50 Great Photographers
As with my lists of movies, books, music, et al, I don’t pretend that this is a complete list of the best photographers in history — it’s just the ones I like the best.
Henry Peach Robinson (England, 1830 – 1901) — I like to think of Robinson, a British photographer, as the 19th century precursor to Jerry Yulesman. Robinson was an innovator of printing multiple negatives onto the same piece of photographic paper. He was preceded by some others, including Oscar Rejlander. But I really like Robinson’s work. (Uelsmann, of course, in the 1960s and onward, perfected the technique using a series of Besller 23-C enlargers, a technique I learned myself from one of his students, Chuck Hashim, in Miami years ago). Anyway, Robinson’s photos such as his famous “Fading Away,” are startling for their surreal (if not morbid) effect. And he certainly laid down the law on montage before many a 20th century artiste. A graphic novel using the basic look & feel of Robinson’s photos would not be amiss. It might have removed some of the tedium of trying to slog through From Hell.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (France, 1908 – 2004) — Bresson is, of course, one of the most famous photographers of the 20th century, and rightly so. He is the “inventor” of the phrase, “the decisive moment.” In a nutshell, it implies that would should click the shutter at just the precise moment, not a half-second before or after, to catch life in mid breath. Well, he certainly did it enough time to a.) knock your socks off, and b.) make you wonder if just once or twice, such as in the famous photo of a fellow jumping over a puddle of water that reflects him, if the photographer did pay somebody to perform the captured moment (perhaps more than once to get it right). Nonetheless, Bresson, a former artist who turned to photography, liked to say he imagined his photos as drawings before he took them. It’s helpful advice. If you do image a photo as finished while you are composing it in the viewfinder, you do tend to get better pics — and this alone will separate you from 99.9 percent of the hairless apes carrying cameras (and phone cameras!) around these days. When I wrote my book on two of Fidel Castro’s photographers in the ’90s, Roberto Salas said that he spent a day shooting with Cartier-Bresson in the 1960s. He said when he saw Bresson’s photos in Life magazine, they blew his away. And Roberto was an outstanding photographer. There are only about 100 Bresson photos I love. Ha-ha. He also never printed any of his own stuff. Hey, if you’re good at something and you know it, why gild the lily?
Diane Arbus (U.S.) — I always loved the photographs of Diane Arbus, from the time, as a 15-year-old, I found a book or magazine that featured her “circus” pictures, a man driving a nail up his nose with a hammer, and a female sword-swallower laying back against a Big Top tent, her arms spread as if crucified, and a Arthurian sword crammed down her throat. One day at college, some six years later, I walked into the ground-floor gallery at our campus main library, and the first thing I saw was the picture at right, of a young boy with a toy hand grenade in a New York park. It’s a perfect picture. The strap of his overalls fallen down, his free hand contorted, the stick-like legs and off-kilter placement of feet, and that look that is half childish play acting and half mania. Of course, by the time I stumbled upon this print in the school gallery, I had already become familiar with the photo many times before, and dozens of other Arbus photos from books. But I had never seen an actual print by her before. I spent an hour looking at her photos in the university show, over and over again. So many of my favorites were there, the picture of the two-dark-haired twins, the “king and queen,” the giant at home with his normal-sized parents. Images that, like all truly great photographs, are seared in your memory. Arbus was one of the most impressive U.S. photographers of all time. Somebody told me that Nicole Kidman starred in a biopic of Arbus’ life; but the prospects of seeing such a Hollywood treatment are too horrible for me to ever want to witness that. I love Arbus’ photos too much for that. She killed herself in 1972. As the dudes who perfected Latin had it (and they usually got such things right), “Ars longa, vita brevis.”
Garry Winogrand (U.S.) 1928-1984 — Winogrand has been called the King of the Street Photographers, and for good reason. His black-and-white 1950s to 1970s photography capture American tableau unvarnished, but with an artist’s eye. The lighting is always perfect, and the compositions, even when cluttered with detail, have a definitive point of focus: that’s where you attention goes. And it’s almost always sad. Winogrand, who had bore an uncanny resemblance to Al Franken (decades prior to that comic’s appearance on television) always captured his own decisive moments: always always baldly telling of the startling amid the quotidian: whether it was beehived women walking with sexual strut down a street where a contorted man sits in a wheelchair, or a stripper appearing to eat her own foot in her own contorted pose. I really love his picture of a dancing couple at El Morocco in New York (1955), where in the woman looks like an insane vampire. It was exactly that kind of telling moment that Winogrand did better than anyone. I sometimes think he’d have made a terrific unit photographer for those unclean/fantastic “sunlit noirs” that Hollywood ground out in the 1970s (such as Point Blank, or more to the point, Prime Cut). He’s a treasure. Sorry he’s gone.
