10 photographers that will inspire you
Laurie Cohen – the founder of Barcelona Photography Tours & Israel Photography Tour gives his take on a selection of images from some of his favourite photographers. Throughout Laurie’s career, he has been asked numerous times which photographers have been an influence on him and why. This post is all about other artists that have inspired him on his own photographic journey.
I have wanted to write this blog post for a number of years now, so this seems to be as good a time as any. I always try to emphasise on our photography tours and international workshops how important it is to convey the photographer’s artistic vision through knowledge of having an arsenal of camera techniques under your belt, adding your own photographic signature, while avoiding the cliche. This post is all about selected images from artists that I admire, and how these specific images have inspired me on my own photographic journey. Since childhood and until this day, viewing other photographer’s art at the highest level has made me appreciate the photographic media as a unique art form where skill, perseverance, patience and luck can result in something quite special. In my mind, being able to see an image or predict one can convey the joy, sadness, humour and irony in everyday life. It is these factors, combined with mastering the technical aspect of the camera that I find so compelling.
While there are countless images that I admire from other artists, I have included a selection of work that covers the most important aspects of what I constitute makes for a truly noteworthy image. The cover image of this post was created by Maciej Dacowicz, a Polish photographer with a preference in Asian street photography with a twist of irony added into the mix. This image of a dog resting his head on a bicycle pedal in one of the alleys of Varanasi in India, is a great example of a tight composition including only the most relevant elements used as context to complement a wonderful subject. When the viewer comes across images of this quality, there is not much more to say than to simply enjoy the result.
Dimpy Bhalotia is an Indian street photographer based out of London and Mumbai. She was awarded the Grand Prize Winner in the Photographer of the Year category at the iPhone Photography Awards in 2020 for her photograph “Flying Boys” photographed in Banaras, India. This image of kids jumping has so many wonderful elements going on at the same time. As with many of her images, there is a powerful energy at play here. Flailing limbs captured at the perfect moment with the foreground subject taking prominence leads your eye around the subjects. Even the wall included in the bottom right corner adds context. The simplicity of the image is devoid of any distractions, and the children’s dark skin contrasting against the white sky complete the image.
Looking through Bhalotia’s bio and her use of an iPhone to create such extraordinary images underpins how unimportant camera gear really is when composition, light, timing and other factors far outweigh absolute image quality. As with other photographers, I appreciate how she thinks in mono and do prefer her resulting black and white images over colour.
The legacy of Saul Leiter’s creative signature are still relevant to this day, and was a real influence in my early years on my own photographic journey. His distinctive style of photographs suffused with painterly qualities, likely exist due to his experience as a painter, as he viewed the world through different eyes than those of his peers. Saul was an early pioneer of colour photography, shooting in colour since the 1940’s, and years before other great photographers adopted the medium. Leiter decided to give up spiritual studies in favour of leading a lifelong career in photography, much of which was spent documenting his East Village neighbourhood of New York City.
This image, named “Snow, 1960” is one of my favourites. This is one of those images that really allows the viewer to become absorbed into the scene, and is a classic example of Saul Leiter’s work. The image almost seems to be a photograph that melts into a painting, as the condensation on the glass creates a highly artistic and stylised effect. Saul would often shoot through windows, use reflections found in an urban environment, shoot through tight spaces to create a “frame within a frame”, and was a master at using colour to create a composition. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.
When I think of images created by Alex Webb, the first word that comes to mind is layers. His complex compositions and rich colours make your eye wander around the scene through alleyways, into windows, then out into the street. One could be forgiven for thinking that his images are created from a movie set, such is the placement of subjects in so many layers and in such perfect synchronicity. In this respect, he is a master of deconstructing chaos. Webb began his career in photography shooting in black and white, yet it is his colour images that really define him as an artist. I find his work truly inspirational, such is the deep and meaningful portrayal of our world that he creates through photography.
In some respects, Webb’s approach to dealing with preconceptions before heading to a location mimics my own. While having ideas of what he is looking to create, he simply lets the camera and his experiences lead him where they will. It is this aspect of the unknown, where planning and forethought is left at home that I can relate to. He simply allows his instincts to take control when a scene that feels right unfolds before him. And you can really feel how he identifies and relates to the world through his images, where the philosophy of man and his place in the world is found all over his work. In my mind, Alex Webb cannot really be placed into a specific category, as his work can include documental, street photography and fine art genres within a single image.
Matt Stuart is a street photographer based out of London. I became aware of his work after watching a documentary about his photography journey and admired his level of patience and perseverance. In his own words, this humble artist stated, ‘For the past 20 years, street photography has meant everything to me. From the moment I wake up, to the moment my head hits the pillow. It has been an overwhelming obsession and a way of life. I just love being out in the world, observing people, trying to make sense of it all’. The image of a pigeon in the foreground with the legs of people in the background is an instant classic, and falls into my favourite category – irony. Perfectly timed, the eye wanders through the legs to the focal point in the background, creating a composition full of depth.
With a positive outlook, and armed with his Leica, this natural optimist accepts the reality that 99% of street photography is about failure. There is a lesson to be leaned here. Many street photographers that are starting out and with high expectations, are either unaware of how patience, perseverance and luck plays a major part in creating quality work, and often give up out of frustration. There is no doubt that successful street photography is far from easy. But as Matt Stuart demonstrates, when accepting the fact that failure in the majority of your shooting experience is a simple reality, the persistent street photographer can eventually be rewarded with images of this quality.
The work of Fan Ho has been an inspiration to me throughout my photography career. Since 1956, Ho has been a photographer, film director and actor. There is no specific image from his work that I can consider a favourite, such is the quantity and not only the quality of his images. Nicknamed ‘the great master’, Ho was considered one of the premiere street photographers that photographed Hong Kong during the 1950’s & 1960’s. He was a master at framing his compositions, often reflecting a highly cinematic quality where smoke, steam, directional lighting and shadows would create an atmosphere that would grip the viewer instantly.
