10 French Photographers You Should Know

The modern camera was invented in France so it’s not surprising that many acclaimed photographers hail from that particular country. Here are the top ten French photographers that you should definitely know.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Thurles, Ireland 1952

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Thurles, Ireland 1952

Although he started off as a painter, Cartier-Bresson began to develop a greater interest in photography once it turned out that his new acquaintance Harry Crosby was also a fan of the art. However, it wasn’t until his 1937 photos of the royal coronation were published that his career got underway. During the 1940s, Cartier-Bresson was one of the founding members of Magnum Photos. While his job was primarily to cover events in Asia, he eventually made his way around the world. His photography career ended in the 1970s and the man himself died about thirty years later.

Discover more about this master in our Henri Cartier-Bresson editorial.


Robert Doisneau

 Robert Doisneau, Paulette Dubost pose pour Simca, 1959

Robert Doisneau, Paulette Dubost pose pour Simca, 1959

As a young man he trained to be an engraver but Doisneau ended up being a successful street photographer instead. Although his first paying photography job was for Excelsior in 1931, Doisneau is best known for a photo entitled “Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville” or “The Kiss” that was published in Life Magazine in 1950. He continued to work as a photographer and received many accolades throughout his life before his death in 1994 at the age of 81.

Our Robert Doisneau editorial goes in more detail about the masterpieces of the artist.


Brassaï

Although he was born as Gyula Halász in what is now Romania, the artist that was later known as Brassaï eventually became a French citizen. He was employed as a journalist for a brief time before he moved to Paris in 1924. It was there that Brassaï, who had trained as an artist in his youth, started experimenting with photography techniques as he wandered the streets at night. This resulted in his first book Paris at Night, which was published in 1933. He went on to have a very successful career in the decades that followed.  He eventually died in 1984 at the age of 84.


Eugène Atget

 Eugène Atget, La Rochelle, 1896?

Eugène Atget, La Rochelle, 1896?

Despite his several failed attempts at becoming an actor, Atget is best known for his work as documentary photographer. His career got started during the 1890s when he began taking photographs to serve as inspiration for other artists. He was later commissioned to take snapshots of old buildings in Paris that were in danger of disappearing as the city became more modernized. Atget eventually moved on to photographing other subjects including local parks and prostitutes. Unfortunately, Atget died in 1927 at the age of 70 before his work ever received much public acclaim.


Félix Nadar

 Félix Nadar, Cléo de Mérode, c.1900

Félix Nadar, Cléo de Mérode, c.1900

Gaspard-Félix Tournachon had planned to become a doctor but he’s known today for his work as a portrait photographer under the alias Felix Nadar. He gave up medicine for economic reasons to work as a caricaturist and then a photographer. His first pictures were taken in the 1850s. Although he mostly took pictures of people, Nadar enjoyed experimental photography as well. He took his camera to new depths in the catacombs of Paris as well as to new heights in hot air balloons. (Nadar eventually became an enthusiastic balloonist.) His studio even housed the first Impressionist exhibit ever seen. During the later portion of his life, he continued to photograph people – some of them quiet intimately and others not so much. He died in 1910. 


 

Willy Ronis

 Willy Ronis, The Great Cat

Willy Ronis, The Great Cat

Another photographer who initially had other plans, Willy Ronis intended to study music as a young man. Life intervened as his father’s cancer forced young Ronis to take over the family portrait studio. He sold the business after his dad died but still continued to work as a photographer. Ronis' work ranged from journalistic endeavors to both nudes and fashion spreads. He started teaching in the 1950s but continued to work on other artistic projects. Ronis died in 2009 at the age of 99.


Abbas Attar

 Abbas Attar, La pajarera

Abbas Attar, La pajarera

What advice would you give young photographers?
Get a good pair of walking shoes and…fall in love
— Abbas Attar

Attar was born in Iran in 1944 but he eventually moved to Paris where he embarked on a career as a photojournalist. Between 1968 and 1970, his first series of photographs showed the Iranian Revolution that was taking place in his homeland. Most of his snapshots since then have been taken in regions that are embroiled in conflict.

His works are also focused on world religions, particularly militant sects of the Islamic faith. Attar has already published six photography books and is currently working on yet another project.

 Abbas’ Magnum Portfolio


Guy Bourdin

 Guy Bourdin for French Vogue, 1967.

Guy Bourdin for French Vogue, 1967.

Bourdin is a French native that is well-known for his racy photographic images. He also worked for number of popular fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar during his lifetime. Major museums and companies have often vied to have him shoot their latest projects. Like so many of his contemporaries, Bourdin joined the military at the age of 18. It was some years later that his employers put him to work as an aerial photographer. Due to his persistence, he gained the support of American photographer Man Ray.  During the 1950s, Boudin started working for Vogue where he continued to work for almost four decades. He died in 1991 at the age of 62. 


Marc Riboud

 Marc Riboud, Autonomies

Marc Riboud, Autonomies

Although he was an engineer after the Second World War, a vacation he took inspired Riboud to become a professional photographer. In 1953, he joined Magnum Photos alongside some of the most influential photojournalists of the day. His new job sent Riboud all over the world. He made trips to China, North Vietnam, Japan, and America as well as Africa and other parts of Asia, before he stopped working for the company in 1979. Riboud’s works have been featured in prestigious magazines such as National Geographic and Life.  He also won several awards for his work. He recently died in 2016 at the age of 93.


Jacques Henri Lartigue

 Jacques Henri Lartigue, Storm in Nice, 1925

Jacques Henri Lartigue, Storm in Nice, 1925

It's no surprise that Jacques Lartigue was handed a camera as a child and began his career at the tender age of seven. As children often do, he took a great many snapshots of his family and friends. He also focused on typical boyish subjects like cars, airplanes, and sports events. Although he sold a number of these photographs, Lartigue was primarily employed as a painter for many years. When Lartigue was 69, a member of the Rapho photography agency saw some of the photos he’d taken as a child and arranged for them to be shown to the public. Lartigue was subsequently hired to work on various photography projects. He eventually became much better known for his pictures than his paintings, though he continued to work on those as well. Lartigue died in 1986 at the age of 92.

We might have missed some, however you can help us to update this section and make it complete. Drop us a line, send us a tweet, write a comment and will make it happen.

Sources: Culture Trip, Wikipedia & Time.