Photographers have used their cameras to capture moments of history and share them with the world. These images can often be eye-opening, and some have even been the catalyst for change.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the greatest photographers in history. Their work continues to inspire, and their legacy will live on.
1. Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz (January 1, 1864 – January 24, 1924), an American promoter, artist, curator, and publisher, worked tirelessly to elevate photography into a recognized shape of art. He used his gallery, aptly named 291 after its address in New York City, as a platform to showcase works from photographers and painters alike. He also established himself as an expert in the medium and was responsible for organizing numerous pioneering exhibitions.
Although initially trained as an engineer, Stieglitz bought his first camera in 1882 and began taking vistas of the German landscape. His appetite for the medium soon overtook his engineering studies and he dedicated himself to experimentation with photographic processes, exposures, and photochemical techniques. His work soon gained recognition when he published photos in a British journal called the Amateur Photographer.
In 1890 Stieglitz moved back to New York and immediately redirected his efforts toward the promotion of photography as an artistic medium. He founded and edited the influential journals Camera Notes and Camera Work and led the Pictorialist photography movement, advocating that the medium should be considered a form of artistic expression as legitimate as painting and sculpture.
Stieglitz’s own photographs were often ethereal in nature and captured themes and moods through the use of geometric patterns and impacts of great contrast. In his later work, he was inspired by the figurative style of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, and the two became an artistic duo.
In this photograph, From the Back Window at 291, Stieglitz captures a nighttime scene in New York City, featuring a skyline and various sources of artificial light. According to Zilczer, the image demonstrates Stieglitz’s technical mastery in exploring atmospherics while still retaining a Pictorialist feel.
2. Ansel Adams
Adams’ work has influenced generations of photographers. His famous images of Yosemite are the images that people envision when they think of America’s landscapes. He was also a proponent of conservation and the preservation of wilderness areas. He was an activist and helped to change public opinion of National Parks from being resorts to places that were protected for their beauty and natural resources. Like other prominent photographers of the era such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, he used his photography to address issues in American life.
Born in San Francisco to a family of wealthy business owners, Adams developed a passion for exploration and beauty at an early age. His interest in photography was sparked by trips to the Sierra Nevada and the coast. His fascination with the mountains led him to study the wilderness and develop his skills in hiking and survival techniques.
By the mid 1920s, Adams gave up his dreams of being a concert pianist to devote his life to photography. He honed his technique and published articles in various photography magazines such as Camera Craft. This fueled his reputation and made him an expert on photographic technique. He created his famous Zone System, a method of exposure that allows for different shades of black and white on a print.
In 1930, he became established and began to make a living through commercial photography assignments, lectures and the sale of prints. He worked hard to maintain his artistic integrity but often felt that the demands of a career in photography stifled his creativity at times. He was one of the founders of Group f/64 with Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston.
3. Diane Arbus
Arbus worked as a fashion model in New York City until 1957, when she and her husband Allan decided to make photography their sole occupation. He continued to run their fashion studio, and she began exploring subjects of her own choosing. After completing a workshop with Alexey Brodovitch, she studied photography history and enrolled in a class taught by Lisette Model, who recognized her keen instincts as a documentary photographer. She focused on people living on the fringes of society, including asylum inmates, midgets and nudists. Her own evident intimacy with her extraordinary subjects gave her work a resonating power and made it distinctive.
From 1962 onwards she began to explore portraiture as well, experimenting with a square-format camera and flash lighting to create an effect that is now recognised as a hallmark of her work. Her work with these less conventional subjects made her famous and helped to establish her career as a professional photographer, earning her Guggenheim fellowships in 1963 and 1966.
In the 1960s she also started to receive regular assignments from magazines, photographing prominent figures of the decade, such as F. Lee Bailey and Coretta Scott King, although her personal life was largely unstable, with recurring bouts of depression and hepatitis.
In 1971, when she died by suicide, she was already a well-established figure among serious photographers, with works that evoked a sense of disquieting intimacy. Her exhibitions in MoMa and other venues proved that her pictures had a value beyond the strictly journalistic and commercial realms. Her photographs of a Jewish giant looming over his bespectacled parents, of a retired couple sitting naked in their nudist camp cabin and of a grimacing child clutching a toy hand grenade have become iconic images.
4. Gregory Colbert
One of the world’s best photographers, Gregory Colbert is the creator of Ashes and Snow, an immersive experience that features photographic artworks and films housed in a specially built structure called Nomadic Museum. He has spent years traveling to remote corners of the globe, filming and collaborating with wild animals such as elephants, whales, eagles, sacred ibis, Gyr falcons, rhinoceros hornbills and spotted cheetahs.
His photographs are hypnotic and convey an air of serenity that is at once dreamlike and natural. They are meant to capture a time when the bond between man and nature was a partnership rather than a tyrannical exercise in profit. His work reveals the long-lost bond between humans and the animals of our planet, and reminds us that we are part of an interconnected universe.
He is one of the few artists who has successfully strayed from commercial photography and created an oeuvre that is genuinely awe-inspiring. Other notable names include William Eggleston, the pioneer of color photography whose images of peppers, sea shells and cabbage leaves blur the lines between the erotic and mundane. Henri Cartier-Bresson, famed for his wartime photographs, is another renowned name from the golden age of photojournalism.
Annie Leibovitz, a celebrity photographer who has captured some of the most iconic figures of our time, is also considered to be among the top five. Her ability to capture the essence of her subjects is unmatched.
5. Eugenio Requenco
Born in Madrid in May 1968, coinciding with the student protests that echoed across Europe, Recuenco was always a nonconformist at heart. He pursued a career in Fine Arts -painting- and graduated with a BBAA from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, but lack of adequate space prevented him from dedicating himself fully to his work. He then opted for photography and started collaborating with fashion magazines (Vogue Spain, Madame Figaro, Wad, Planet, Vanity Fair, Twill or GQ), as well as advertising agencies, producing captivating commercials that seduce viewers on a global scale.
Highly cinematic in style, his still images are shot on intricately handmade sets and evoke a fantastic combination of fairytale innocence with a dark gothic atmosphere. A true storyteller, Recuenco also translates his sensitivity into short films and video clips (such as the music videos for Rammstein’s Mein Herz Brennt) that allow audiences to immerse themselves in the fantasy-like scenarios that his imagination brings to life.
In 2012, he took part in the creation of the Lavazza calendar and was invited to the US to collaborate with Eric Dover on the set design and staging for the opera “Les Huguenots” at the Fisher Centre in New York City. In the same year he shot his first advertisement spot for Nina Ricci, a collaboration that continues to this day with brands such as Loewe, Freixenet, Mango, Codorniu, Chivas Regal or Regione Campania, to name a few. Recuenco is currently working on his first full-length film. He has exhibited his work in several gallery shows such as at the CEART Tomas y Valiente Art Center in Fuenlabrada, and Berlin’s Camera Work. His “365o” series is a stimulus-flooded oeuvre that uses irony, illusions and pictorial violence to subtly analyse reality and hold up a mirror to society.