Friday, February 18, 2011


When I was in high school I enrolled in the Famous Photographers correspondence course, however I long ago gave up any notions of becoming a "famous photographer". This comes up this morning because a friend jokingly suggested that I was famous but it reminded me of a discussion I had with Diane a while back.

There aren't many photographers who are famous in the conventional sense to the word. There are the famous people who take up photography and instantly get attention because they are already famous from some other endeavor. I'm thinking of people like Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash) or by virtue of association with someone famous (i.e. Linda McCartney) or even a bit of both like Julian Lennon (son of John Lennon & a musician himself). This is not to imply that they aren't good photographers, just that fame and quality of work are not necessarily connected, especially in the field of photography.

I challenged Diane to name 10 photographers that would be known to the average American who did not owe their fame to some other field or a relationship to someone famous in another field. She thought of Alfred Stieglitz but she was forgetting his relationship with Georgia O'Keefe. Aside from Ansel Adams I can't think of any. There are some who are semi-famous in that they are known in a certain subset of society, for example Annie Leibovitz but even she owes her fame largely to the celebrities she photographs. Edward Curtis might make the list but he isn't remotely contemporary. The average person may vividly remember an iconic photo but probably not one in ten thousand associates the image with the photographer who made the image. Photography in itself is a poor path for pursuing fame.

Perhaps that is because unlike acting, singing, politics, etc. photographers, as individuals, are largely absent from their work. The viewer sees the image but not the person who made it. Perhaps it has been compounded by the recent proliferation of photography with the advent of digital imaging. It is much harder for any one individual's work to stand out in the crowd.

In any case here is my challenge: Make a list of contemporary photographers whom you believe are "famous" in their own right and submit it as a comment. By contemporary I mean from about 1960 to the present. By famous I mean someone whose name would be recognized by at least the same number of people as a well known musician, actor, politician, etc. By "in their own right" I mean that they weren't already famous for something other than their photography and they aren't related somehow to someone else who is/was famous and thus had access to media attention that the ordinary individual does not. Your list can be any length. Comments are moderated so it may not appear immediately.

The photograph above is from the Owl's Head Peak outing on Monday during one of the moments when the sun was on the peak and a rocky nub beyond. Canon 7D, ISO 100, 1/250th at f/9, 18-135mm EFS IS lens at 25mm, wind at 30-40mph.


  1. Jim,

    Love your blog - I read your posts imagining a deep, raspy voice and a weathered memory of all good things past - keep up the great work!

    There are a fair number of photographers who are famous in their own mind, even more who are the best in their own mind, but few who are really famous for their work...



  2. "Imagining deep raspy voice..." LOL
    That image, like imagining fame, is an illusion Chris. My daughter describes my voice as sounding like Kermit the frog. Of course we all sound different to ourselves so I think of my voice as deep, but not raspy. More like resonant.

    As a PS to the above, we were watching CBS Sunday Morning when I had one of the moments I mentioned int this post. It occurred during a segment on Herb Ritts. They were showing some of his photos when I recognized one that I had seen several times before and this was the first time I knew who took the photo.