100 of the Most Influential Photographers of All Time - Part 1

Photography changed the way we see and understand life. Some consider it an art, some see it as a reflection of reality, some even see it as a way of documenting history. Nevertheless, photography is an amazing way to love people, nature, and art. During history, many people became famous for the way they see the world through a viewfinder. From candid photography to fashion photography, from street snapshots to staged commercials, from landscape to architecture, photographers challenge themselves to find new and creative perspectives. Beside all, they tell us fascinating stories. We’ve chosen the most appreciated 100 of them and we will tell you their stories in four episodes. In no particular order, here are the first 25 of them.

Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon (1923 - 2004) was an American photographer, known for his fashion and portrait photography. He is considered one of the illustrators of America. His works are have more than artistic value, they have cultural and historical value. In Richard Avedon's portfolio are many celebrities. Marilyn Monroe, The Beatles, Andy Warhol are just some of them. He collaborated with Vogue for many years, but in the same time he focused on American Western figures.

From glamorous Hollywood stars to people living at the edge of society, the sharp eye of Richard Avedon documented more than 50 years of American lifestyle. Some of his works are published in the book In the American West (1985). You can also admire them in museums all over the world. From The Museum of Modern Art in New York to Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, photographers, students, and ordinary people are inspired by his work.

Willian Eugene Smith

William Eugene Smith (1918 - 1978) is considered one of the most important American photographers in development of photojournalism and photo essays. He is famous for his Second World War photographs, but most of all for his photo essays covering the life around the world.

He started as a newspaper correspondent, but soon he discovered his passion for essays and start documenting stories. His photo essays were appreciated and published in Life Magazines. He spent weeks following his subjects: a country doctor in Colorado, a village in Spain, a black nurse midwife working in rural South Carolina, a clinic doctor in Gabon, the city of Pittsburgh. He was a great observer and a passionate photographer. Reality was always part of his work.

For several years, W. E. Smith photographed jazz musicians while playing. He also recorded them along with street noises, telephone calls, TV and radio programs. He used to dive into his work completely. Every little aspect was important. Later on, he did a long photo essay about the life in Minamata, Japan, slowly poisoned by a factory discharging heavy metals in local water source. He was attacked by the workers at the factory and lost temporarily the vision on an eye. During recuperation, his wife Aileen M. Smith continued the work. In 1975, they published together an essay called "'Minamata', Words and Photographs by W.E. Smith and A.M. Smith." Their work drew attention on mercury poisoning in Minamata and gave the world an example of how powerful documentary photography can be.

Helmut Newton

The German photographer Helmut Newton (1920 - 2004) was a fashion photographer whose provocative black and white photographs brought him international fame. He was born in Berlin, in a Jewish family, and left Germany in 1938. Life took him to Singapore, Australia, England, and France. With influences from all over the world and a special interest in fashion photography, Helmut Newton became famous working for Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar and Playboy.

His photographic style was unique. Erotic, urban, featuring fetishes and sometimes sado-masochistic elements, Helmut Newton's photographs were appealing. His pictorials sold very well, and he continued to add portraits, nudes, and fantastic scenes to his portfolio. He used to say to his models: “There must be a certain look of availability in the women I photograph.” Today, his works can be found at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and the International Center of Photography in New York.

Irving Penn

Irving Penn (1917 - 2009) was an American photographer, dedicated to fashion photography, portraits, and still life. Although he's mostly known for his work in fashion industry (he worked for Vogue, Clinique, and other big names of fashion), Irving Penn traveled around the world and made ethnographic portraits. He was also very attracted to Modernist still life. Many of his images feature bottles, bones, found objects, and food.

His photographs are absolutely unique, bold, and extravagant. In the same time, they are realistic are beautiful. He did mostly black and white photography, especially for portraits. Irving Penn didn't just photograph people, he transformed them into characters. From Salvador Dali to Louis Armstrong, from Père Couturier to Sophia Loren, every portrait he did is a work of art.

