PetaPixel

10 Photographers You Should Ignore

Editor’s note: This is a piece by photographers Bryan Formhals and Blake Andrews on how famous photographers’ styles are copied over and over again. Please do not read or comment if you take things too seriously.


The other day while reading the Internet I came across “The 10 Most Harmful Novels for Aspiring Writers.” I wondered whether there could be a list for photographers as well. I thought about it and then sent my list to Blake Andrews to see if he wanted to contribute and have some fun with it. Here’s what we came up with.

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams created some remarkable images and he wrote the book (literally) on photographic technique. Yet on the whole he’s probably done more harm than good for photography. How many young photographers have fussed over which zone to put the shadows in while the light fades and the photo disappears? More importantly, how many perfectly exposed black and white vistas of snowcapped peaks or rivers snaking into the background do we need to see? Yes, nature is majestic. We get it. Saint Ansel showed us, and he did it better than you ever will, so move on already or we’ll score your performance as a negative.

Henri Cartier Bresson

Cartier Bresson was a genius but also a Pied Piper. He probably did more to narrow the path of street photography than anyone else. Before HCB, street photography was relatively undefined and wide open. Then HCB came along and showed how it was done. You lurk the streets for hours, breathlessly hunting. Finally you alight on the perfect composition but… it’s missing that crucial element. What is it? You can’t decide. The stage is set. You wait until the the right person comes along. How long? Hours? Days? You wait as long as it takes… then, snap! Just like that the moment is decided, and unfortunately so are the next 70 years of street photography. Young photographers ever since have tortured themselves waiting forever on picturesque corners for that elusive Decisive Moment, the picture fully formed except for a perfectly postured pedestrian, or maybe just a finger pointing suggestively. Thanks, Henri, but I haven’t got all day. Can I have my life back now?

Robert Frank

Robert Frank was a one-man revolution. Before him pictures for the most part were pretty and clean and pre-visualized, and shot from a tripod. Frank came along and tore a new A-hole in that aesthetic. Fortunately he had something to replace it with: a strong personal vision. Most young photographers who follow in his footsteps don’t. They mistake grain, guts, and verve with substance. Sorry folks, but hitting three out of four doesn’t count. I know it took cajones to shoot that cowboy bar at 1am pushing your film to 3200, but that doesn’t keep your photo from being boring. Time to shoot something you care about, and don’t try to convince me it’s flags or the underclass.

Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore was the ultimate Nothing photographer. To the untrained eye, or even to the trained one, his photographs seem artless. What’s the subject? Why this scene and not some other? Is this some sort of trick? A test? There’s nothing there. It’s only after repeated viewings that the framing, precision, and subject matter of Shore’s work begin to seem profound. Unfortunately, that’s too late for many young photographers. They’re already off shooting Nothing, hoping to follow Shore’s footsteps. Why, it’s easy. You find a gas station or a parking lot or a wall or something, maybe an antique car. The colors must go together since you found them like that, right? Line them up and… sorry to disappoint you but you just exposed a big fat 8 x 10 of Nothing.

Nan Goldin

Hey youngsters, just because Nan Goldin is surrounded by glamorous friends leading tragic photogenic lives doesn’t mean your own story is halfway near as interesting. Goldin was in the right place at the right time and was an intuitive genius with the camera. Even when she was in the wrong place at the wrong time she was a genius. Chances are you’re in the wrong place, wrong time, and you’re not a genius, and no amount of post-production is gonna make your self-inflicted black eye in that snapshot seem like an accident. Get a life and stop your culture slumming, and don’t look now but your MFA is showing.

William Eggleston

William Eggleston is a pioneer of color photography, and a legend. For the last forty years he’s been “at war with the obvious,” working in a “democratic forest” where everything visible is equally viable as subject matter. Trees, dirt, signs, houses, carpet, red ceilings, naked men, old men with guns, tricycles, etc. Working in this manner, he inspired many photographers to look no further than their immediate surroundings for inspiration. Then came digital cameras, and then the Internet, and then Flickr. Eggleston may have won the war with the obvious, but now the obvious is getting its revenge in the form of the millions of banal, boring, dull photographs that are being uploaded to the web everyday. We don’t need to go far to find the ‘democratic forest,’ in fact, we may never be able to escape it.

