I saw with great delight that Ruth Harriet Louise is FINALLY getting some recognition: a coffee-table book and a traveling exhibit. She was the only female studio photographer during the old Hollywood yeas, working at MGM from 1925–30. She took some of the most gorgeous photos of Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer. She was much better—I think—than Clarence Sinclair Bull and George Hurrell, but no one remembers her. http://www.sbmuseart.org/exhibition/upcoming.html
I lived in Cincinnati during the Mapplethorpe controversy. Everything else aside, he really was a brilliant photographer. His flowers, even in monochrome, were incredible. But his photo that had (and still has) it’s deepest impact on me was one of a young girl, about 7 years old, sitting on a step. She is wearing a sundress, but no panties. The photo is taken from below so that you can see her crotch.
This was one of the photos that the “authorities” in Cincinnati found pornographic. But for me this photo was a profound statement on the way we tend to objectify women in (real) pornography. I don’t believe it was salacious, although that is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. The juxtaposition of such an innocent and the angle of the shot was genius.
I think Richard Avedon was (is) a brilliant FASHION photographer. But he is—aside from, perhaps, the insanely over-rated Annie Liebowitz—the WORST portrait photographer the profession has ever produed.
Being somewhat of a nature photographer myself, I’d be remiss in not nominating Ansel Adams. An exhibit “Ansel Adams at 100” is currently at the Art Institute of Chicago, and will tour Chicago, London, Berlin, Los Angeles and San Francisco through 2003.
Irving Penn has always done it for me. I have two books: a collection of his still lifes and a career retrospective. I am begging everyone to get me his new nudes book, which has amazing photos he took in 1949, for my birthday. (There’s an exhibit in New York right now, but I don’t think I’ll make it).
I am not a photography buff; I have no interest in it as a hobby. But somehow I just seem to get Penn. His photos can be sensual, playful, or purposely artistic, but they all appeal to me, I think because I sense a clear representation of his personality in all of them. He is just an absolute genius in my eyes. So detailed and precise, but uncannily…I want to say open, loose, meaning he allows his subjects to be themselves, albeit stamped with his interpretation. His understanding of his subjects and his awareness of their unique qualities just astounds me. His precense in his photographs, which I think becomes truly clear when you see a lot of his work together, never overshadows what he is trying to say or show about his subject. Most of all, I think, is the sense that he appreciates what is unique. I don’t think it is hard to find beauty in Brad Pitt, as Ms. Leibowitz does, but Penn manages to glorify and celebrate an overweight, Rubenesque figure that most would consider ugly or grotesque.
Well, now, Eve, I’m just gonna HAVE to DISAGREE with you there.
And because I’m too lazy to do so creatively, I’ll let others do it for me:
To which I say: Damn straight. It doesn’t get much better than that. He’s a serious and wildly talented artist whose portraits are * real * portraits, in that they portray something about the subject, not just a pretty picture of the subject.
Considering your choice (a glamour photographer), and the fact that you like Avedon’s fashion work but not the portraits, and Mapplethorpes flowers, I think it’s obvious you value conventional ideas of beauty in your photography, and there’s no question that Avedon’s portrait work is not at all about that. So if that’s what you like, then it makes sense you wouldn’t like Avedon. But that doesn’t make him a bad portrait photographer, it makes him a photographer you don’t like. Enormous difference.
And by the way, I think Annie Leibovitz is rated just as she oughta be. If for nothing else than her astonishing and perfect shot of John and Yoko which is now familiar to us, but is no less excellent for being so.
Ansel Adams. As a child of the West, I absolutely love the way he captured the beauty of the half of the U.S. I consider my home. And there’s a whiff of regret in many of his works, because the beautiful places he photographed just don’t exist anymore, at least not as he shot them – they’ve become victims to Progress. And although my friends and I mock pretentious artistes by saying in lock-jawed Bostonian accents – “Dahling, don’t you love his use of light?” the truth is . . . I think A.A.'s use of light was amazing.
Howard Schantz (although I’m sure I mispelled his name). I love his underwater work, that stuff is simply amazing. This is the guy who REALLY makes me wish I knew how to be a professional photographer.
Herb Ritts is another one of my favorite. All the Playboys I own are simply because he did the photography for the big “special guest photos.” Lame, huh?
I also really like Joyce Tennison. The cryptic, fuzzy portraits she takes are often just simply breathtaking.
I must apologize to Stoid—I realized after I left last night that it was rather rude to dogpile her fave photog choice like that, this being a Polite Artistic Discussion.
I still feel, though, that Avedon’s portraits are deliberately vicious and ugly (Mercedes Ruehl is a FOAF, and I know she cried for a week after her Avedon portrait appeared in The New Yorker). As for Annie Liebowitz . . . I just think that a photographer should have SOME grasp of lighting and composition, which seem to be closed books to her. I also know she treats her assistants very shabbily, which makes me less charitable toward her.
I do agree hearily with the choices of Steichen, Cameron and Arbus, and I look forward to linking to some of the others I’m not as familiar with!