Top 10 Famous and Important Photographers

10. Carol Guzy

Carol Guzy

Carol Guzy was a ‘regular girl’ from small town America, having obtained a nursing degree and planned a career on the wards – until she was given a camera by a friend. Changing tack, she returned to school, leaving a few years later with an associate’s degree in applied science in photography. She worked her way from the Miami Herald to the Washington Post, winning awards for her clear, precisely timed images from 1990 (Newspaper Photographer of the Year). She is one of only four people to win four Pulitzer Prizes, and she puts her empathy down to her degree in nursing, saying ‘It helped me gain an understanding of human suffering and an incredible sensitivity to it. I know that without this background, my photography would have a totally different edge.’

9. George Brassaï

George Brassaï

Brassai was the pseudonym of Hungarian photographer, writer, filmmaker and sculptor. His real name was Gyula Halasz and he was born in Romania. When he was three, the family lived in Paris for a year while his father taught at the Sorbonne. Halasz studied painting and sculpture at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Art and cited Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as one of his greatest influences. Living in Paris once more, and supporting himself by working as a journalist, Halasz began to roam the streets of his beloved adopted city and found himself drawn to photography. It was at around this time that he began to use the pseudonym ‘Brassai’ as a nod to his birthplace (the word means ‘from Brasso’. He captured the essence of Paris in his photographs, from the seedy, poorer areas all the way to the elite and this brought him acclaim, even seeing some of his work printed in the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar. He died in July 1984, but his work has survived, being the subject of an exhibition as recently as 2012.

8. Jay Maisel

kind of blue jay maisel

Jay Maisel has lived and worked in and around New York from birth. His range of work shows the growth and secrets of New York as seen through the eyes of one who has known and watched the city for over 60 years and each image, some of which can be deceptively simple, speaks volumes to anyone interested enough to study it. It is no small surprise that Maisel has received a bushel of awards for his oeuvre, including induction to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Media Photographers and the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography. He lives, with his family in a 72-room, six storey mansion, the former Germania Bank Building in lower Manhattan. He paid a mere US$102,000 for the building in 1966, an investment that has multiplied its value many, many times over the years, a move that New York Magazine has called ‘maybe the greatest real estate coup of all time.’

7. Jerry Uelsmann

Uelsmann

A man before his time, Uelsmann specialises in surreal photographic images, often made from multiple negatives at once. He often reuses images from other photographs, making an image the primary focus in one picture and a mere background detail in another. While the advent of Photoshop and other similar photographic manipulation software has meant that quite amateur photographers can emulate his style, producing intricate and detailed images in just a few hours, Uelsmann pioneered his award-winning technique using old-fashioned analogue equipment and film, a process that he still uses today, despite being fully au fait with digital photography. In those less cynical times, photographs were considered to be truthful representations and his surrealist images garnered him praise and plaudits. His images have been used in movies, television and even books, such as in the opening credits of ‘The Outer Limits’ and the illustrated edition of Stephen King’s vampire tale ‘Salem’s Lot’. Needless to say, his images have featured in a huge number of exhibitions and shows: over one hundred to date. He still works today, taking hundreds of photographs and putting together many images. He then whittles them down to the best ten each year, a lengthy and difficult process.

6. Annie Liebovitz

annie leibovitz

Superficially, Liebovitz seems at first glance to be an artistically inspired celebrity photographer, but deeper study of her works and a moment’s conversation with the lady herself will quickly dismiss this notion. True, her work does feature a great number of those the general public would deem to be ‘celebs’; from Jodie Foster to Meryl Streep to Giselle Bundchen and even John Lennon – but they images themselves are a million miles away of the usual celebrity showcase pictures and nor are they ‘warts and all’ pap-type shots. Whoopi Goldberg is snapped from above in a bath full of milk, Demi Moore is captured fully nude, heavily pregnant and utterly beautiful, Meryl Streep is moments away from removing a facial mask (somehow managing to look stunningly beautiful below the mask!) and John Lennon’s naked vulnerability, wrapped as he is around a fully clothed Yoko Ono show so much more than actors, singers and the faces of their fame. (The latter shot is all the more poignant as John Lennon was shot and killed a mere five hours after the image was captured…)

5. Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange was born to German immigrant parents in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her father abandoned the family when she was just twelve and she contracted polio at the age of seven. The disease left her weakened and with a permanent limp, something that Lange was always fiercely aware of. ‘It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me’, she said, ‘I’ve never gotten over it and am always aware of the force and power of it.’ She studied photography at Columbia University and perfected the craft with a series of informal apprenticeships to existing studios of the time. Her best known photographs are those taken in Japanese internment camps during the Second World War and those taken of victims of the Great Depression, the most famous of which is that of the ‘Migrant Mother’. Her images was printed in newspapers, dramatically bringing the news to a wide swath of the population about the suffering that the fellow countrymen were suffering – in the days before the internet, there was no other way for the information to be disseminated. She died in 1965 at the age of 70, but her images live on today, still informing, entertaining and shocking people all over the world.

4. Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson is considered by many to be the father of photo-journalism. He used the 35mm format and favoured candid shots that captured the flavour and essence of the scene in front of him, without the stilted expression and self-conscious of posed photographs. He was born in Paris to wealthy parents who were more easily able to encourage his early interest in photography, providing him with a Box Brownie camera which he took with him on family holidays. He was also something of an artist, trying his hand at sketching too and attending art school for a time. After a somewhat turbulent and decadent period Cartier-Bresson found himself in Africa where hunting animals taught him many of the techniques that he would later apply to his photography. It was after his return from Africa (where he had almost died from black water fever) that he finally abandoned painting and embraced photography. He was inspired in this when he saw a snap by Hungarian photojournalist Martin Munkacsi. The picture perfectly captured the joy and exuberance of three young boys running into Lake Tanganyika, and this inspired Cartier-Bresson to reach once more for his camera and take to the streets in search of his own perfect moment to immortalise. He worked almost exclusively in black and white, trying his hand, somewhat unsuccessfully, at colour photography. He died in 2004 at the impressive age of 95, having founded the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation along with his wife and daughter in order to preserve and share his legacy.

3. Robert Capa

Robert Capa

While Robert Capa’s photography is of excellent quality; clear, highly detailed images, each with a tale to tell, he was ‘lucky’ enough to be working during the course of not just one or two, but five major conflicts: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II (all across Europe), the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the First Indochina War. He was born Endre Friedman in Budapest and originally wanting to be a writer, found his way to Berlin, where he obtained work as a photographer, and from there to France. With the growing persecution of Jews spreading he changed his name to Robert Capa, an American-sounding name that made it easier for him to sell his photographs. He had a somewhat turbulent love life, with his first fiancée being killed during the Spanish Civil War and his having a number of affairs; at least one with a married woman and another with the Hollywood actress Ingrid Bergman. Capa died in 1954 at the age of 40, leaving behind a huge body of work in the form of pictures and negatives.

2. Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh was born in Turkey, during the Armenian Genocide, a blood-sodden period which saw him lose relatives to massacres and his sister to starvation. When he was sixteen, the young Yousuf was sent to an uncle in Canada for his own safety. His uncle was a photographer and saw promise in his nephew’s early work, arranging an apprenticeship for him with one of the portrait photography greats of the time, John Garo. Following his setting up shop as a portrait photographer, Karsh slowly rose in fame and skill and many of his works are instantly recognisable, featuring John F Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller and Dwight Eisenhower – and many, many more instantly recognisable and historically important figures. His portraits perfectly freeze his subjects, with his habit of separately lighting their hands giving each image a depth of drama that is hard to turn away from.

1. Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

Unusually on this list, but topping it nevertheless, Ansel Adams specialised in landscape shots in which the world seems ethereal and unpopulated. Adams was a keen environmentalist and his love of the world is so beautifully captured in his photographs that they are often used in contemporary calendars, even today, some 30 years after his death. Born to wealthy parents in San Francisco California, the family moved to a new home, just in time for the 1906 earthquake! The four-year Ansel was uninjured by the main quake, but was tossed into a garden wall by an aftershock, some three hours later, breaking his nose and causing a distinctive look that was with his throughout his life. He loved music all his life, and before he discovered photography was a gifted pianist. Once he did discover photography, he decided that his life, whether as a photographer or as a musician, was to ‘reveal beauty to others’ – something that he can be satisfied that he achieved during his lifetime and enduring on to today and beyond. He published a vast number of books during his life, many of which feature his works, but also others sharing his knowledge and expertise with the world.

    1. Lewis Jones September 19, 2014

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