Ryan McGinley

Ryan McGinley burst onto the scene with his photographs of carefree naked young people frolicking in wide open spaces. Arriving in the post 9/11 world, these photographs showed us that the young were resilient, still seeking, still loving, still experimenting. And damn, were they skinny and white, really skinny and white. It made me as a photographer want to rent a van, find some skinny pretty friends and just hit the road and live man, just live. Apparently though, this thought went through just about every young, hip photographer’s mind between the ages of 18-25. The open road impulse, along with a resurgence of the lo-fi film aesthetic has spawned endless blogs, Tumblrs and Flickr streams dedicated to documenting the carefree existence of pretty naked young people who are too busy dreaming to care how boring they look.

Garry Winogrand

When you think about Garry Winogrand, almost immediately, you think about street photography. He was the photographer flaneur of the New York street’s in the ’50s and ’60s, who also took his Leica tilt show on the road in the search of the elusive photograph he’d never seen in his viewfinder before. He was obsessive and devoted, wild and loose with his compositions. ’What tilt?’ he would say in jest. What tilt? No, no, no! Don’t you understand young street photographer that it took him years and years and years to achieve the skill and precision necessary to compose on the fly. What tilt is not a legitimate rationalization for your own sloppy, poorly composed street photographs. You only have one choice in this, you must make it your goal to die with more than 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film.

Alec Soth

Lyrical landscapes, deadpan portraits, ironic interiors, melancholia, beard, 8x10s, epic projects. Thanks Soth, you’ve raised the bar so high I’m afraid all the bearded MFA kids are going to be old and gray before they ever finish their great American photography project. And really, do you have to be so bloody sardonic about contemporary photography? Photographers don’t need any help becoming grumpy and skeptical about photography. How about this, rent a van, buy a Leica M9, invite some 60-something hippies on a road trip to Puerto Vallarta, and document the whole thing on Tumblr. Wait, that’s pretty depressing too. You win Soth.

Diane Arbus

Actually, don’t ignore her work. Absorb it, absorb it all, marvel in her genius and grace. However, when the word ‘freaks’ enters your consciousness put the book down immediately. The characeristics that drew Arbus to her subjects aren’t going to be the same for you. Her famous quote, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them,” applied to a much different time period. Today with cable TV and the Internet, we’re to see just about every type of human, in every form imaginable. What draws photographers to certain people is a mystery. Embrace it, and follow your intuition.

(via LPV Magazine via Wired)


About the authors: Bryan Formhals lives and works in New York and is the founder and managing editor of LPV Magazine. Blake Andrews is based in Eugene, Oregon and runs the photography blog B. This article was originally published at LPV Magazine here.


Image credits: We Like to Imitate Statues by gennie catastrophe. Other photographs are by their respective photographers


 
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  • Kyoshi Becker

    Should have put Annie Leibowitz on this list. I know more Photog’s how have copied her style than most of these others combined…

  • Paul Eliasberg

    Anne Geddes and Michael Kenna really belong on that list as well…

  • http://twitter.com/tadeobiologo Tadeo -_- **

    and Richard Avedon just because he was a funny guy

  • Stephen Foster

    Oh, no! More top photogs to imitate! How will I ever keep up? Aaaaaagggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/Mike_Philippens Mike Philippens

    That’s why I don’t read about other photographers and just do as I please. If I like it, it’s enough for me. I also never learned about all the so called techniques you ‘should’ follow. The ‘masters’ never bothered with them either or invented them by just doing it.
    You’ll never create something original if you follow others.

  • Digitalcassidy

    Don’t forget Troy Paiva too. Ugh!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joacim-Roboman-Schwartz/100001190769681 Joacim Roboman Schwartz

    Maybe the title “Ignore” is not really what you are suppose to do, but rather not take after such photographers in a serious matter.