Irving Penn works are exhibited all over the world. You can find them in museums and galleries. The largest collections are at The Art Institute of Chicago and The Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin (1928 - 1991) is an iconic French fashion photographer. His provocative images brought him fame and contracts with magazines and fashion brands. He worked for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Chanel, and many others. His daring approach was different, radical, and surreal. He was not interested by the clothes, but rather by dramatic effects, sensuality, and narratives.

Although shocking, his style was appreciated. Haute-couture had a new approach and inspiration. His campaigns were thematic, complex, and inspirational. Designers saw them as a completion of their work. It is said that nobody surpassed his creative legacy, although many uses it as inspiration.

Guy Bourdin's works are exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. You can admire them at Tate in London, at MoMA in New York, at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and at Getty Museum in California.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

A candid photography master, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 - 2004) was a pioneer of street photography. His black and white photographs documented historical events, but also discovered everyday life. From the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Gandhi's funeral, his work covered wars, political events, social issues, and celebrations. He was always travelling and taking part in people's life.

Maybe the most memorable work of Henri Cartier-Bresson is the book Images à la sauvette (The Decisive Moment), a portfolio of more than 100 pictures taken around the world. His principle of life is written as keynote to this book. He thought photography is a recognition of the significance of an event. He never cropped his pictures, never used a flash (out of respect for his subjects), and always did black and white photography. Dedicated to his work and passionate about snapshots, Henri Cartier-Bresson left a rich legacy. He believed in composition more than in any technology (actually he used mostly a 50 mm lens and one Leica camera).

Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus (1923 - 1971) is an American photographer famous for having the courage to present portraits of outsiders. Almost all her work is dedicated to portraits, but includes people rejected by society. She photographed strippers, transgender people, nudists, carnival artists, and marginalized people. Diane Arbus included in her portfolio common people too. There was no difference between their portraits. She used to photograph her subjects in their familiar places and exhibit a world of tolerance, dignity, and equality. One of her famous quotes is "For me, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture."

Diane Arbus has many students. Her sensible portraits and her voice are still an inspiration for modern photographers. You can admire her work in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Elliot Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928) is a master of black and white candid photography. He is also known for advertising campaigns and documentary photography. He worked for magazines like Life and Look, and was a member of Magnum Photos.

Dogs are one of his favorite subjects. He dedicated them five books in which dogs appear in ironic and absurd situations. Humor isn't missing either. Dogs are featured near human legs, under chairs, on tables, and even on water. Snapshots and staged photographs, Elliot Erwitt's compositions show that you don't need a fancy subject if you have enough imagination and a solid sense of humor.

Walker Evans

Documenting the Great Depression was Walker Evans' contribution to American society. His black and white images showed a quiet and sad world. Nevertheless, beauty wasn't missing. He used to say that photographs should be "literate, authoritative, transcendent", and his definitely are. His images ended in an exhibition, Walker Evans: American Photographs, in 1938.

Walker Evans (1903 - 1975) continued to document American life. In 1966 he published a book (Many are Called) with photographs taken in the New York City Subway. He took the pictures with a hidden camera. Still, he didn't edit his pictures.

Walker Evans is a representative of documentary and street photography. His work is precise, aesthetic, and touching. As other photographers, Evans focused on composition. Most of his work is done with a Polaroid camera. He also believed in education and was a mentor (for Helen Levitt) and a professor at Yale University School of Art.

© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Martin Parr

Martin Parr (b. 1952) documents British life in all its aspects. He is known as documentary photographer and photojournalist. His major projects covered rural life, but he aligned his work to modern social issues as well. Working class, middle class, mass tourism, and consumerism are just a few of his subjects.

His photographs are colorful and strong. Some say he is a modern chronicler, working with snapshots. His perspective is unique, and although it seems unreal, it is just reality seen from a magical glass. Martin Parr has humor and an acute sens of realism.

