If you look to learn about famous modern photographers, you’ve come to the right place. Because in this article will look at some of the most famous photographers of the contemporary era.
To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.
Famous Modern Photographers
Here is a list of 14 famous modern photographers who have significantly impacted contemporary photography.
1. Alexey Titarenko (1962- )
Born in 1962 in Leningrad, USSR, now Saint Petersburg, Russia, Alexey Titarenko is a modern photographer influenced by the Russian avant-garde works of Alexander Rodchenko and Kazimir Malevich as well as the Dada art movement.
At the age of 15, Titarenko became the youngest member of the independent photography club Zerkalo and graduated with honors from the prestigious Department of Cinematic and Photographic Art at Leningrad’s Institute of Culture.
His most iconic work, which is best known as the City of Shadows, is an exploration of urban spots during and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and 1992. These images began in and around the only public transportation system of the time—the train system. In the City of Shadows, Titarenko captures the human condition of ordinary people in a metaphorical way thanks to his concepts, style, and technique. Many of his images are created with long exposures and intentional camera movement, both of which he continues to use today in his social photography.
One of the most important things to mention about Titarenko’s fine work is that he crafts everything from the initial concept to the printing, which gives his final work an even finer quality. For me, Titarenko is proof that limitations burst creativity in astounding ways. Consider this—while working on City of Shadows in the Soviet Union, he had limited access to photographic resources like film and paper, yet he still managed to create such a tremendous body of work by turning those limitations into photographic advantages.
You can delight yourselves by viewing his work on his official website. If you have the opportunity to invest in a book, I highly recommend The City is a Novel, which includes City of Shadows and other works throughout cities like Havana and Venice.
You can delight yourselves with his work at his official website, and if you have the opportunity to invest in a book, I highly recommend to get yourselves a copy of The City is a Novel, which includes the work of The City of Shadows, and more work from other cities like Havana, and Venice.
Alexey Titarenko Books
Alexey Titarenko On the Web:
– Official website
– Nailya Alexander Gallery
– Soviet Union’s Scary City of Shadows by Alexey Titarenko
2. Chema Madoz (1958 – )
Born in Madrid as Jose María Rodríguez Madoz, Chema Madoz is a renowned modern photographer known for his black and white surreal images. But, he first considered himself an arranger and, only later, a photographer. At the heart of his work, Madoz creates visual poetry, freshly extracted from his imagination with ordinary objects that he expertly arranges into mind-blowing compositions.
The great simplicity of his images is Madoz’s beautiful trick because his art is exceptionally easy to digest and appreciate. His creations make us feel guilty for not being able to see the obvious that he so naturally portrays. Through the combination of elements and shapes, Madoz creates both suggestive and visually strong images with exceptional personality and poetical force. His images go beyond surrealism and abstraction and, for me, are purely visual metaphors. He is truly in love with the possibilities that objects can offer, and his arrangements—most of which are photographed later with medium format film—are firm evidence of this belief.
There is little else to say about his technique beyond his adequate use of film and his keen eye that lends itself to his careful and passionate printing work. The best way to understand his work is to contemplate it more than simply seeing it. He is, without a doubt, my favorite still-life artist because he can see far beyond the every day and the ordinary. He is a visual poet whose work will delight you—just take a look for yourself here!
Chema Madoz Books
3. Trey Ratcliff (1971 – )
Born in Dallas, Texas as a self-described warm-hearted, old-school gentleman and explorer with really cool toys, Trey Ratcliff is an urban and landscape photographer who achieves his great passion for high tonal ranges and saturated pictures with HDR development.
Ratcliff’s style is important because he documents his explorations through his camera, giving a completely tangible sense of adventure. He crafts HDR images, and although it is not a style for everyone, his images are stellar examples of valuable and careful consistency.
For me personally, there is only one rule to follow to create beautiful HDR images, and that is to stay inside the thin scope between Tonal Range Enhancement and Unreal Looks. Landscapes crave to be photographed, but they also demand respect in terms of things that can and cannot be done later in editing. Ratcliff feels this respect for nature and aesthetics but still manages to create breathtaking urban and natural landscapes.
