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Top 10 Photographers

Featured image © Henri Cartier Bresson

Top 10 photographers who influenced photography to become what it is today (and any serious photographer should know)

I’ve compiled a list of famous photographers who have had a decisive influence on photography as an art form as we know it today. I’ve categorized the photographers in several genres that are considered fine art genres. If you’re a serious photographer and don’t know the photographers or their work yet, then you really should start getting to know them!

The photographers are randomly ordered and the order doesn’t reflect any ranking nor does this pretend to be an extensive list.

Edward Steichen Self Portrait
Edward Steichen – The Flatiron (1904)
Edward Steichen The Pond
The Pond - Moonlight (c) Edward Steichen
Edward_Steichen-Experiment In Three Color Photography
Edward Steichen -Experiment In Three Color Photography

1. Edward Steichen 1872 – 1970 – The most famous representative of the so called pictorialism movement, an art movement that dominated the start of the last century. Considered to be the very first fashion photographer, creator of The Pond – Moonlight, which was the most expensive photograph ever with a price tag of almost $3,000,000 until the likes of Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman and Peter Lik broke that record.

Steichen partnered with Stieglitz in 1900, which resulted in the making of Camera Work.

Quote: Photography is a medium of formidable contradictions. It is both ridiculously easy and almost impossibly difficult. It is easy because its technical rudiments can readily be mastered by anyone with a few simple instructions. It is difficult because, while the artist working in any other medium begins with a blank surface and gradually brings his conception into being, the photographer is the only imagemaker who begins with the picture completed. His emotions, his knowledge, and his native talent are brought into focus and fixed beyond recall the moment the shutter of his camera has closed.”

Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz Camera Work
Alfred Stieglitz The Steerage
Alfred Stieglitz -The Steerage
Alfred Stieglitz Georgia Okeeffes Hands
Alfred Stieglitz Georgia O'Keeffe's Hands

2. Alfred Stieglitz 1864 – 1946 – Some say he’s the spiritual father of fine art photography. Founded Camera Work, a quarterly journal, considered to be the best and most beautiful photo magazine ever made. Created a series of photos that only depicted clouds without any other reference points, called Equivalents, which can be seen as the start of fine-art in photography. Later on, Minor White wrote a famous essay on Equivalents, explaining Stieglitz’ concepts behind Equivalents. The clouds as subject matter didn’t matter, it was the feeling conveyed and the symbolism that mattered. Stieglitz was also a friend of Steichen and co-founder of the Photo-Secession, a movement that promoted fine art photography. Creator of iconic photographs like the Steerage, Spring Showers and several series of portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe

Back in 2007 on a episode of the Antiques Roadshow, a collection of 23 issues of Camera Work was valued at a price of $ 60,000 to $ 90,000. You can view the entire collection of images that Camera Work published on photogravure.com.

Quote: “It is not art in the professionalized sense about which I care, but that which is created sacredly, as a result of a deep inner experience, with all of oneself, and that becomes ‘art’ in time.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier Bresson Italy, 1952
Henri Cartier Bresson Italy, 1952
Henri Cartier Bresson France, 1932
Henri Cartier Bresson France, 1932
Henri Cartier Bresson, Paris, France, 1952-1953
Henri Cartier Bresson, Paris, France, 1952-1953

3. Henri Cartier Bresson – 1908 – 2004 – Street photographer, photo-essayist, co-founder of Magnum photography. H-C B coined “The Decisive moment” to reflect that there’s a unique moment in photography when everything falls into place for the perfect composition to express a meaningful message. It’s highly intuitive and it cannot be repeated. Bresson was a master at that and created many iconic photographs that expressed this “Decisive moment’ and hereby elevating street or candid photography to an art form. Many street photographers after him have tried to capture the Decisive moment photograph, but only a few succeeded. One of them who should be mentioned is Andre Kertesz from whom Bresson gained inspiration. Kertesz called his Decisive Moment, “The delayed snapshot”.

Quote: “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy”

Robert Capa
Robert Capa The Falling Soldier
Robert Capa The Falling Soldier
Robert Capa Belgium 1944
Robert Capa Belgium 1944
Robert Capa Germany 1945
Robert Capa Germany 1945

4. Robert Capa – 1913 – 1954 – War photographer, photo-essayist, co-founder of Magnum. His most famous, and at the same time a disturbing and iconic photograph, is a photo of the Spanish Civil war that depicts a man at the moment he’s being shot to death, called The Falling Soldier. The term Generation X was coined by Capa, who used it as a title for a photo-essay. During the first Indochina war, while being commissioned for a photo reportage of that war, he stepped on a landmine and became one of the casualties of one of the wars he documented so successfully.

Quote: “It’s not always easy to stand aside and be unable to do anything except record the sufferings around one.”

Ansel Adams and camera
(c) Ansel Adams, Aspens, New Mexico 1958
Ansel Adams Moonrise Hernandez New Mexico
Ansel Adams Moonrise Hernandez New Mexico
Ansel Adams Mt McKinley Wonder Lake
Ansel Adams Mt McKinley Wonder Lake

5. Ansel Adams 1902 – 1984. Arguably one of the best known American photographers. The way we perceive and assess a black and white photograph up to this day, is largely formed by Ansel Adams’ contributions for elevating black and white photography to an art form. The term zone system was invented by him and he described how a good black and white should look like: good coverage of all tonal zones and a result of perceiving a scene in his mind’s eyes: visualization. His knowledge and teachings are documented in a 3 Volume book called “The Camera”,