Martin Parr is a member of Magnum Photos. He has more than 40 photobooks and more than 80 exhibitions. He is also a photo collector and exhibits his collection of British and Irish photography in Bristol.

Juergen Teller

Born in 1964, Juergen Teller is a German photographer known for his fashion and fine-art photography. He works with important names of fashion industry, but he also does personal projects. His portfolio includes photographs of celebrities, fashion and short films, and a long list of exhibitions. Currently, he is also a professor of photography at Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg.

Juergen Teller has an unique photographic voice. His compositions have humor, emotions, and drama. Some say he like the beauty of imperfection and that his images have an intentional amateur style. He works mostly with strong colours, but black and white composition are equally good. Even if he does fashion photography, his style is authentic and bold. Sometimes candid, sometimes dramatic, Juergen Teller may be admired in Vogue, Zeit magazin, The Face, and in many fashion campaigns (Marc Jacobs, Moschino, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, Louis Vuitton, and others). Some of his work is published in books like "Go-Sees" (1999, a volume about emerging models) and "Vivienne Westwood: Spring Summer 2008".

Nick Knight

Photo by Nick Knight - Jil Sander campaign 1992 - available at nickknight.com

Photo by Nick Knight - Jil Sander campaign 1992 - available at nickknight.com

Nick Knight (b. 1958) is currently considered the most influential fashion photographer in the world. One of his photographs for Jil Sander 1992 campaign was sold with more than 300, 000$. In 2016, he was hired to do the royal portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles for the Queen's 90s birthday. The list of exhibitions, publications, and awards is too long to be mentioned here.

His fame came from his visionary approach of fashion photography. He challenged the notion of beauty and is seen as a progressive image maker. The launching of his website, SHOWstudio, showed the entire process of his creative work. Moreover, the website opened a digital fashion world, which involves fashion films, illustration, text, and photography.

Nick Knight is inspired by technology and his innovative approach has won the world. Coloured or black and white, his photographs are a challenge and an inspiration. With more than 500,000 Instagram followers, his mission is accomplished.

David Bailey

David Bailey (b. 1938), the one and only, fashion and portrait photographer, documented the '60s in the project "Swinging London", inspired a movie, amazed Vogue, and directed documentaries and TV movies. He photographed Alice Cooper for Vogue, wearing only a snake and received awards for a lifetime dedicated to photography. A long list of books and exhibitions wear his name. As do some of his four wives.

David Bailey is considered one of the pioneers of contemporary photography. His portraits are powerful and real. Even if he photographed celebrities, he has a natural way of doing iconic images. Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, and Kate Moss are just a few of the long list of celebrities who met his camera. He has a good place in the story of fashion photograph too.

His black and white photographs, with dramatic effects, transformed a new generation of models. Stylish, but also youthful, his work travelled through generations, social barriers, and artistic fields. David Bailey was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2001.

Cindy Sherman

Born in 1954, Cindy Sherman is an American photographer and film director. She is known for her many self-portraits, which proved that photography is not always about having outstanding subjects, but about creativity and artistic expression. She is also known for her contribution to eliminate feminine stereotypes, materialized in photograph series like Untitled Film Stills and Centerfolds.

Her work is intuitive and very personal. Always leaving a mark, Cindy Sherman did fashion photography, portraits, and even sex images inspired by pornographic magazines. She sustained a provocative and challenging art, mixing social issues and contemporary identity into a realistic representation of the society. Her implication in her images was beyond the work of a photographer. She was also a model, stylist, and makeup artist.

The Ugly Beauty, the series of self-portraits, adds a new dimension to her work and inspire more than 200, 000 followers on Instagram.

Andreas Gursky

Photographer and professor Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) is known for landscape and architecture photography. He works at large scale, his images are often described as vast and unbelievable. His panoramic prints are huge and feature the world viewed from distance. Before 1990, Andreas Gursky didn't edit his images and that meant he needed high locations to shoot from. Today, technology makes things simpler, but the German photographer still uses an elevated vantage point.