Trey Ratcliff Books
4. Iurie Belegurschi (1982 – )
Iceland is, without a doubt, one of the most desired and sought-after destinations for landscape photographers. It is the Holy Grail of the discipline and the ultimate destination for adventure-seeking tourists. Perhaps that’s the main reason why Moldovan photographer Iurie Belegurschi moved to Reykjavik in 2006 with the hopes of studying tourism and hospitality. After settling down in the city, he founded what is now the biggest agency in Iceland—the Photography Workshops Travel Agency.
His passion for photography and tourism has been a wonderful venture for Iceland and landscape photographers around the world. His work has made Iceland one of the most popular photography destinations around the globe. An entrepreneur at heart, Belegurschi has maneuvered his passion into a sustainable business with his mind-blowing and jaw-dropping landscapes published worldwide in books, calendars, ad campaigns, commercials, and newspapers, not to mention the realm of social media. People trust his workshops because of the fine quality of his own images and his expertise as a teacher.
His images are masterpieces of nature photography and are both tributes to and assets of today’s modern world because of his keen ability to capture wild landscapes inaccessible to many people.
5. Sohail Karmani
Sohail Karmani is a part-time photographer from London who is currently based at New York University in Abu Dhabi as a full-time writing professor. His images are both bold and incredibly human as he shows a profound respect for people after refining his social skills to approach complete strangers on the streets, rapidly gain their trust, and earn their permission to photograph them.
He is currently working on an ongoing exploration of his own ancestral hometown of Sahiwal in Punjab, Pakistan. Although he’s only visited his hometown a handful of times, he’s made the most of each visit and has produced stunning portraits that he shares through his Flickr account and on his personal website. The images share common threads of the beauty and humanity of ordinary and kind people.
His images have consistency in terms of lighting, composition, and posing. All of them can be categorized as “Street Environmental Portraits”, with a careful composition that maintains the eyes of the subjects as the prime subject in many cases. His scope has hues of candid street photography as well and is currently working on some monochrome conversions of earlier work. His work could be easily compared to the great Documentary Photographer Steve McCurry (he even got the chance to photograph the man with the same consistency of all his work).
Karmani’s images are consistent in terms of lighting, composition, and posing. They are categorized as “Street Environmental Portraits” with a careful composition that focuses primarily on the subjects’ eyes. His work also features the hues of candid street photographers and could easily be compared to the great documentary photographer, Steve McCurry, who he also got the chance to photograph.
Sohail Karmani Books
6. Marc Adamus
Unforgettable Wilderness Photography—that’s how Marc Adamus describes his own imagery and, trust me, he is absolutely right!
A young landscape photographer currently based in Western North America, Adamus’ love for wilderness is evident in his body of work as a full-time landscape photographer constantly pursuing the wildest nature imaginable at its purest state. His passion for the wilderness has attracted a vast audience around the world and his style is unmistakable as he depicts the most epic moments of true nature.
Marc’s images have been published extensively worldwide in a variety of media from calendars, books, and advertisements to several issues of National Geographic. He seeks to express his own feelings evoked by the locations he visits and explores while attempting to embody the empathy from the viewer’s standpoint toward his experience of being fully immersed in the wild.
Adamus embodies one true tenet of photography and that is patience. The more patience photographers put toward the sublime pursuit of great landscape photography, the more the landscapes unveil themselves to them. Landscape photography is not the landscape simply waiting for you to capture it in passing, instead, landscapes beg you to forget about the modern world and reconnect with the roots of humanity of sharing life with the wild in an unthreatening manner.
With his work evolving over the years, Adamus has pulled out the best of professional film and digital formats. He currently shoots only in digital and has made a clear statement about the importance of post-processing, much like Ansel Adams did in decades prior. For Adamus and Adams, what happens in the camera is just the canvas for the beautiful masterpiece that happens later in a photographer’s editing workflow.
Of course, the better quality the canvas, the less struggle there is in the RAW development stages of the editing workflow.
Marc Adamus Books
7. Laura Wilson (1939 – )
Still active today after 40 years in the industry, Laura Wilson might not be the best known but she is one of the finest and most significant American photographers of modern times. She got her start as Richard Avedon’s research assistant for his famous work In the American West, in which he detached from celebrities to focus on ordinary people. Since then, she’s spent the last 25 years documenting present-day cowboys in ranches throughout West Texas and Montana.
