We put together a list of the most famous self portrait photographers in history to help you better your work! These days the internet is flooded with selfies. With the advancement of technology, everyone has a phone with a camera and the ability to take their own photo. We have more control than ever over how the world sees us. Therefore, it’s important to take a step back in history to understand the art of self-portraiture.
Dating back to the 1800s, the very first self portrait photographer is considered to be a chemist by the name of Robert Cornelius. Cornelius sat on a chair and posed for well over a minute in his photo. We have advanced a lot further from his work today and this article explores all of the photographers who came after him.
Our list of famous self portrait photographers is sure to inspire you. You may even recognize a few names such as Vivian Maier or Andy Warhol. Let’s get started!
The Importance of Self Portrait Photography
So why should we care about portrait photography anyway? The definition of portrait photography is someone who takes a photo of himself or herself. Additionally, portrait photography gives the artist total control over how the image will look. The self portrait photographer of today is their own stylist, makeup artist, and creative director.
As a result, people in general often enjoy exploring their identity and photography is a great tool to do just that. Lastly, many art historians agree self-portrait photography is one of the most popular genres of photography in history and of today.
Selfies vs Self Portraits – What’s the Difference?
Importantly, the key difference between a typical selfie and a self portrait is the use of a camera. Although smartphone technology is advancing rapidly, typically a self portrait is taken with a DSLR or film camera and is considered a form of art. Self portraiture is meant to be thought-provoking and artsier.
Our List of Famous Self Portrait Photographers
However, it’s difficult to pick the best self-portrait photographers but this list is a great start. Even more, photographs have always helped to tell a story but portraits tell the story of a person.
1. Lee Friedlander
Firstly, Lee Friedlander is most recognized for his self portraits in the 1960s and then again in the 1990s on display at the Fraenkel Gallery. Friedlander was highly influential and exhibited all over America.
In the beginning, Lee Friedlander was only investigating the art of self portraits, which turned into mastery spanning 5 decades worth of work. As a result, watching his evolution in portrait work is fascinating and helpful to budding portrait photographers.
2. David Uzochukwu
Austrian-Nigerian photographer, David Uzochukwu started exploring the art of self portrait in his teens. His work focuses on resilience and questions of belonging.
Interestingly, David Uzochukwu currently studies philosophy at HU Berlin. Additionally, his work began because he wanted to try and take on every role in a shoot. David Uzochukwu says “I discover new facets of myself every time I make one—live through emotions I didn’t know I had bottled up inside me”.
3. Vivian Maier
Next up is best known American street photographer Vivian Maier was born and raised in New York City. The world of Vivian Maier was discovered in 2007 when someone stumbled upon a collection of 100,000 negatives.
Even though Vivian Maier’s life still mostly remains a mystery, she is considered one of the most influential photographers of all time.
Additionally, viewers often have the impression she is hiding in her self portraits. She usually only shows a piece of her body or face. Much of Vivian Maier’s portraits still inspire artists and street photographers today.
4. Deana Lawson
Similarly, American photographer Deana Lawson is next up on our list. Deana lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her work focuses on issues of family, sexuality, and intimacy in the black community.
The main goal of her work is to share the beauty of everyday experiences in black lives. Moreover, we especially appreciate the way she poses the human body in her images.
5. Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was an iconic and eccentric self portrait photographer. His works explore pop culture, entertainment, and iconic people.
Additionally, he is mostly remembered for his self-portrait work with Polaroid. Andy Warhol struggled with aging and his self portraits explore these insecurities. He especially liked to experiment with drag in his portraits including a lot of wigs.
6. Jun Ahn
Likewise, South Korean photographer Jun Ahn’s self portraits are considered daring and wild. Why you may ask? Mostly because she shoots herself from the top of very tall buildings! Ahn’s portraits are quite literally death-defying. She has worked extensively in New York and South Korea and written several books including Self Portrait and One Life.
7. Robert Mapplethorpe
Originially from Queens, Robert Mapplethorpe grew up in the 1940s. After studying painting and sculpture he started exploring other mediums including photography. Eventually, he discovered his love of self-portraiture. His best-known work includes photos of celebrities, nude women, and self-portraits.
When he took his own portraits, he was a huge fan of adding contrast. Interestingly, he even liked to dress up as a woman or a terrorist. His portraits blur the lines of identity and desire.
