PetaPixel

Would Photography Greats Still be Great in Our Time?

Have you ever wondered whether hall of fame athletes from decades ago would still find success if the played their sports today? How about the same question, but applied to photographers? Would the historical greats of photography be brilliant across all ages, or were they simply pioneers and ahead of the curve in their generation? If they were just starting out today, which of the famous photographers throughout history do you think would still become renowned in the present day, and which wouldn’t?


 
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  • Sam Christopher Cornwell

    This is a void question. They are considered ‘greats’ because they were pioneers of photography. So unless the fields they were in were pioneer-less until today, then of course not. They all had passion though and would probably be able to put their hand to anything.

    Come on, guys.

  • Sam Christopher Cornwell

    This is a void question. They are considered ‘greats’ because they were pioneers of photography. So unless the fields they were in were pioneer-less until today, then of course not. They all had passion though and would probably be able to put their hand to anything.

    Come on, guys.

  • Matthew Bamberg

    It’s kind of hard to tell because they what the did with film was incredible, and everything is digital nowadays. Other than composition, it’s a totally different ball game.

    My new book, which relates to the topic here: http://www.amazon.com/New-Image-Frontiers-Defining-Photography/dp/1435458575

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    As someone said in the comments of the Cartier-Bresson photo debate a while back, “How much of the price is the name behind it, and how much is the actual work itself?”. Are you saying that since the pioneering has been done already, most historical greats would be rather ordinary by today’s standards?

  • Francois

    Same people today would produce stunning results because they had the vision. However, in today’s massive amount of pictures they may not be noticed at all. 

  • http://twitter.com/rnbergren Rod Bergren

    truly great is always truly great.  They would find a way to be great.  Would they pioneer i n exactly the same way, NO.  But they would expand the field of human greatness as well.  There are two other followup questions to this.  1. Would someone else have stepped up and pushed the field in the same way that they did?  and 2.  Would (i you we) be as great today if they had not been born?  We all build upon those who went before us.  Could I be as great without the inspiration that is those that I admire?

  • http://twitter.com/ANDYwithCAMERA Andy Doyle

    I don’t know about that. We still use apertures, shutter speeds, and something equivalent to ASA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Zytkiewicz/1305407149 Josh Zytkiewicz

    I think it depends.  Some are famous because they were first.  Eadweard Muybridge is famous not because his photos are that special but because he was the first to do high speed photography.  

    Others like Ansel Adams and Jack Delano created work that I enjoy looking at.  If they were alive today I don’t think that would change.

  • http://www.casagli.com Alessandro Casagli

    Today’s being great is no longer an issue. Today’s challenge is being famous. There are hundreds of thousands great photographers there, even better than yesterday’s masters, but they aren’t famous, and until we let them talk, probably they’ll never become.

  • http://www.casagli.com Alessandro Casagli

    Today’s being great is no longer an issue. Today’s challenge is being famous. There are hundreds of thousands great photographers there, even better than yesterday’s masters, but they aren’t famous, and until we let them talk, probably they’ll never become.

  • Christian Rudman

    That is such a subjective question. Like Josh is saying, some are famous for getting there first, some are famous for doing it better.

    Just because times have changed does not mean that the elements that made them great are. Some things like Muybridge would just have a different name, while Bresson would more than likely be making a name for himself still with street photos.

  • Christian Rudman

    That is such a subjective question. Like Josh is saying, some are famous for getting there first, some are famous for doing it better.

    Just because times have changed does not mean that the elements that made them great are. Some things like Muybridge would just have a different name, while Bresson would more than likely be making a name for himself still with street photos.

  • Christian Rudman

    That is such a subjective question. Like Josh is saying, some are famous for getting there first, some are famous for doing it better.

    Just because times have changed does not mean that the elements that made them great are. Some things like Muybridge would just have a different name, while Bresson would more than likely be making a name for himself still with street photos.

  • Matt

    Sorry, but just because film was used means nothing.  I’m leaning towards that they were pioneers mostly; they had the foresight and vision to explore and create what others had not.  Would their historical work today hold up?  Some does, the above photo is great, it would be great in another medium.  Would they all hold up? IMO, No.  If they were working today?  Some may not even be photographers.  Some would be good, most maybe not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Roehl/68104468 Ryan Roehl

    People ahead of the curve in the past would still be ahead of the curve in the present.

  • Carsten W

    First of all, it depends what you mean. If you mean we would not see their photos until now, then some would, some wouldn’t. If you mean that they would be born now and photograph in the present, then I think that yes, they would.

    For part 1, I think that it would probably depend on how successfully people have copied them since. Ansel Adams, as great as he is, has been endlessly copied, because his photography can be copied. Go to the right place, wait for the right light, process well, and voila.
    Others like Henri Cartier-Bresson, would still be great. He has done stuff so good that no one since has been able to reach his greatness. He still stands out.

  • Gon

    Would Bresson do the same things with a Nikon D90? 
    It´s like asking if Da Vinci would be so great nowadays. I think they are the Greats ´cause their work lasts over the years. They trascend time, as each of them marked a road for us to follow. 

  • Sfwoods1

    Historical greats may not be great today, but when it comes to a great image, great will always be great! While technology may get better, and new types of images and techniques evolve, the images that are beautiful will always remain beautiful. Just like with paintings, glass or sculpture, they don’t get worse because they are old, but there is always room for change and innovation. There are many beautiful things in the world to capture still, all you need is imagination!

  • Anonymous

    Not according to the “delete me” group on flickr.

  • Anonymous

    Not according to the “delete me” group on flickr.

  • http://www.ddw.ca Logo Designer Guy in Calgary

    Nobody would notice their work in the great mass of noise that is today’s photography reality. Pioneers are very rare and in a sense, lucky people that are simply at the right place at the right time. 