Her depictions of these modern-day cowboys are published in four books where she uncovers the strength of these men, their traditions and their code of behavior, all of which are vital parts of their cowboy heritage. The books can be found on her website and include:
- Watt Matthews of Lambshead (1989)
- Hutterites of Montana (1990)
- Avedon at Work: In the American West (2003)
- Grit and Glory: Six-Man Football (2003)
The books are documentary works that reflect her curiosity in exploring a worthy state of men with Avedon at Work documenting Avedon’s creative process, working methods and backstage findings, all of which she uncovered while working as his assistant for six years.
Related: Top Famous Female Photographers
One of my favorite pictures of Wilson is this one, which is a behind-the-scenes snapshot from Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, which shows a very charismatic Owen Wilson, who happens to be her son.
Laura Wilson Books
8. John Free
A social documentary and street photographer, John Free is a living legend. Currently based in Los Angeles, his photographic essays range from railroad tramps in California and automobile abstracts to street life in London and Paris. He trusts his love of photography to his Nikon F3 which, for me, is a great example of how important it is to always carry a camera with you because you will never see Free without his trusty camera in hand.
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Free has a contagious soul and often shares his invaluable wisdom on his YouTube channel. He has severely critiqued academic systems that charge high tuition and discourage rather than encourage people to practice their passion. This unfortunate reality of photography schools inspired Free to craft his own visionary photography workshops around what he believes is the most important facets of photography—passion, and practice.
One thing he critiques the most is that those who are quick to discourage students rarely show their own work. I assume this unraveling idea is the reason why he shares his images so freely with the world.
Free’s anecdotes are the best evidence I can find of the importance of passionately pursuing photography. He believes that, regardless of skill, we as photographers must study the same things over and over to improve our craft. He teaches us that we are always students and never masters. Sharing his vision through his workshops, he teaches us to be aware of the time element in street photography which, according to Free, is what governs the discipline and is also the most difficult to master.
He’s created meaningful and compelling photographs from everyday life situations that can, of course, be found anywhere in the world because the true nature of street photography is to capture meaning in the ordinary, daily situations of human life. Free teaches us about surviving in the real world while photographing strangers at close range—he teaches us about respect and the social skills required of all street photographers. Free’s work embodies the artistry behind street photography and the constantly vanishing moments that so many of us seek to capture.
You can read more from Free’s blog here and you can enjoy his galleries here.
9. William Wegman (1943 – )
Repeatedly studying William Wegman’s work and allowing yourself to be surprised by his portrayal of personification and humor, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that the universe offers an endless amount of possibilities even in its most singular forms. Let me explain.
Wegman is best known for his evolving series of images involving his dogs—Weimaraners. Using only his dogs as his subjects, Wegman is an extraordinary contemporary artist who works with a limited subject and has still managed to produce a tremendous body of work.
Originally intending to pursue a career as a painter, Wegman settled into photography and, by the 1970s, saw his work showcased in several galleries including the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Düsseldorf, which is near the famous Düsseldorf School of Photography. Since then, his work has been on display in numerous galleries and museums including The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Centre Georges Pompidou.
I love dogs and so does he!
William Wegman Books
10. Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989)
Robert Mapplethorpe was an American photographer who’s known for his treatment of controversial subject matter with a highly stylized black and white medium. His work includes a broad selection of subjects from himself and celebrities to nudes and still-life images of flowers. His most controversial piece is that of New York City’s underground BDSM scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. You can see this eerie work on the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation website.
Apart from his controversial portraits, his work centered on still-life images of flowers—tulips, lilies, orchids, poppies and Alcatraz flowers—throughout the end of the 1970s to a few months prior to his death in 1989.
The year he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, he took a noticeably different photograph of dying flowers that contrasted with his typical portrayal of spotless blooms. This image serves as a delicate metaphor of his own decaying health and became a symbol of immortality in his later work. The piece is currently part of the collection at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York.
Three of his quotes—shown here with intended poetry-like structure—reveal the ideas behind his controversial and bold body of work:
“I am obsessed with beauty. I want everything to be perfect, and of course, it isn’t. And that’s a tough place to be because you’re never satisfied”.
“Beauty and the devil are the same things”.
“When I work, and in my art, I hold hands with God”.
Robert Mapplethorpe Books
11. Ralph Gibson (1939 – )
A living American photographer is best known for his editorial work, Ralph Gibson has a knack for building a narrative with continuous undertones of the mysterious and erotic. His work is sometimes about the perfect and basic details that, when seen or unseen in context, speak volumes about the image itself.
