After the ability to capture both light and image was finely tuned by Louis Daguerre, the medium now known as photography was introduced to the world in 1839 as a method through which aspects of life that could not be captured, in anything but portrait form, could be seen and lived through again. Though the medium existed in black and white for many years, the introduction of color photography in the early 1900’s altered the possibilities of the lens anew, as did the recent development of digital photography which has given the person behind the camera the ability to capture and manipulate the image like never before.
Photography has been a popular means of expression since it was first released to the public, but the possibility of what the camera can do has changed dramatically since it was created. As an art form that is still relatively new to the scene, the discovery inherent in photography runs the gamut. From the enigmatic fashion photography of Richard Avedon, who popularized the idea of an emotive and active subject, to Henri Cartier-Bresson, who put great emphasis on the moment of action, there have been many trailblazers who have changed the current entirely.
While the possibilities of this art form continue to evolve, the following photographers have managed to maintain their foothold in its path of evolution and command an influence that extends beyond the timelessness of their photographs.
11 Man Ray
Born as Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia in 1890, Ray took an early interest in art, working as a commercial artist and technical illustrator, before he become enchanted with the Dada anti-art movement that surfaced in New York in 1915. After moving to Paris in 1921, he began to emerge, pairing up with the Surrealists and photographing the famous figures of 1930’s Paris like Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Gertrude Stein. It was in 1922 that Ray developed the Rayograph, an art object that was created without a camera by placing a selection of objects onto photographic paper and exposing them to inadvertently create an image. With his singular fusion of aspects of Dada and Surrealism, Man Ray was able to impact the early development of the art form.
10 Helmut Newton
Newton may have dreamed of a career as an actor early on, but it was his “fall back career” that pushed him into the stratosphere. Born in Berlin, Germany on October 31, 1920, Newton’s family left Germany in 1938 due to the harsh measures being taken against Jewish people, which gave way to a few tumultuous years in Newton’s life as he emigrated to Singapore, moved to Australia and joined the Australian Army, dabbling in photography all the while. In 1946, Newton opened his own studio in Melbourne, Australia before he went on to work with British Vogue, French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. While Newton may not be a household name, his employment of fetish elements and erotica pushed fashion photography to the periphery and gave Newton a distinctive body of work before his death on January 23rd, 2004.
9 Frans Lanting
There are few photographers that have been more successful at capturing animals and nature in their truest state but photographer Frans Lanting, born in 1951 in Rotterdam, Netherlands has transcended the possibilities of the everyday animal image. As a photographer-in-residence for National Geographic, Lanting has documented his journeys through locations as far flung as Madagascar, Antarctica and the Amazon Rainforest, unveiling the life and biosphere of a wide range of species. For the important goal of preserving the natural habitats of the animals he photographs, Lanting earned the Royal Order of the Golden Ark in 2001 for his efforts towards conservation.
7 Walker Evans
Born on November 3, 1903, Evans showed an artistic inclination early on, travelling to Paris in 1926 and following the local art scene before coming back to the United States in 1927 and working as a Wall Street clerk. Once photography became a viable profession, Evans went to work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) around 1935 where he captured many of the objects, advertisements and people that inhabited Great Depression era America, particularly in its poor, rural areas. While Evans later worked with Fortune and Time magazine, his influence persists for documenting that period of time in American history with a distinctive candour and clarity.
6 Diane Arbus
Born into the wealthy Nemerov family on March 14, 1923, Arbus found her feet in photography after starting a photography business with Allan Arbus, whom she married in 1941. The couple initially took pictures for fashion magazines together, even doing work for Russek’s, a department store owned by Diane’s parent, but Diane tired of it and took to the streets in the late 1950’s to find her photographic inspiration in the dwarves, drag queens and downtrodden of New York City who were not commonly documented. While the Arbus’s divorced in 1969 and Diane committed suicide in 1971, Arbus has had a marked influence on photography by documenting the outsiders, making a place for them in the photography canon.
5 Robert Frank
Among the most important of American photographers for his ability to capture the nuances and plain truths of American society, Frank was born in Switzerland and emigrated to the United States in 1946. While Frank used photography in his youth as a means to transcend his existence, he found himself unimpressed with the focus on money and business upon arriving in the land of dreams. Winning the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation grant in 1955, Frank took the opportunity to travel throughout the country, taking more than 28,000 pictures, 83 of which would end up in his book The Americans (1959). While Frank did not find the America he expected, the uncharacteristic cropping of his photos and his documentary style of photography has wielded a profound influence on the honesty and capacity of the art form in the United States.
4 Richard Avedon
Developing his first inkling of love for photography and fashion from his mother who owned the dress shop Avedon’s Fifth Avenue, Richard Avedon, born on May 15th, 1923, started out taking identification photos for the Merchant Marines in 1942. After studying with Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch, his photographs began to appear in magazines showing a new kind of image, one with an emotive, accessible and sometimes moving subject that was far removed from the relatively distant subjects of that time. While Avedon had a political conscience and documented many of the controversial activists of the 1960’s, his legendary influence on fashion photography and the portrait changed the trajectory of the image before he passed away in 2004.
3 Ansel Adams
Probably the most widely known figure in nature photography, Ansel Adams is famously known for his black and white images of the natural wilderness. Born in 1902, Adams was inspired early on by the dramatic scenery of San Francisco where he developed an early love for and fascination with nature. At the age of 17, Adams joined the Sierra Club, the first environmental organization of its kind, honing his skills, taking pictures for the newsletter and finally breaking through with his portfolio Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras in 1927. Though Adams was often criticized for not venturing beyond nature photography, his love of it has managed to preserve many of the landscapes he so cherished and made for a compelling tribute to the majesty of nature.
2 Henri Cartier-Bresson
Raised in the context of French bourgeois society, Bresson, born on August 22, 1908, was expected to go into the family business before his interest in art took hold. While Bresson learned much of the theory behind photography under artist André Lhote, he became frustrated with theory and took off to Côte d'Ivoire, Africa where he began to understand his artistic aspirations. Calling it The Decisive Moment, he became a passionate purveyor of seizing the action of life in the lens of his Leica 35 mm. After returning to France, he travelled extensively around the world, giving rise to the concept of photojournalism by capturing the Spanish Civil War, the Berlin Wall and even the aftermath of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. While Bresson passed away in 1995, his distinctive legacy of capturing the moment has made him a true pioneer in photojournalism and photography.
1 Alfred Stieglitz
Born in 1864 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Stieglitz showed great promise in his youth, but it wasn’t until his family moved back to Germany in 1881 that he discovered his interest in photography. Building his familiarity through writing about the technical aspects of the medium, Stieglitz soon developed a following. Upon returning to the United States in 1890, he joined The Camera Club of New York where he wielded his influence, promoting photography as a true art form. However, by 1902 he had tired of the old way of doing things and broke from the club, kick-starting the Photo-Secession movement and promoting it through Gallery 291. While Stieglitz’s ideas of photography were continually changing throughout his life, his dedication to enhancing the medium pushed it to the forefront as its own fine art and gave photography much of the prominence it has today.