was a great success. The book itself is a beautiful object, and was called "the eye of Paris" by Henry Miller. He also portrayed scenes from the life of the city's high society, its intellectuals, its ballet, and the grand operas.
Man Ray (1890-1976)
Born in the United States as Emmanuel Radnitzky, Man Ray was a visual artist that made significant contributions to both Dada and Surrealist movements. He was best known for his innovative techniques with photography and photographic materials. He was also known as a fashion and portrait photographer. He created iconic photograms that he called rayographs in reference to himself.
He was close friend with Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchamp, and of course, Salvador Dalí. In July 1921, Man Ray went to live and work in Paris. He settled in the Montparnasse quarter, which was a favorite of many artists of the time. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he met and fell in love with Alice Prin (better known as Kiki de Montparnasse), an artists' model and celebrated character in Paris bohemian circles. She was his companion for most of the 1920s, and in those years she became the subject of some of his most famous photographs.
One of the most iconic Man Ray portraits of Kiki is this one, broadly known as Noire et Blanche (1926). In the image we can see a contrast of black and white, and also inanimate and alive with both elongated faces with closed eyes.
Other iconic images of Man Ray are Le Violon d'Ingres (1924), and Larmes (1930), also known as Glass Tears. In Le Violon d'Ingres we can see a homage to Ingres and his fascination for playing the violin in presence of his guests. The image shows a nude and limbless Kiki depicting a violin. The f holes were painted by Man Ray, and the most notable surrealist element of the portrait. Larmes is linked to his romantic rupture with Lee Miller, and the image show an unrealistic character of “sadness” with the crystal tears and the perfect eyelashes.
Born as Usher Fellig in Złoczów (now Zolochiv, Ukraine), later on he was named Arthur Fellig when he and his family immigrated to the United States at the age of ten. He was a photojournalist best known for his harsh black and white street photography of both crime scenes and emergencies.
He published photo books, and also worked in cinema, at first making his own independent short films, and later he collaborated with famous Stanley Kubrick. After working as a darkroom assistant to commercial photographers, he decided to get himself on his own track, so he became a freelance news photographer.
He was so close to emergencies calls and law enforcement against crime, thanks to his strategy of just hanging out at different police stations. When the crime called over some scanner, he raced the cops in order to photograph the scenes in the rawest state possible. This is the reason why his images were so desired by the press.
He outraced them so much, that he prided himself about arriving before than the police to any situation. This ability of his inspired popular culture to say he used a Ouija board in order to know what were the things that will happen. The phonetic pronunciation of this artifact, derived into Weegee, and he loved it.
He used only a 4x5 Speed Graphic camera and a mounted flash throughout his career; and is not known for his printing abilities, but for the elements of his social photographs.
His work reached further than the press, and he crafted a career on his own terms. He implanted his brutal, humorous and even absurd style to his work, and there's hardly been another Weegee since Weegee.
You can see an excerpt of his harsh and stark images here and here, and you can get yourselves a great and simple book simply called Weegee as well. And one of my favorite photographs of Weegee, a simple yet strong cinematic shot of two men at the back of a truck that seems to be under arrest.
Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015)
She passed away recently, and has been known for her broad scope of photography, that covers the fields of photojournalism, documentary photography, portraiture, and advertising photography as well. Her images depict a unique sense of closeness and care for the people she photographed through her career.
Her images were simple yet strong, and that juxtaposition is hard to achieve almost like humor in street photography. Achieving narrative statements, through one single image was a basic aspect of her images.
Hard enough, she take things even further. Whenever you see her work, you'll notice an incredible and solid composition in her framings, and guess what, she didn't cropped. She just hated the idea of cropping after taking a picture, she cropped in camera. Of course cropping is necessary in order to improve a prior shot, but if you could crop perfectly in the viewfinder, then your discipline will raise the bar.
She truly believed that images need to be emotionally involved with the photographer, if not, then you are just not going to get it right.
One of my all-time favorites of her photographs, is this one called Rat and Mike with a gun, Seattle, Washington, USA, 1983. The image shows two youngsters with a very fierce attitude in the streets. Another favorite of Mary Ellen Mark's work, is Tiny, Halloween, Seattle, 1983 © Mary Ellen Mark, a portrait of Tiny, at the first stages of a long and compelling essay she did that portrays her life. The portrait summarizes everything, the fragile pose of her hands wrapping her thin arms, in contrast with her face expression, which suggests an older age than the actual fourteen Tiny had at the moment of the picture.