Gibson’s images often have a surreal juxtaposition that is both subtle and elegant. His frames are stellar examples of gestaltism thanks to the effect he evokes when simply showing key elements inside the frame.
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His work is often described as a combination of the nature of street photography and the possibility of still-life. You can lose yourself in the endless river of images on his official website. Please, if you don’t know his work, treat yourself!
Ralph Gibson Books
12. Hiroshi Sugimoto (1948 – )
Born in Tokyo, Hiroshi Sugimoto is an active fine art photographer who currently divides his time between Tokyo and New York. His catalog of work features several series, each of which has distinct themes and similar attributes.
Given his first camera at 12 years old, he studied politics and sociology at Rikkyō University in 1974 but later retrained as an artist and earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Afterward, he settled in New York City and started working as a Japanese antiquities dealer in Soho.
During this time, he began work on his Dioramas series, which was inspired by what he saw at the American Museum of Natural History of New York. Two years later, he started the Theaters series, which is a unique and beautiful study of both the screens and the architecture of such places with the screens depicted in their true essences as dreamy, timeless and pure white.
He has worked with many subjects with some of his most renowned works recognized by his minimalist and gradient-like seascapes. They all show a symmetrical duality between the sea and sky with a carefully and perfectly captured horizon. Some of his seascapes have been shot at normal shutter speeds of 1/30 sec or 1/60 sec and retain the wavy texture of the sea while others are long exposures that show a polished-like surface of both the sea and sky.
Hiroshi Sugimoto Books
13. Fan Ho (1937 – 2016)
A great Chinese photographer and filmmaker, the world is still mourning the loss of Fan Ho after his death in 2016. Easily among the greatest, the celebrated Chinese photographer collected over 280 awards from international exhibitions and worldwide competitions since getting his start in photography in 1956.
He received a TLR Rolleiflex camera from his father at 13 years old and was instantly entranced by the artistry, which triggered his passion for photography at an early age. By the 1950s, he moved to Hong Kong and began documenting the city’s street life while building his reputation as one of Asia’s most influential photographers as well as one of the top photographers in the world.
He visited a dozen universities in Taiwan and Hong Kong as a visiting professor and taught students the art of filmmaking and photography. What a gift for students to learn from such a passionate and talented photographer and filmmaker! He authored five books and talked about his history and philosophy behind photography and filmmaking here.
Three of his films received the Official Selection of the prestigious International Film Festivals of Cannes, Berlin and San Francisco and five of his films belong to the Permanent Collection of the National Film Archives in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
His cultural background made his style incredibly unique, lyrical, dramatic and poetic. Today, many of his amazing street photographs can be found on his official website.
Fan Ho Books
14. Andreas Gursky (1955 – )
A German photographer who studied at the famous Kunstakademie Düsseldorf between 1981 and 1987, Andreas Gursky continued to develop his voice long after he finished his studies and eventually gained fame among critics. By the end of the 1980s, he enlarged his images into what is now considered mural sizes, which is part of his current fame. Since 1992, he’s explored the endless possibilities of digital images and has worked in the digital realm ever since.
In recent years, Gursky skyrocketed to fame in the industry by selling not one, but two of the most expensive photographs ever recorded in history. His print, Rhein II, sold for $4,338,500 USD at Christie’s in New York on November 8, 2011. In 2013, the Chicago Board of Trade III (1999-2009) was sold for 2.2 million pounds. Because of this, there is now a huge debate about the value of art.
The short, accessible perspective of his work offers an elevated vantage point that enables viewers to see another perspective of everyday situations like his famous 99 Cent II. He is drawn to large, anonymous, manmade spaces like office lobbies, stock exchange floors, and the interiors of big-box retailers. Because of this, his images require meditation and revisiting to fully understand the concept behind his portraiture of globalization.
Another important image that shows his fascination with man-made spaces and globalization is Paris, Montparnasse, 1993.
Andreas Gursky Books
Famous Modern Photographers | Conclusion
These famous modern photographers have helped shape contemporary photography and will continue to influence other photographers for years. They have pushed the boundaries of what is possible with a camera, and their innovative techniques have inspired others to do the same.
If you’re interested in photography, check out their work – you won’t be disappointed.