    And why not add all big photographers to the list while we are at it? Just in case.

  • Cdl Creative

    Nearly half of that list aren’t even “famous” in the first place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1357770135 Tom Bryan

    DONT FORGET TERRY RICHARDSON.

  • Glcau

    Where is Daido Moriyama?

  • Sudrk

    Don’t forget Petapixel!

  • http://twitter.com/Justinflynn Justinflynn

    I agree with this article however I think “ignore” is a strong word. The message I think you are trying to portray is that photographers should concentrate on original thought and idea over emulation or straight out copying. Although this sentiment resonates with me greatly I still think that taking note of technique and composition of the greats can help add to your arsenal of knowledge and if used correctly can produce inspiring original thought and art.

    But a really poignant article for sure.

  • Goofball Jones

    Cool, this pretty much covers everything ever done, and the things it didn’t cover, thats all been done too. I won’t waste my time then. Selling my equipment now, and just going to sit on the couch and watch TV.

    Whatever you do, someone’s done it before…and therefore your stuff is boring. Yeah, don’t take it seriously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589132353 Mauricio Andres Ramirez Lozada

    care to show your work? “original” is a word that no longer applies in our postmodern culture, and history its there for us to use it and learn from it. its pretty naive to dismiss more than a cetury of creation in favour of “originality” when you have lived probably more than 20 years consuming images that determine how you produce images.

  • Jamal Photo

    excuse me but this is the worst article in this blog
    very stupid and meaningless , making many articles isn’t as good as making a few good ones !

  • Mr Bridge

    McGinley & Soth might not be on the A-list just yet, but I can assure you that all over the world, the other 8 are out-and-out superstars.

  • Resurrected

    This is such a good article.  Very funny and topical as I was feeling pretty worthless today s a photographer.  After reading this I am going to scrap my 5DM2, sell my lenses on eBay and read a book.

  • ennuipoet

     This is a great piece because, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, it tells us to follow our own paths as photographers.  Yes, study the great and the not so great, learn from them, but stop trying to BE them.  It’s already been done, and done better than you or I could ever hope to do.  It does not mean we cannot be great on our own, just not great at being what already is.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    No, please – please forget Terry Richardson.

  • Mrdscott

    Ever heard of Gordon Parks? Maybe you should.

  • 9inchnail

     Right on, buddy.

  • 9inchnail

     The annoying thing is, that even if you are better than one of these guys, people will still call you a copycat and won’t respect your work. I started street photography before I even knew it was a genre. I never read about any other photgraphers, I just started to do it. I’ll propably not be the new Bresson, but even if, people would still bicker and say “XYZ did that years ago”.

  • Noonansboy

    To suggest we should ignore any of the above mentioned photographers can only be seen as an uneducated thought by the original author. Sure, look at their work and come to the conclusion that ‘their way’ is not your way, and do your own thing, but that in it’s self is of some value. To claim that they should be ignored indefinately is naive, narrow minded and indeed phucking stupid.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jeremiahw93 Jeremiah Washington

    I do street photography…but i dont wait for hours. I take pictures of whatever happens around me. Im not copying anyone

  • http://isaiahbrookshire.com/ Isaiah

    What about Dave Freak’n Hill? Seriously there must be a million blog post on the Dave Hill technique. 

  • Ticino

    Loved the article, but when it comes to shooting pictures in a bar late at night, I suspect it takes balls (cOjones) rather than drawers (cAjones) :-)

  • John Wilmot, Rochester NY

    A call to oust copycats and vaunt originality would be more effective if the template of the article weren’t the say-something-controversial-and-back-it-up-with-a-top-ten-list that is Wired’s go-to strategy to generate hits. It would also be more effective if the portfolio of either author contained stunning, original work, which neither does. Find what you like, find what you want to say, put your head down, get on with it, and stop worrying about what other people are doing.

  • JT

    The funny thing is almost all the photographers listed here were ones our tutors were captivated by and encouraged us to study them.