There are so many images that I love of Mary Ellen Mark, that it will be absurd to talk about all of them, you can watch her portfolio here.
Robert Capa (1913-1954)
Born as Endre Friedmann in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, was a Hungarian war photographer that left a tremendous and important body of work in anthropological terms, or who we are as a culture.
In 1947, Capa co-founded Magnum Photos in Paris with David "Chim" Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert. The organization was the first cooperative agency for worldwide freelance photographers, and is still active today.
Capa originally wanted to be a writer, but he felt in love with Photography at some point of his early years. Right before starting to work as a photographer in Berlin in 1933, he moved to France during the rise of Nazism since his roots began to cost him work. He and his beloved Gerda Taró created a persona of this great American photographer named Robert Capa.
In 1936 he reached fame with his controversial yet incredible image of the falling soldier at the Spanish Civil War. Many things have been said around this image, but no matter what, I want and I will believe that the image is legit.
By 1944 he was living in New York City thanks to the Jewish persecution of WWII, and was embedded with the American troops to photograph war while working for LIFE Magazine. On June the sixth, Capa took part of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, Normandy. He was inside the second wave of troops, and has been known to shot 106 images with his trusty Contax camera and a 50mm lens. He almost lost his life in the bloody event of human history, and after getting safe, he quickly sent the rolls of film to LIFE headquarters at England, when a very much hated character in the history of Photography melted the emulsion and the negatives due to the rush. Just ten images survived, and the negative of the iconic image of a soldier coming up on the beach, is missing as said in Magnum Contact Sheets.
After publicly stating he was done photographing War, he was traveling to Japan for a Magnum Exhibition of the early 1950s. LIFE Magazine had talked him into going on an assignment to cover Southeast Asia to cover the French fighting in the first Indochina war for the previous eight years. On May 25th, 1954, he stepped on a landmine while photographing and died on the way to a small hospital.
Gerda Taró (1910-1937)
Born as Gerta Pohorylle, she became a war photographer, and the beloved companion and professional partner of Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa). Taro is regarded as the first female photojournalist to cover the front lines of a war and to unfortunately die while doing so.
In 1935 she and Endre moved to Paris to start working as a team. Things weren't as they expected economically speaking, and they came up with a groundbreaking idea, they created the myth around a Famous American Photographer named Robert Capa, and thanks to the importance of the journalistic task he was committed, they were going to be his agent. Some say that this as all Taro's idea, and others that it was a team work, I prefer to believe that it was all Taró's plot.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Gerda Taró travelled to Barcelona, Spain, to cover the events with Capa and David "Chim" Seymour. She acquired the nickname of La Pequeña Rubia during this time.
She was rather to use a Rolleiflex camera, and this is the criteria used to determine which of the images credited to Robert Capa were actually shot by her. Even though, this is not a precise criteria, because they both used to share their gear as well. And this is important mainly for the people cracking their head around The Death of the Soldier.
He started to split from Endre and gained more professional independence. She covered many conflicts alone, such as La Batalla de Guadalajara.
On July 25, 1937 during her coverage of the Republican army retreat at the Battle of Brunete, Taro hopped onto the footboard of a car that was carrying wounded soldiers when a Republican tank crashed into its side. She was critically injured and died the next day.
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
She was an American Documentary Photographer and a Photojournalist. In the 1930s, one of the deepest and harshest economic crisis happened in human history. Due to this pitfall, many people migrated inside the United States from one state to another. This happening was a perfect situation for Dorothea Lange to document what was going on at that time. Thanks to an initiative of President Roosevelt, the Farm Security Administration was created. Inside this Administration, a man named Roy Stryker contacted many photographers to portray the realities farmers were facing at that time. Inside this group of photographers, was Dorothea Lange. Her photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography.
Even though she inherited us with a tremendous body of work that has an invaluable importance to human history, her most iconic image, is the one called Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1938).
The image is considered as an icon of the struggles the American people endured in the Great Depression. The name of the woman was Florence Owens Thompson, and by that time was mother of seven. Dorothea Lange discovered her while documenting what the FSA had commissioned her. She spent little time with the family, something like 10 minutes or so, and she took a series of images portraying her and her kids. In the image we see Florence as the very center of the frame, our eyes go directly to her expression, and few moments later we start to notice that she is surrounded by three of her kids. The punctum of the image is her hand. Lange was known to center the attention of her images in hands, which showed the marks of hard rural work.
