France is the kingdom of photography since photography was invented there! Some of the most famous French photographers were born there and mastered the craft that we love today. On January 7, 1839, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre showed members of the French Académie des Sciences his new invention: photography.
Photography would forever change the world after that including journalism and the smartphones we use today. But to really appreciate photography it’s important to learn about some of the original masters.
Table of Contents
- Robert Doisneau (1912-1994)
- Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004)
- Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
- Elliott Erwitt (1928)
- Brassaï (1899-1984)
- Edouard Boubat (1923-1999)
- Willy Ronis (1910-2009)
- Marc Riboud (1923-2016)
- Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833)
- Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986)
- Eugène Atget (1857-1927)
- Félix Nadar (1820-1910)
- Patrick Demarchelier (1943)
- Christian Boltanski (1944)
- Raymond Depardon (1942)
This article will examine these famed French photographers that you should learn about today!
Robert Doisneau (1912-1994)
Robert Doisneau is a name that resonates with most famous photographers. He was one of the first to spotlight humanitarian photography and became even more popular after the war. If you have ever seen “Le Baiser de l’hôtel de Ville” (The City Hall kiss) then you have stared at an image by Robert Doisneau. He stood out among others for his everyday life stills of Parisians and especially Parisian children.
After the second world war, his photographs could be found on the cover of Life because he was stealthy at capturing candid street moments. Additionally, he will be forever known as a “patient passerby” who captured the state of mind during post-war Paris.
Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004)
Henri Cartier Bresson is one of the most famous French photographers of all time. He is often said to be the father of photojournalism. Henri Cartier Bresson spent much of his time documenting Paris with his trusty 35mm Leica camera. He was the inventor of the “Decisive Moment”, named after his first book.
Born in France, his photography career would take him around the world. He covered some of the most important events including independence protests in India. As well as China’s cultural revolution. People instantly recognize his work and his ability to create a photo collection that resonates with people not only from France but around the globe.
Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Guy Bourdin is famous for his fashion and advertising images. Bourdin was born in Paris in 1928 and died in 1991. A true Parisian born and raised, Guy Bourdin will forever be known as one of the most mysterious founders of modern photography.
He kept his personal life private and only shared his work with the masses. His photographs were featured in many prestigious Paris magazines and catalogs. He was not only a prominent french fashion photographer but also well known for his staged raw sex and violent photography. He worked with Vogue France, Vogue Italy, and even Harper’s Bazaar. But the second half of his life is very much a mystery. People wouldn’t discover more about his photography until many years after his death.
Elliott Erwitt (1928)
Photographer, Elliott Erwitt, tops our list of the best French photographers of the 20th century. He was born in Paris, France but would make his way to the United States where he learned about film photography. But France called back to him and he made his way back to Europe first with the American army and then a photographer capturing daily life.
Even more, he kept his photos fun by focusing on dogs. He has entire books focused on French canines. He’s still considered one of the best photographers of all time and gained acclaim as an advertising photographer.
Born in Hungary, Brassaï became famous when he moved to Paris and began working as a painter, sculptor, and writer. He was not a fan of photographers at the time since it was such a new medium. Later, a friend would introduce him to the new art form and that is when he became hooked. His claim to fame in France was his work related to capturing streets by night and his most remarkable collection is titled Paris de Nuit (Paris By Night).
Edouard Boubat (1923-1999)
One of the most popular French photographers in history, Edouard Boubat was born in Paris in 1923 and become one of the top romance photographers of his time. He grew up in a military household and after seeing so much destruction and death he chose to photograph the lighter and happier sides of life.
His photos capture love and beauty all over Paris. As a photojournalist, he was sent to less romantic places including poorer regions of France. His photo work can be found all over the world including Paris, LA, and other major cities in America.
Willy Ronis (1910-2009)
Willy Ronis never wanted to be a photographer, instead, he studied music. But life had other plans for him when his father died suddenly of cancer. Ronis had to take care of his family and took over the family’s portrait studio to make ends meet.
Ronis would spend the rest of his life photographing people from all walks of life. Working as a photojournalist, later he became famous for his photos of nude women. He exchanged the role of photographer for teacher in the 1950s and lived to be 99!
Marc Riboud (1923-2016)
French photographer Marc Riboud was born in France in 1923 and traveled the world as a photojournalist before dying in Paris in 2016. Some of his first work was at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1937. He was only 14 years old, enjoying a toy camera his father had gifted him.
In his early years, he had a career as a factory worker before deciding to devote his life to photography. His most famous images were shot in Vietnam in the 1960s. Working as a war photographer his photos were rare and often captured hard to visit places. If you are considering a career in photojournalism, Riboud’s work is a good place to find inspiration.
Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833)
Nicéphore Niépce is not one of the first names that come to mind when you think of French photographers. But, he took the very first photograph in history! He was born in 1765 in Burgundy and was considered to be an inventor at the time. He spent much of his time examining how to better darkroom technology.
He became famous in 1827 when he shot the image “Point de Vue du Gras” (View from the Window at Le Gras). The photo is the oldest preserved photograph in the world.
Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986)
Jacques Henri Lartigue was born in 1984. For the first half of his life, he considered himself only to be a painter. But when he turned 69 he decided that photography was his true passion. When he first started shooting images it was only as a hobby. But, those images would become some of his most famous work. His photos cover an array of topics including city life, French buildings, sports events, and especially people in their everyday lives.
Eugène Atget (1857-1927)
Eugène Atget was famous for his photographs of working-class Paris. His work spans over the 19th and early 20th centuries and all-around France including images of shops, people, buildings, and Parisian daily life. Later in his life, he would join the surrealist artist movement. Man Ray and Berenice Abbott made his work even more popular.
Félix Nadar (1820-1910)
Photographer, Félix Nadar, was one of the most important photographers not only in the history of France but also in the world. Nadar took photos while flying over the Paris skyline in hot air balloons. He was a flying enthusiast and laid the foundation for aerial photography as we know it today.
Nadar is also known as the pioneer of artificial lighting and was one of the first to use it while shooting the Catacombs of Paris. His most outstanding photographs in France are a collection called Panthéon. In the images, he creates a panorama of around 300 French celebrities of the time.
Patrick Demarchelier (1943)
Patrick Demarchelier was born in Normandy, France where his stepfather gifted him his first Kodak camera. From that day on he would never stop shooting. In 1975 he left Paris for New York City to follow his girlfriend which is where he discovered the world of fashion photography and soon started working in the industry. Over the years he has worked with many celebrities and his images have landed on the front cover of Vogue, Rolling Stone, Glamour, Life, and Elle.
Christian Boltanski (1944)
Christian Boltanski is a French artist who worked with many mediums over his lifetime including acting as a painter, sculpturer, filmmaker, and photographer. He was one of the first photographers to used mixed mediums to create massive installations. Much of his imagery is inspired by the trauma he endured during World War II. His work is shown in museums to represent human tragedy and especially the holocaust and Jewish history.
Raymond Depardon (1942)
Photographer, Raymond Depardon is famous for his work with magnum photos. He was born in France in 1942 and his passion for photography began on his family’s farm at the age of 12. Later he would go on to be a French reporter, traveling all around the world. He covered many notable French stories including the kidnapping of a French ethnologist in Chad and the Partie of San Clemente. His work is split between photography and filmmaking where he has been awarded multiple awards.
In conclusion, we hope you discovered some new French photographers today. But the most important thing is that you examine these photographers’ work to better your own. Our list should help you learn more about the world of photography as we know it today. Discover your own style based on the lives of these great photographers.