Andreas Gursky has many publications and exhibitions. His prints are also very appreciated. Rhein II, a photograph from 1999, was sold with more than $4.3 millions. He's inspired by reality and his images show just what is near us. But his unique perspective, his direct approach, and mysterious style won him an international fame. He photographs people, airports, buildings, rivers, various types of landscapes, and entire cities. A great observer, Andreas Gursky has a rather simple composition, but with an overwhelming effect. You can see many patters in his work, as in life.

Edward Weston

Edward Weston (1886 - 1958) is an American photographer, one of the masters of the XXth century. He wasn't very specific in his style. He photographed landscapes, portraits, still life, nudes, and many other subjects. He also was a prolific writer, publishing journals and technical volumes about his work.

As a photographer, he is known for his unique way of playing with shapes and light. His black and white images, especially the one featuring nudes, have a certain flow. His compositions transform common subjects in mysteries. He used to say: “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

Edward Weston is considered one of the biggest influencers in American art photography. His legacy to creative photography is still an inspiration for modern photographers.

Garry Winogrand

A true New Yorker, Garry Winogrand (1928 - 1984) was a pioneer of street photography. He lived in New York his entire life and capture the life of the city in an unique way. Although he did photograph other places, he remains in the history of photography as a New York photographer.

Garry Winogrand style was rather curious. He didn't observe street life and photograph it while happening. He used to invade the private space of people and provoke them in order to achieve shocking photographs. He also used to take photographs without using the viewfinder. He kept the camera at his eye level and shot without looking. He thought this gives him the true perspective on everyday life.

His photographs document the life of XXth century America and its social issues. Working as freelancer, Garry Winogrand was published in magazines and photo albums. He also appeared in exhibitions and received several awards. His work was appreciated during his life and brought him the status of one of the most influential photographers of the XXth century.

Bruce Weber

Bruce Weber (b. 1946) is an important name in fashion photography. His campaigns for Pirelli, Calvin Klein, Versace, and Ralph Lauren are legendary. He also works for Vogue, Elle, Life, and many other fashion and lifestyle magazines.

Most of his photographs are in black and white. Famous people like Richard Gere and Olympic athlete Tom Hintnaus were among his subjects. He is known more for his male portraits then for his female portraits and this sometimes involved him in rumors and scandals. Nevertheless, Bruce Weber declared he loves equally women and men.

Bruce Weber's photographs are loaded with sensuality and expression. Sculptured bodies, mysterious faces, and athletic postures gave a new direction to fashion photography. There are entire brands based on his vision, on his beauty ideal.

Man Ray

Man Ray (alias Emmanuel Radnitzky 1890 – 1976), a contributor to Surrealism and Dadaism, was a visual artist and photographer. His experiments took him in various media, among them fashion and portrait photography.

He is mostly known for “rayographs” (photograms) and solarized images, his darkroom techniques to achieve unusual images. Seeking for “pure dadaism”, Man Ray was completely dedicated to this anti-art movement. He built new forms, new artistic expressions, and believed the idea is more important than the result.

A true exponent of modern art, Man Ray exhibits his legacy in museums like Guggenheim, Getty Museum, MoMA, as well as in temporary exhibitions across the world.

Noire et Blanche, 1924,  photo source

Noire et Blanche, 1924, photo source

Paolo Roversi

The Italian master of the 10x8in Polaroid film fashion image, Paolo Roversi (b. 1947) started his career as a photojournalist for Associated Press. Then he moved to Paris and got closer and closer to fashion industry. Although many photographers think what to add to a composition, Paolo Roversi thinks what to eliminate from a composition. He says he wants to photograph the real subject, not a mask.

Black and white or coloured, photographs of Paolo Roversi are deep, dramatic, and in the same time extremely simple. Without smiles and fake expressions, his characters are more themselves than a model. Still, he photographed Kate Moss, Bjork, Natalia Vodianova, Scarlett Johansson, and many other famous faces. The difference is that in Paolo Roversi’s images they are not just faces, they are real people.