Sally Mann (1951-)
She is a very talented American Photographer largely known for her large format black and white photographs. She has covered the intimacy of her family and even though the work is amazing, unfortunately it had created some controversies in the past, especially for her work titled Immediate Family.
Immediate Family is one of her many books containing 65 images featuring her three children Emmett, Jessie and Virginia. The topics cover the broad scope of typical childhood themes such from joyful to gloomy. She covered skinny dipping, reading the funnies, dressing up, vamping, napping, and playing board games; as well as insecurity, loneliness, injury, sexuality and death.
Her images are pretty much about the final product, and works with film and wet plate; also handcrafted print as well. Her artistic vision is pretty complex at times, and I just love her work. You can delight your nerves with her selected work here.
Robert Frank (1924- )
Born in Zürich, Switzerland, he is a great (among the greatest) American Photographer. His most notable and respected work is a book titled The Americans (1958), with introductory words by one of my favorite writers as well, Jack Kerouac. The book contains 84 images out of 28,000 shots taken for the project. And it is considered one of the few agents of change in terms of Photography’s History. The cover of the book is a photograph called Trolley-New Orleans (1955) and depicts an everyday scene, which is a subtle social critique of the time.
His images are about capturing the unseen everyday life that seemed to be obscured by other topics that became popular thanks to the after-war phenomena of the 1950s. Nowadays is common to see great street and documentary work focusing on the everyday life, but Frank did it when the masses demanded something else, and is today seen to us photographers like heaven on a plate.
William Eggleston (1939- )
American Photographer best known for his successful efforts of increasing the recognition of Color Photography into the artistic medium of Photography, which has been widely known for monochrome images.
His images were presented in the Museum of Modern Art of New York in 1976, and marked the scene of the Art of Photography. He presented his Kodachrome prints to John Szarkowski in 1967. Szarkowski curated nearly 400 images to a selection of 75 photographs. These images portrayed the everyday scene. His work as critiqued by Hilton Kramer, and defined them as "Elegant Snapshots", even though today are known as a definitive corpus of color photography in the Art world.
Even though when MoMA has presented color photography in exhibitions, the one of Eggleston was the first big one, and as the groundbreaking moment of Color Photography's presence in the world of Art.
Some of the images I love the most from Eggleston body of work are in fact those presented at MoMA under the name of William Eggleston's Guide. You can see a little excerpt of this collection here under the section of Monographs.
The famous image of the human-less tricycle is a great representation of solitude and speaks of human life so well. The tricycle element is simple, but the notoriously large presence speaks in a very suggestive way and invites the viewer to think. Personally I think this image summarizes life. From the great and simple joys of childhood, to the less enjoyable stages of adulthood at the back.
Irving Penn (1917-2009)
He was an American Photographer best known for his fashion photography as well as portraits and still lives. One of his most notorious works happened due to publications of Vogue Magazine. But he also worked with independent clients as well. His work has been exhibited internationally and continues to inform the art of photography.
Between 1934 to 1938, he studied drawing, painting, graphics, and industrial arts under the teaching of Alexey Brodovitch. While still a student, he worked under the supervision of Alexey Brodovitch at Harper's Bazaar. He eventually ended up working for Vogue Magazine after Alexander Liberman offered him a position as an associate of the Art Department. Eventually, after explaining ideas, Liberman asked him why not trying to shoot the things for himself, and that was the trigger that started his non-stopping evolution as the great photographer we all know now.
He was a pioneer, and was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop with great effects due to their simplicity. He went even further and started working with a corner, in which he squeezed celebs in order to pose.
Referring to just a few favorites seems pointless, and I invite you to see what you can online, at magazines and museums as well. You can see some of his Vogue work here. There are two books that collect portraits and still life that you can check out as well.
Vivian Maier (1926-2009)
There's been a lot of complexity around the topic of Vivian Maier, since her work has been massified after her work was discovered by John Maloof. The thing is that her work was really intimate for her. She was a collector and collected all these moments with her camera. Mrs. Maier's worked as a nanny through much of her life, and she didn't approached the artistic industry by any means. You can read some of the history behind her discovery here and there is a splendid documentary titled "Finding Vivian Maier" that was indeed nominated by the Academy Awards of 2014 for Best Documentary Feature that you can watch to understand better her world vision.
Her photographs are on another level of awesomeness, they are great, and there are so many images that are being published by Maloof that is hard to believe that one person could shot so large body of magnificent images, but well, she did, and for me, she is one of the Masters.