  • Mark

    Would Steichen be Steichen if he weren’t Steichen?
    Which Weston is better? Do they all pale because Edward was first? Are they of no merit on their own?
    It is subjective and fun to contemplate.
    Some are notable because, I think, of who created it and when. Would Stieglitz’ The Steerage have any impact on a world that no longer travels on ocean liners? Would/does the commentary on class still hold up? Would Stieglitz have even considered this worthwhile as a subject in a modern world? Would his image have merit even though he himself has describe the scene as, “I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life.”

    Stieglitz would have found a way to practice his craft in any time and location, his “voice” if you will, is not dependent on that particular time. The problem comes in, again my opinion, when you take into consideration the proliferation of photography today compared to 100 years ago. There are dozens upon dozens of little Steichens running around with phone cameras, pocket cameras, high end cameras, and plastering their work all over the web (I for one am a little Adams/Evans). Many, many people are taking pictures today. Few are photographers. fewer still are artists.

    The majority of the “greats” are recognized as so because they were artists who used film, chemicals and paper as their medium.

  • Mark

    Would Steichen be Steichen if he weren’t Steichen?
    Which Weston is better? Do they all pale because Edward was first? Are they of no merit on their own?
    It is subjective and fun to contemplate.
    Some are notable because, I think, of who created it and when. Would Stieglitz’ The Steerage have any impact on a world that no longer travels on ocean liners? Would/does the commentary on class still hold up? Would Stieglitz have even considered this worthwhile as a subject in a modern world? Would his image have merit even though he himself has describe the scene as, “I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life.”

    Stieglitz would have found a way to practice his craft in any time and location, his “voice” if you will, is not dependent on that particular time. The problem comes in, again my opinion, when you take into consideration the proliferation of photography today compared to 100 years ago. There are dozens upon dozens of little Steichens running around with phone cameras, pocket cameras, high end cameras, and plastering their work all over the web (I for one am a little Adams/Evans). Many, many people are taking pictures today. Few are photographers. fewer still are artists.

    The majority of the “greats” are recognized as so because they were artists who used film, chemicals and paper as their medium.

  • Michael

    Only time will tell…

  • Cemal Ekin

    “Greatness” is a context-dependent idea. Part of that context is the time, as well as artistic visions of the time. The greats dared to project their visions into the photographic consciousness with their works  and defined new photographic aesthetics. Would Robert Frank do his style of photography had HCB not  done his? Frank might have emerged as a different kind of photographer. If HCB, Frank, Evans were alice today and chose photography as their medium they would do things most do not consider and still chart a new course in photography. In other words, they would still rise above the crowd and leave their mark as a photography “Great.”

  • Ranger 9

    This is true of any art form: many of the important “firsts” no longer seem as special because so many followed after. Still, being first at something is significant, and it’s reasonable to speculate that people who had the knack for inventing important firsts THEN might have it NOW as well… starting from the current day, who knows what they might be able to create?

    To follow the sports analogy suggested at the start of the paragraph: If you simply snipped Ty Cobb out of his baseball era and inserted him into today, he might not even be able to make the major leagues. On the other hand, if Ty Cobb had stepped into a time machine at the start of his career and stepped out again today, able to take advantage of all the medical, nutritional, training, and coaching improvements that have developed since his era, he almost certainly would develop into a great player by today’s standards. (If you’re not a baseball fan, substitute a great past athlete from your favorite sport…)

  • http://twitter.com/zfny zf

    Just like in 100m runs, the winner of 1900 Olympics might be finish last if they compete in today’s Olympics, but that doesn’t mean they are not great.

    Simply said, if Cartier is just started photography now, he might be able to produce a lot better pictures than this. It’s a wow back then, and will always be a wow for enthusiast, but will never be a wow for anyone who never heard the story.

  • http://twitter.com/zfny zf

    Just like in 100m runs, the winner of 1900 Olympics might be finish last if they compete in today’s Olympics, but that doesn’t mean they are not great.

    Simply said, if Cartier is just started photography now, he might be able to produce a lot better pictures than this. It’s a wow back then, and will always be a wow for enthusiast, but will never be a wow for anyone who never heard the story.

  • http://movito.net Fredrik Matheson

    “When you make a thing, a thing that is new, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly. But those that make it after you, they don’t have to worry about making it. And they can make it pretty, and so everybody can like it when others make it after you.”
    – Picasso, as quoted by Gertrude Stein.

    If created today, the Cartier-Bresson photo would get a few faves on Flickr. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s impossible for us to jump back and experience that photo, and all the others being discussed here, in the context of their time.

    So, a fun question and a good discussion to have now and then, but not a matter that could ever be resolved.

  • Jase

    Stupid question.

  • Mathew Whitmire

    fishing trip for comments…great, your site moved up the google food chain

  • http://twitter.com/Soiden Sebastián Soto

    King Kong had great special effects in its time.
    Super Mario Bros. was an incredibly colorful and beautiful game in its time.
    Etc.

  • http://twitter.com/mshrg Abdullah Almaosharji

    No they won’t, in the old days expectations were low due to the fact that there weren’t enough great photos, nor were there the utility that we have nowadays, and most importantly, the spread of photographs today is that much easier, which equates to the discovery of a good photograph that much easier too.

    The photo put in this post, regardless of its heritage and whatnot, is -like it or not- rubbish by todays standards.

  • Flugelzone

    Exactly!

  • DG

    Questions like these can really be a waste of time. It is one thing to study the great photographers of times passed, however, those of us who are serious photographers are not wasting our time with such pointless questions. We are out in the world photographing and creating photographic prints that will last because we are going beyond what most photographers are willing to work for. If you have a vision get out there and shoot and don’t worry about anything else.