8. Man Ray
Never shy of different artistic mediums Man Ray was also a photographer. Best known for his involvement in the surrealist movement, Man Ray enjoyed dressing up for his portraits. Like many other people on our list, he also dressed up as a woman.
Additionally he made sure not to overlap mediums by only photographing things he did not wish to paint. He spent most of his career in Paris and considered himself a painter above all things.
9. Francesca Woodman
Likewise, have you ever heard of self portrait photographer Francesca Woodman? She was best known for her black and white pictures of herself and other women. Most of the people in her photos are nude women with blurred-out faces. Sadly at the age of 22, Francesca Woodman killed herself leaving behind a promising collection of work that still influences people today.
10. Richard Avedon
Furthermore, American fashion photographer Richard Avedon is a name you should know. He was well known for his work with Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Avedon helped to revolutionize the fashion industry with his use of movement. His self portraits reveal very little about himself. Instead, they lead the viewer to focus on what he may be shooting with the camera in his hands.
11. Jo Spence
Best known for her work as a family portrait and wedding photographer Jo Spence pushed the boundaries of portraits. Subsequently, her self portrait series titled “Brave” explores the taboos of womanhood.
Even more, she enjoyed bringing attention to class, society, parenting, and aging through her images. She beat breast cancer but later passed in 1992 from leukemia. Her most famous self-portraits are taken just after she undergoes breast surgery for cancer.
12. Yousuf Karsh
Artist Yousuf Karsh is remembered as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century. He migrated to Canada as a refugee after surviving the Armenian Genocide. Later, he would go on to photograph many famous people including Albert Einstein, Sir Winston Churchhill, and Walt Disney!
13. Diane Arbus
At the top of our list of famous self-portrait photographers is Diane Arbus. Her self portraits leave viewers feeling an array of emotions from disturbed to compelled. Even more, She is best known for her photographs of people living on the fringes of society including the LGBTQ community, strippers, nudists, and prostitutes. Her black and white self portraits give people a look inside her views of herself. Sadly, she took her own life at the young age of 48.
14. Arnold Newman
Next, one of the best-known environmental portrait photographers was Arnold Newman for his work with artists and politicians but he was also a famous self portrait photographer. Many of his self portraits play with mirrors and reflections. Lastly, he was quoted as saying “You don’t take pictures with your camera. You take pictures with your mind and your heart.”
15. Herb Ritts
Even more, specializing in fashion, Herb Ritts worked with many big fashion names in the 90s. Even more, you have surely seen his work somewhere. Ritts was classically trained and his work use of black and white hues is something any budding portrait photographer should study.
16. Cindy Sherman
On the other hand, the queen of self-portraits would have to be Cindy Sherman. Her work now sells for millions earning her a spot at the top of our list. Interestingly, she insists that none of her portraits are autobiographical. Often she is difficult to recognize in her images.
Furthermore, Sherman plays different characters in all her photos from movie stars to abuse victims. Above all, every single image tells a story of one of her characters.
17. Trish Morrissey
Focusing on topics of relationship, Trish Morrissey shot many images with family and strangers. She is well known for her work titled Front.
Born in Dublin, she loves using humor to disarm her viewers. Trish Morrissey is quoted as saying “I use performance and wit as tools to investigate the boundaries of photographic meaning. Although most of my work features myself as the protagonist, I don’t consider them to be self-portraits per se, though they can be read that way.”
18. Claude Cahun
Moreover, French photographer, Claude Cahun’s work explores issues around gender and society. She was also a poet, critic, translator, and actor! Often times she explored gender issues using cross-dressing in her images.
19. Irving Penn
You may have heard of Irving Penn, who was big in the world of fashion photography. He was one of Vogue’s top photographers. Originally, Penn wanted to be a painter but photography became his main medium and he created many timeless black and white photos around Paris.
Even more, he was insecure, once quoted as saying “In the studio, too, I like it to be in no way grand. Nor do I feel grand, because I’m full of doubts still about the ability to get the picture I’m going to take”. Additionally, his self-portraits pushed many boundaries and are some of his best work.
In conclusion, did you recognize any of these famous self portrait photographers? We hope to help you discover some new and old favorites to inspire your next self portrait! Drop us a comment if there is someone we missed that you love! In short, self portraits are art, so get out there and make an artistic version of yourself today.