In the sea of genres the medium of photography has evolved into, how do we define the work of fine art photographers ? Even before the arrival of the new age technology, digital equipment, and the possibility of mass production of imagery, these individuals had a hard time promoting themselves as artists and channeling their work as art – because this was their very intent. Like any other form of visual fine arts, the idea of fine art photography is to produce pictures that ”are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content.” following certain formal aspects, these creatives use the camera to inspire beauty and express emotion, appeal to senses and enlighten the spirit. But because photography has a relatively short history, compared to other renowned and well-established forms of the arts such as sculpture or painting, and because it relies on a machine for help in realizing its vision, its relevance and status have been constantly disputed and discredited.
Indeed, some two hundred years ago, the creation of photography caused a revolution in the world of art. Bringing a new way of distributing ideas across social classes, it changed the way we perceive the world. This also introduced many unpredictable consequences the medium brought to art as well, along with all other inventions of the industrial age. The initial idea of those who had taken the interest in creating a fresh kind of imagery was to capture realitfine y, something no other kind of art could do as accurately, but not long after that came Pictorialism, for instance, wanting to propose the photographic work as art – like painting, photography could pursue a conceptual thought and deliver an aesthetic image that could be anything: landscape, portrait, or an example of nature, fashion, documentary or any other kind of imagery.
Fine art photographers came a long way, from being discredited and even ridiculed to finally being recognized as the true art-makers they are, to the point where an entire gallery or a respectable museum would dedicate its exhibitions space solely to them. The medium’s creative potential has radically expanded as well, as it evolved in size, shape, color and formats, making its way into other genres as well. The visions of fine art photographers continue to inspire us for their beauty and impact, at the same time creating a strong field on the art market for the many collectors interested in it.
Behold the most renowned artists of fine art photography.
Andreas Gursky - The Most Expensive Fine Art Photographer
The large-scale photos of Andreas Gursky are among the most expensive in the world because of their striking visual impact and attention to detail. The German artist digitally manipulates his imagery in order to achieve the idea he has in mind, which is also the case with his most famous photograph, the 1999 Rhein II. Gursky is often described and appreciated as a “straight-forward” and “sophisticated” photo-maker.
Featured image: Andreas Gursky, Chicago Board of Trade II, 1999, C-print mounted to plexiglass in artist’s frame 73 x 95 inches. Copyright Andreas Gursky, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Cindy Sherman - Master of Disguise and Self Portraiture
American artist Cindy Sherman surely helped define self portrait photography as we know it today, with her remarkable disguises and great skills in capturing herself in a variety of personas and settings. One of the most successful fine art photographers and female artists of all time, she uses the medium to dismantle the stereotypes regarding women and their role in our society. Her latest body of work, for example, tackles the perception and influence of ageism.
Featured image: Cindy Sherman – Untitled #577, 2016. Dye sublimation metal print, 48 1/8 x 52 1/2 inches (image), 122.2 x 133.4 cm, 49 5/8 x 54 1/8 inches (frame), 126 x 137.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.
William Eggleston - Exploring Color
As soon as photography started transitioning from black and white to color, William Eggleston was there to help it get the recognition it deserved. He is often credited as the artist who gave the medium a great push towards the art waters with his studies of color and the mastering of dye-transfer printing. His most notable work to date remains to be the 1973 The Red Ceiling, which can be found on view at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
William Eggleston – Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973. Dye transfer print, 12 5/8 x 19 1/16 “ (32.1 x 48.4 cm). Gift of the photographer, Copyright 2016 William Eggleston. Image via moma.org
Mona Kuhn - Photographer of the Nude
Among the fine art photographers of the nude, we have Mona Kuhn, whose large-scale pictures of the human body are nothing short of poetic. Paying close attention to the forms, shapes and color, the Brazilian/American artist creates work in between figuration and abstraction. Her unique aesthetics have led her to become the artist behind many fashion editorials as well and the curator of exhibitions, including a show for The Billboard Creative in Los Angeles.
Featured image: Mona Kuhn – Poem #3, 2015. C-print. Courtesy the artist and Jackson Fine Art. Image via parisphoto.com
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Exploring the Concept of Time
One of the most famous fine art photographers, Hiroshi Sugimoto is known for his captivating contrasted, colorless shots of natural history museums, theaters and seascapes. His practice involves an exploration of time through camera, meaning long exposure times, sometimes up to three hours. His photographs serve as a time capsule for a series of events in time, focusing on transience of life and the conflict between life and death.
Featured image: Hiroshi Sugimoto – Canton Palace, Ohio, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 7 11/16 x 9 11/16 in (19.53 x 24.61 cm). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Ursula Gropper. © Hiroshi Sugimoto
Sebastiao Salgado - The Man Behind Genesis
Taking landscape photography to the next level, Brazilian artist Sebastião Salgado travels the world and captures nature’s most wonderful sites, untouched by man. His glorious blackandwhite shots stand as defenders of the natural, be it humans, animals or habitats, telling emotional stories that imprint in our mind forever. Through meticulous projects such as Genesis, Salgado reminds us and raises awareness on the fragility of our planet.
Featured image: Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil, receives the book “Trabalhadores” as a gift from Sebastião Salgado, 2006. Image by Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons
Wolfgang Tillmans - Of Abstract Photography
He is not an exclusively abstract photographer, but Wolfgang Tillmans produced some of the most mesmerizing images in the field. He has a long-standing interest in the chemical foundations of the photographic material, as well as it’s haptic and spatial possibilities. His Abstractions from almost two decades ago represent works on color-negative photographic paper collected by the artist, on which he applied darkroom mistakes.
Featured image: Wolfgang Tillmans – Paper drop (window), 2006. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Nan Goldin - Ballad of a Turbulent Lifetime
Being a part of the underground community in New York City in the 1970s, Nan Goldin had the opportunity to capture its spirit in the most intimate, respectful way. Her Ballad of Sexual Dependency serves as the visual diary of her eventful youth, after which she continued documenting the post-punk new-wave music scene, along with the city’s vibrant, post-Stonewall gay subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Featured image: Nan Goldin – Nan and Brian in bed, NYC, 1983. Cibachrome, 30 x 40 inches, 76 x 102 cm. © Nan Goldin, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Shirin Neshat - The Iranian Rebel
The haunting works of Shirin Neshat are still as relevant as they were at the time of their creation, in the 1990s, daringly combining the cultures and the contrasts of Islam and the West. They tackle the notions of feminism, religion, fundamentalism and militancy in her home country of Iran, as well as the effects of the 1979 revolution on global and personal scale. Her Women of Allah series, portraits of women entirely overlaid by Persian calligraphy, is her strongest portfolio to date.
Featured image: Shirin Neshat at an open discussion about her film Zanan bedun-e mardan (Women without men) during the Vienna International Film Festival 2009. Image by Manfred Werner, Tsui, via Wikimedia Commons
Jaan Kunnap - The Mountaineer
A mountaineer and artist from Estonia, Jaan Künnap climbed to the top of over 150 mountains, taking pictures on his way. But apart from his stunning shots of snowy mountaintops and landscape photography, he works as a fine art photographer of the nude and the streets, for instance, mostly in blackandwhite. Since 1998 he works as a photographer in Tallinn City Museum. He has written two books and served as an operator for several documentaries.