  • MP101

    Reading the comments it is pretty easy to spot those who have yet to become comfortable wth their own photography

  • http://twitter.com/rodgerobley Rodger Obley

    Don’t copy others styles, but don’t be ignorant of what else is out there or the roots that photography has come from. 

  • Rondouglas

    You forgot to include bryan formhals.

  • Guest

    What about Cindy Sherman?

  • emanuele cauda

    It is clear that the goal of the writer was to push for the development of a personal technique and style. Ditto.

    But reading all the comments and the article itself I’m amazed how the very idea of photography is missing. Photography is art and I’m glad I discovered the pieces of art that photographers cited in the article produced – because I was able to enjoy them. I don’t like all the photographers – for example I consider Ansel very boring – but they can be called artists.

    And I hope we will have more artists in the future….

  • emanuele cauda

    It is clear that the goal of the writer was to push for the development of a personal technique and style. Ditto.

    But reading all the comments and the article itself I’m amazed how the very idea of photography is missing. Photography is art and I’m glad I discovered the pieces of art that photographers cited in the article produced – because I was able to enjoy them. I don’t like all the photographers – for example I consider Ansel very boring – but they can be called artists.

    And I hope we will have more artists in the future….

  • Wshin77

    Dont copy but learn and make it yours. Ignore was used just to get attention. it worked. I also think ppl who say rules are meant to be broken, are a small % of amazing photographers and a large % of ppl that dont understand the rules. 

  • 33

    So basically don’t bother taking any photos anymore because someone else has already done it better. What a stupid article. 

  • Dazse1

    How could you possibly ignore all this Bruce Gilden clones out there?!?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Zaya/759505417 Carlos Zaya

    I find this more inspirational than something to ignore and avoid. Some of these photographers are big inspirations for a lot of people, including myself. Its important to find and define a style. 

    //CZ
    http://www.zayaphotography.com

  • http://www.followtheboat.com/ Jamie Furlong

    I can’t believe how seriously some of your readers are taking this. This post merely offers a profile on photographers and their styles and, if anything, is quite educational. Of course it must be taken with a pinch of salt too, don’t forget. 

  • T R

     Haters gonna hate. If you don’t like his work then go do something better than him and become more famous. If not, then shut the fuck up :)

  • Giorgeone

    Well actually the photo that you posted here is not of HCB but of Doisneau. You have still a lot of study like all of us……

  • http://twitter.com/CQuandt Carlos Quandt

    Who would’ve guessed it! And to think Christie’s has sold it for $13,750 as a HCB photo!
    Lot Description

    HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON (1908-2004)

    Rue Mouffetard, 1954

    gelatin silver print, printed later

    signed in ink and copyright blindstamp (in the margin)

    14 x 9 3/8in. (35.5 x 23.5cm.) 

  • http://www.followtheboat.com/ Jamie Furlong

    Giorgeone, I think you’ll find it is you who still has a lot of studying to do ;) That is one of HCB’s most famous photographs, and my personal fave too. Ooops!

  • Joemac91

    No photograph is original because even if you do not study other photographers you are still aware of other images etc.

  • Joemac91

    Alec soth and Ryan mcgingley are no where near the other photographers in the list! Good article but I feel it is important to look at these photographers for print quality, technically, and for the times they are in. Too many photographers look at subject matter and try to literally copy the images. Street photography is a no go, it is very hard to create original images and I am bored of seeing another person walking down the street shot. Digital has ruined this genre, the amount of people in London you see with a dslr thinking they are ‘photographers’ pfft give me a break!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1357770135 Tom Bryan

    I should have clarified. I meant , dont forget to put Terry Richardson on this list…i hate the man.

  • t_linn

    I already ignore most of these photographers if, by “ignore”, you mean “be influenced by” and if you read “influenced by” to mean “copy”…

  • Faron kee

    I wonder who will remember you…..

  • Tom

    How can you hate a photographer? Seriously. Did he punch your mother, kill your dog and slap your girlfriend?

  • Tom

    The list was referring to “photographers.”  Not bloggers.  There is massive difference.