A History of Famous Street Photographers
Below you will find links to learn about the history and photography of some of the world’s leading and most famous street photographers, both past and present. The photographers are split into loose groups.
*New photographer write-ups to be added monthly.
City / Urban
American / Suburban
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Read these snippets to learn more about some of the best street photographer’s in the world before clicking through to read a detailed article.
Robert Frank: While many of his contemporaries were photographing the optimistic post-war United States of the ’50s, the Swiss-born Frank set out on a road trip to capture a much darker and more realistic view of the country, culminating in arguably the most famous book in photographic history, The Americans. He explored the country, capturing subjects who were on the fringes of society, outsiders, yet entirely American. This body of work has and continues to influence a generation of photographers.
Garry Winogrand: The godfather of classic New York street photography, the restless and energetic Winogrand obsessively captured daily life in both the city and around America from the ’50s to the early ‘80s. His body of work defined the post-World War II era America, filled with opulence and power, but mixed with a deep underlying anxiety. Fast-moving, off-kilter, witty, and spontaneous photographs defined his style.
Josef Koudelka: A stateless man after needing to escaping his home of Czechoslovakia for photographing the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968, Koudelka traveled the world, focusing his photography on stateless people, most famously including the Romani (gypsies) of Eastern Europe. Wanderers, loaners, and outcasts were frequent subjects of Koudelka. He would later find interest in landscapes that were influenced by contemporary man, and on walls – particularly the Israeli-Palestinian wall. This focus grew from the fact that he himself had grown up behind one in Czechoslovakia.
William Eggleston: A mysterious aristocratic street photographer who photographed significantly in Memphis and Tennessee. While Eggleston is primarily known for becoming a pioneer of using color as an artistic form in photography, he also set the stage for creating fascinating street photography in quiet and often ‘boring’ suburban and rural areas.
Saul Leiter: A lifelong New York photographer, Leiter’s background in painting significantly influenced his photography. Leiter used many strategies to enhance the painterly look and feel, including shooting in the rain and snow, photographing through windows, including reflections, and combining many elements at different depths, often bringing out strong colors in out-of-focus foreground elements. Leiter even purchased expired color film, which would allow for surprise color shifts. What culminated is one of the most stunningly beautiful bodies of work in photography’s history.
Helen Levitt: A New York native, Levitt set out to document the ‘ordinary,’ the immigrants, and the poorer people of New York. Attracted to the poorer areas of the city, particularly the Lower East Side and Spanish Harlem, Levitt saw the streets of these neighborhoods as the living room of New York, where children played, neighbors chatted, and where people from all walks of life came together for brief but special moments.
Martin Parr: Raised to a middle-class family in Britain, the documentary work of Parr has focused intently on modern life, including the social and cultural classes of Britain, consumerism, wealth and luxury, and travel. On the surface, the work of Martin Parr is filled with playfulness, whimsy, and garish color, but deep down this humor both highlights and masks a harsh critique of society. His photographs find a way to toe the line between beautiful and ugly.
Daido Moriyama: Whereas historically, Japanese art and photography had celebrated the idea of beauty and precision, the work of Moriyama turned this philosophy on its head. Technically, Moriyama’s work was grainy, out-of-focus, too dark or washed out, abstract, blurry. He followed what is known as Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese term for beauty in imperfection. While his work looked flawed, these imperfections portrayed a sense of stark reality and highlighted the beauty in these imperfect photographs of imperfect people, in an imperfect society.
William Klein: Klein’s photography of New York, Moscow, Paris, and Tokyo blurs the lines between raw, unfiltered critiques and classic beauty. His gritty, grainy, often blurred images of the 1950s would influence a generation of photographers, including Daido Moriyama. Klein never held back and influenced a generation of photographers with his seminal book, Life is Good & Good for You in New York.
Bruce Davidson: While not strictly a New York photographer, Bruce Davidson has created some of the most iconic New York photographs of the 20th century. Davidson’s subjects have including the Civil Rights Movement in the early ’60s, a Brooklyn gang, Spanish Harlem, circus performers, and most famously, a 5-year project on New York’s subway system in the gritty early ‘80s period in the city.
Trent Parke: Parke carefully intersects his own, introspective world with the external realities of his country of Australia. His photographs follow a careful dance of light, chance, mistakes, self-reflection, and exploration of this home, culminating in a wide variety of fascinating and personal photographic books and projects.
Lee Friedlander: The work of Friedlander portrays America as an unusual and almost alien social landscape. His compositions, simultaneously chaotic and orderly, seem to portray an inner turmoil about what he was seeing. Friedlander turned his eye towards the social landscape and contemporary urban life, often focusing on desolate streets, creating feelings of tension, peculiarity, and unease. In addition to his prolific work in New York, some of Friedlander’s most fascinating photographs came on road trips throughout the US. Normal, everyday, and even boring aspects of modern American life at the time were transformed into surreal and strange places.
Matt Weber: As a former taxi driver photographing the streets of New York since 1978, Weber has explored countless miles throughout the city and seen a little bit of everything. The subjects in his photographs range from embraces to fights, from Harlem to Coney Island, from the homeless to 5th Avenue. The sensibilities in his work portray a photographer who has always been in tune with the rhythms, the ideals, and the community of the true New York – both the good and the bad.
Alec Soth: While not street photography in the technical sense of the term, Soth’s work holds the spirit and influence of the genre, using a mixture of portraits and landscapes to give us a glimpse into fascinating areas of America, including the Mississippi River and Niagra Falls, mixed with a sense of himself.