Eliott Erwitt (France) — Erwitt is one of my favorite “modern” photographers. His black-and-white picture of a little, crazed dog at a woman’s feet on the streets of New York City (1946) has stayed with me. And I I have subconsciously taken photos that had the same tone over the years, by happenstance (that and the fact that I carried a Nikkormat loaded with Ilford XP2 rated at 1600 over my shoulder for about five years straight, wherever I went. Came in handy, too. Erwitt …
Bruce Davidson (U.S.) — One of my favorite images of his is right out of a Bruce Springsteen song (long before it was written: “girls comb their hair in rear view mirrors, and boys try to look so hard”).
Emmett Gowan — Southern Photographer …
Brassai (France) 1899-1984
Weegee (Austria) 1899-1968
Jeanloup Sieff (France) 1933-2000 —Primarily a fashion and celebrity photographer, Sieff had a gorgeous tonal range with his black and white photography that made everything look far more wonderful that it must have been (or, as Alex says, in A Clockwork Orange, funny how it only looked real when seen on the screen; or, in this case the photos).Sieff also always made nudity look beautiful, never cheap. He also, besides getting celebs to take their clothes off and not embarrassing them, took some surreal famous-people photos (such as his picture of Alfred Hitchcock sneaking up on a model to scare her in the shadow of the “Psycho” house. And his portrait of Serge Gainsbourg is probably the best photo ever taken of that French genius with the perpetual 5 o’clock shadow.
Bill Brandt (U.S.) — ksadjfklasjalf
Sebastiao Salgado (Brazil) 1944-
Michael K. Brown
Mary Ellen Mark (U.S.) — One of the great documentary photographers of the 20th century, Mary Ellen Mark also did wonderful, soulful portraits of Hollywood celebrities and writers. As vacant and dead-looking as Richard Avedon made people look, that’s how alive Mark made them seem. I used to cherish my big, coffee table book of American cinema directors — portraits by Mark. I left that, along with some several hundred other film books with my photographer buddy, Bud Lee, when I moved to the West Coast. One of my favorite Mark photographs is her chilling double-portrait of two homeless Seattle kids, one putting an automatic in his jacket. What a photographer!
Robert Freeman (????) — Freeman was the first great, early photographer of the Beatles after they hit the big time. He took the signature black-and-white portrait of the boy for their first, Meet the Beatles, LP. That pic makes the Fab Four look like something out of a silent German film. (A tribute to their days in Germany?) Freeman also shot that cool fish-eyed-lens image on Rubber Soul and more.
Robert Doisneau (France) 1912-1994
Leni Riefenstahl (Germany) 1902-2003 — Say what you will about the questionable taste of hanging out with Adolph Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl was a genius actress, filmmaker and photographer. salkjflkasjf
Bert Stern (U.S.) 1929- Bert Stern was immortalized for having done the final “sitting” with Marilyn Monroe. I have always considered his pictures of Marilyn the most honest and saddest ever taken of her.
Eddie Adams (U.S.) — The combat photogapher took one of three most memorable photographs from the U.S. “conflict” with Vietnam (the other two are of the children running from the massacre at Mi Lai, and the photo of a monk burning himself alive. This photo shows (in 1968, the year the shit hit the fan at the Chicago National Convention that winter) Saigon police chief Lt. Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Loan getting ready to shoot Nguyen Van Lem, a Viet Cong. The picture has been described as being one of the pivot points in Americans starting to demand — en masse — that American involvement in the war in Vietnam be ended.
Jerry Uelsmann (U.S.) — Having started this wrap-up of photographers with Henry Peach Robinson, I would imagine a huge inspiration on Uelsmann (who also was taught/influenced by Minor White), I thought it only fair to end my assessment with a mention of Uelsmann. My first college photography teacher, Chuck Hashim, in Miami, had been a student of both Minor White and Uelsmann. He had a print of this “floating tree,” which he brought in for us to look at. I want to tell you, the thing was stunning. It as created, as were so many Uelsmann surrealist images, by printing multiple negatives onto the same piece of photographic paper, one exposure at a time. The negatives were in different Bessler 23C enlargers, and moved from set-up to set-up under the safe lights. We learned and monkeyed around with this technique in college. I always thought that Kubrick was referencing this image in his opening shot of The Shining, where he shows the island (the family unit that will fall apart) floating in the middle of a lake, and then skewing the camera to suggest madness: summing up the movie in the very first shot.
ROCK PHOTOGAPHERS — kasjfkljsafl