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Annotated Bibliography


Some of the Great Photographers of our Era


It always amazes me when I talk to someone who's interested in photography and who's done a lot of it and find that he's never heard of Robert Frank or Brassaï or Henri Cartier-Bresson. Being interested in photography and not knowing these people's work is like being interested in English literature but not knowing about the work of Shakespeare or Hemingway or T.S. Eliot. To aspire to serious work in photography you need to know what's gone before – how the photographic ideas of the past relate to each other and to the present so that you can extend those relationships to the milieu in which you live, today, out there on the street. Which is not to suggest being derivative, or to copy what these people have done. But you need to educate your eye. You need to learn what to look for. Here are some of the people who can teach you. The list isn't exhaustive. Click the names for more information. I try to keep the hyperlinks associated with the names up to date but you may find one or two that don't work at the moment. They change rapidly.

Atget was a Frenchman who walked the streets of Paris at the turn of the twentieth century carrying a huge load of cumbersome equipment and making photographs that have been admired by photographers ever since.

Lartigue was another Frenchman, of a wealthy family, who, as a child in the early part of the twentieth century, made astonishing photographs of people, racing automobiles, airplanes, etc. 

Evans was the finest artist associated with the photographic arm of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the depression. Dorothea Lange, another American FSA photographer, who shot "Migrant Mother," probably the most familiar American photograph ever.

Cartier-Bresson was a Frenchman who, though he didn't invent it, for all practical purposes defined street photography. By all odds the most influential photographer of the twentieth century, Cartier-Bresson, along with David Seymour, a sensitive photographer who used the byline, "Chim," and Robert Capa, a famous combat photographer, formed the Magnum photo agency. Magnum did a great deal of the twentieth century's finest photojournalism and continues as one of the top photo agencies in the world. In an early book Cartier-Bresson said: "Photographing is nothing. Looking is everything." Which pretty much sums up the situation.

An American son of Russian immigrants, Erwitt was a long-time member and sometime president of the Magnum agency. A photographer with a real sense of humor. Probably my favorite among them all.

Without doubt the greatest photographer of mountains and prairies and rivers, or as Wordsworth put it, "rocks and stones and trees" ever. He was a contemporary of Edward Weston who also photographed rocks and stones and trees, but also seashells, vegetables, and people.

Robert Frank is a naturalized American of Swiss origin.. In 1959 he published The Americans, a book that caused a huge ruckus in the photographic community. The Americans is a penetrating look at the United States of the fifties, warts and all. If you were an adult in the fifties you're old enough instantly to recognize what he's doing in that book – especially if you've traveled across the United States on two-lane highways, eaten lunch in roadside ptomaine palaces along Route 66, and spent nights in "modern" (indoor plumbing) Dew Drop Inn, "sanitation approved" cabins.

Steve has been making big waves in the photographic world for at least the past couple decades. It's probably too early to tell, but I have a feeling Steve will end up as one of the greatest photographers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries..

There are many others I won't take space to describe, but you need to look at their work. Among them are Andre Kertesz, Brassaï, Paul Strand, W. Eugene Smith, Robert Doisneau, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Karsh "of Ottawa," surely the finest formal portraitist ever.

Go to the library, check out books of photographs by these people, or go to the web and Google these names. You can learn more by looking at their photographs than you'll learn from a lifetime of reading "how to" photography books.

Click on the heading for a bibliography that covers the photographers named here plus the history of photography.