Herb Ritts

The photographs of Herb Ritts (1952 - 2002) define a decade of American life. His subjects were celebrities and models, Herb Ritts being mostly known as a fashion and portrait photographer. With a classic style and a preference for black and white photography, he is famous for his Californian pictures featuring people like Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Gere, Madonna, Johnny Depp, and Ronald Reagan.

In the era of supermodels, Herb Ritts worked for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Time, Elle, and Glamour. He also did fashion campaigns for the most important names in fashion industry. His work was exhibit in museums and galleries, and was an inspiration for artists and performers (maybe the most famous is Madonna, who inspired from his work for a music video).

Herb Ritts had a simple and powerful style. Besides beauty and aesthetic forms, he challenged social issues, fantasy, and nudity. At the very border between commercial and artistic, Herb Ritts brought a fresh air into a crowded fashion world.

Annie Leibovitz

American photographer Annie Leibovitz (b. 1949) is known for her portraits featuring famous people. She started her career at Rolling Stones magazine and photographed all the famous people of her generation. Maybe the most iconic image is the image of John Lennon, taken in the day he was killed.

She worked for Vanity Fair, Pirelli calendar, The Walt Disney Company, and Queen Elizabeth. She has a long list of exhibitions and publications, and a much appreciated course of photography. Annie Leibovitz is the mentor of a new generation of photographers. Her pictures, black and white or coloured, are a work of art in a business society. Portraits, nudes, concert photographs or life photographs, Annie Leibovitz’ images are a trademark.

She says that she’s not afraid to fall in love with the people she photographs. Maybe this is the secret behind her sensitive and touching images.

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984) doesn't need a presentation as he probably has several statues across America. He is a landscape photographer and environmentalist, in love with black and white photography and the Yosemite National Park. Ansel Adams has more followers than a Twitter account can count. Besides his love for nature and his endless ways of photographing it, Ansel Adams also fought for environmental conservation.

For photographers, Ansel Adams is an advocate of sharp images, with large range of tones, perfect exposure, and great depth of field. He even started an anti-pictorialist group named f/64. His pure approach on photography has many adepts and was later developed into the Zone System. It is a way of managing negative exposure, development, and printing, which assures a precise relation between how the photographer sees the subject and the resulted photograph.

The portfolio of Ansel Adams has photographs of American national parks, travel photographs, portraits and images from American West, photographs of the entire Yosemite Valley, an essay of Japanese American Internment, and many more. He had thousands of students, eager to learn his techniques and to follow him on extended trips. Maybe the most important legacy is his tremendous love for landscape, outdoor experiences, and endless journey.

David LaChapelle

If you never heard of "kitsch pop surrealist" style, you should look for David LaChapelle (b. 1963). He is an American photographer and video director, known for his commercial photographs reflecting the glamorous pop style. David LaChapelle started his career at Interview, working for Andy Warhol. He then extended his portfolio to Vogue, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and many other important magazines. He also does commercials and fine-art photography.

David LaChapelle has an unique style, with bright colors and exaggerated technology. He uses it even when he photographs famous people, and his famous people list includes pop stars like Madonna, Muhammad Ali, Britney Spears, and Tupac Shakur. You can see he is always experience something new, something different, but is always in relation with the contemporary society and its iconic moments.

William Klein

William Klein (b. 1928) changed the face of fashion photography. He had the courage to use irony, to reject the previous rules, and to extensively use the wide-angle in a domain of portraits and close-ups. He was rewarded with a fulfilling career at Vogue and other important names in the field, and also with many awards and exhibitions.

William Klein is also known for his photo essays, street photography, television commercials, and as a documentary director. He has a more technological approach, with many interventions on the image, and rather strange style for his time. His images are grainy and blurry, and have a high-contrast. Almost all of them are taken with a 35 mm camera and in black and white.

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