This image of a stray alley cat passing into the light can be perceived, at least in my eyes, a predator in an urban environment that has adapted to his environment and is stealthily seeking his next victim. This is where art can raise all types of questions, where the viewer can perceive the work in their own individual way. There are so many images by Fan Ho that stick with me, it is hard to pin down a single favourite. Some 60 years after winning his first photography contest, Ho has won more than 280 awards, produced 20 feature length films, and published numerous books on original photography. Whenever I may feel burnout or lacking in inspiration, viewing Ho’s images are guaranteed to remind me of why I picked up a camera in the first place.
The work of Salgado played such an influence on me in my early years, that it reinforced my desire to travel and explore the world, such is the power of his images. Monumental in their scope, his images are utterly engaging. Salgado worked in a multitude of genres. From landscapes, to environmental portraits, to documenting social issues, this Brazilian photojournalist has covered assignments in over 120 countries. Renowned for his work covering individuals in desperate economic circumstances, he insists on presenting his work in a series rather than individually.
The large scale images in his enormous books allow the viewer to gaze in awe over the multitude of tones, textures and intricate details to best effect. Undoubtedly, his finest and most comprehensive book is ‘Genesis’, which the image shown is used for the cover photo. Genesis is a culmination of nature, indigenous peoples and landscapes displayed in all their splendour. As with many of my favourite artists, Salgado has worked for the Magnum agency since 1979, the international photography cooperative founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1947.
You don’t need to be a photographer to be aware of Steve McCurry’s iconic image named ‘Afghan Girl’. Probably one of, if not the most published image in the world, the photograph was captured in Pakistan in 1984, and became the cover image of the National Geographic magazine June issue in 1985. The girl’s piercing green eyes perfectly match the background, and the stunning colours were recorded onto Kodachrome 64 slide film. ‘Afghan Girl’ is by far McCurry’s most celebrated image, however if I had to choose a favourite, it would likely be the image of the boy running through the narrow streets of Jodhpur that was captured in 2007. I just love the energy of the boy running, and the leading lines guiding your eye into an invisible vanishing point.
What I find so inspiring about his work is the amalgamation of vivid colours and careful compositions that frame the human element into wonderfully cohesive images. He creates the kind of work that upon viewing, makes you want to go out and travel the world. Throughout McCurry’s 30 year long career as a photographer, he has documented conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture. He has published many books and retrospectives, and been awarded some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal, National Press Photographers Award, and an unprecedented four first prize awards from the World Press Photo contest.
Every photographer is undoubtedly aware of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, such is the influence he had by pioneering the genre of street photography. A French humanist photographer considered a master of candid photography, and an early user of 35mm film, Cartier-Bresson had a fascinating life. With origins in painting in the surrealism style, he discovered the Leica 35mm rangefinder camera early on before creating films with Jean Renoir. Taken prisoner of war in 1940, he escaped on his third attempt in 1943 and subsequently joined an underground organization to assist prisoners and escapees. In 1945, he photographed the liberation of Paris with a group of professional journalists and then filmed the documentary ‘Le Retour’. In 1947, with Robert Capa, George Rodger, David ‘Chim’ Seymour and William Vandivert, he founded Magnum Photos. After three years he had spent travelling in the East, in 1952, he returned to Europe, where he published his first book, Images à la Sauvette (published in English as The Decisive Moment).
He explained his approach to photography in these terms, ‘”For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously”. There are so many images of Cartier-Bresson that I admire, I simply cannot point to a specific work that I consider a favourite. Instead, I view each image as a masterpiece of composition and timing. ‘The decisive moment’ is definitely the right phrase to convey how he brought the eye to the subject when captured at the critical moment. By incorporating the golden ratio, rule of thirds, leading lines, the golden triangle and so many other compositional techniques, he was a master of creating dynamic symmetry into an image, and his legacy in street photography will continue to inspire us.
Another personal favourite, perhaps the personal favourite of mine, the work of Elliott Erwitt has the power to change my mood in an instant. A French-born American advertising and documentary photographer, he is known for his black and white candid photos of ironic and absurd situations of everyday life. A Magnum photographer since 1953 ,and the late 1960s, Erwitt served as Magnum’s president for three years. The scope of genres that he works in is vast, though he was especially prolific in photographing dogs. So much so, that he created 5 books on the subject. The image named ‘Felix, Gladys, and Rover’, of a woman’s booted feet between that of a Great Dane and a little chihuahua was captured in NYC in 1974, and is one of his most celebrated photographs. Other iconic images that he created were of the famous “kitchen debate” between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khruschev in Moscow in 1959, ‘Segregated Water Fountains’ captured in 1950, and ‘California, 1955’, and image of a side-view mirror of an automobile parked facing a beach sunset, with a playful couple shown in the mirror as the focal point.
The image included is untitled, and was shot in Pasadena in 1963. On first viewing, you would be forgiven for wondering if these ladies congregated around a bench are actually lost themselves. Although frequently noted for offbeat humor, Erwitt’s photography is based on a graphic sensibility that instinctively organizes the formal elements of a scene to create a personalized comment on the subject. This sensibility pervades all of Erwitt’s photographs, whether they are photojournalistic documents, advertising assignments, or personal pictures, and has had a substantial impact on contemporary photography. In addition, through his insistence that the maker, rather than the publisher of an image hold the copyright, he has affected the entire magazine photography industry. Erwitt is currently 94 years old, alive and kicking, and continues to work for a variety of journalistic and commercial outfits.