Favorite Photographers
Gregory Gross

Favorite Photographers

One piece of advice has proven very true for me: to improve one’s skill as a photographer, invest not in more camera gear but instead in time spent looking at the work of other photographers.

Sitting down and articulating why a particular photographer’s work has such stopping power is an opportunity for one to identify those characteristics of a photograph that makes an image so compelling: its composition, its use of what Andreas Feininger called the “symbols of photography,” or even the sheer power of simple timing. Doing this is not an exercise of imitation but rather one of inspiration. The work of master photographers shows us what is possible with the medium.

Andreas Feininger (1906-1999)

Andreas Feininger, Route 66, Arizona, 1953
Andreas Feininger, Route 66, Arizona, 1953. Via mutualart.com

In both his photographic technique and his style of writing, Andreas Feininger’s work possesses a level of precision that I admire. Perhaps lacking a kind of human warmth that makes the work of other photographers come alive, Feininger’s photography effectively uses perspective to convey a sense of what he must have felt when he experienced those expansive landscapes or those close-up objects he photographed. I understand that Feininger was somewhat of a loner, too, a quality that I can often relate with.

A poster-sized copy of his 1953 image of Route 66 in Arizona has been hanging on my wall for decades now. The lonely two-lane highway appears almost as an ancillary element that merely gives context for the cumulous clouds that dominate the composition. Feininger succeeds in capturing on film what he must have felt when he took in Arizona’s expansive landscape.

A selection of books by Andreas Feininger:

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Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Las Vegas, 1947
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Las Vegas, 1947. Via nytimes.com

Perhaps the best-known practitioner of what has become known as street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson showed us what was possible with a small, simple, and inconspicuous camera. Usually with nothing more complex than a 35mm rangefinder camera and normal 50mm lens, he captured in his photography what he famously coined “the decisive moment.” And for him, that moment very often did not occur during the excitement of a high-profile event but rather during far more mundane moments of everyday life.

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Robert Doisneau (1912-1994)

Robert Doisneau, Paris, 1948
Robert Doisneau, Paris, 1948. Via vintag.es

I first encountered Robert Doisneau’s work during my freshman year in college. On one page in the textbook that accompanied my modern art history survey course was one example from the series Doisneau completed for LIFE magazine showing passers-by reacting to a painting of a nude in a Paris shop window. His ability to show those candid, unguarded moments still makes me smile.

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Ernst Haas (1921-1986)

Ernst Haas, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969
Ernst Haas, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969. Via ernst-haas.com

I’m not sure if there’s an element of poetic appropriateness to this, but it was actually at Ikea that I first saw Ernst Haas’s work. The image I encountered was one he captured on Route 66 in Albuquerque not long after a rainstorm passed. With the sun close to the horizon and dark clouds in the distance, his pioneering use of color film, which many in the high art world frowned upon as garish, and a telephoto lens makes the cluster of activity on that highway pop. The sheen of fresh rainwater on the ground only adds to the image’s power.

In another image of a pair of railroad tracks reflecting the deep red light of dusk, Haas succeeded in conveying the lonely beauty of an expansive New Mexico landscape.

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Leonard McCombe (1923-2015)

Leonard McCombe, Kim Novak on the New York-bound <em>20th Century Limited</em>, 1956
Leonard McCombe, Kim Novak on the New York-bound 20th Century Limited, 1956. Via life.com

His image of Clarence Hailey Long, foreman of the JA Ranch, gives us a close-in look at the stoic grittiness that’s etched into the hardened face of someone who looks like he’s seen it all. And his photograph of mobster Frank Costello conveys a sense of his subject’s casual indifference that ironically compels one to examine the image closely. But I think my favorite example of Leonard McCombe’s absolutely first-rate work is his 1956 image of Kim Novak on the New York-bound 20th Century Limited. Here, we see not the foreground subject in sharp focus but instead the leering eyes of a row of men in the background. McCombe captures the feeling of that quickly passing moment with a frankness that one simply cannot miss.

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Michael Rougier (1925-2012)

Michael Rougier, Oakes, North Dakota, 1962
Michael Rougier, Oakes, North Dakota, 1962. Via life.com

Sometimes it’s the simple moments that make the most powerful photography. The challenge lies in capturing them. When he photographed a fleeting moment of a bride-to-be looking out a window in 1962, Michael Rougier succeeded marvelously. The anticipation that is obvious in this image makes it a powerful one. The leaning motion of the bride in her wedding gown and her tilted stance echoed by the diagonal lines of the ceiling above and the bed below all contribute to a stunning composition.

Rougier’s photograph of a Japanese model seated in the foreground with the blurred motion of men behind her is another wonderful example of his work.

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Elliott Erwitt (1928- )

Elliott Erwitt’s work has a strong sense of candidness and not a small amount of humor, two qualities that, when combined, often make for the best photographs.

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Paul Schutzer (1930-1967)

Paul Schutzer, Italy, 1963
Paul Schutzer, Italy, 1963. Via life.com

Although he often photographed those in power, as LIFE magazine noted, Paul Schutzer knew what made a powerful image. “It’s the quiet things that happen around us every day that are the really important things,” he said.

Foremost among his images is one that came from Schutzer’s series on the men of Italy. In it, a young man attentively combs his partner's hair, his warm gaze fixed on his lover and nothing else. She returns the affection with a simple look of quiet satisfaction, eyes closed, head turned back and to the side toward him. What a wonderfully simple yet extraordinarily powerful image!

It is utterly tragic that he was killed on assignment during the first day of the Six Day War at the young age of 36.

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William Eggleston (1939- )

There is a certain lonely emptiness that William Eggleston’s photography often conveys to me. I see this especially in the case of images that are devoid of people. Using the color film of his time, he portrayed everyday scenes and everyday people with a stoic beauty that inspired many others to follow in his creative footsteps.

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Nils Jorgensen (1958- )

Nils Jorgensen has a wide breadth of command over the medium of photography. Even a cursory glance over his work reveals his ability to communicate the aura of a high-profile event or the humorous candor of a chance street encounter. All of his work is incredibly engrossing.

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Shin Noguchi (1976- )

Shin Noguchi has a great eye for capturing wonderful images, and he also uses his website to tell his viewers a story about them. I find his image of a woman in white and red seen through a translucent window to be especially compelling.

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Marcin Ryczek (1982- )

With a great talent for using minimalism, Marcin Ryczek combines a sharp eye for locating the perfect place to make his images with his keen ability to portray his subjects in the context of that place, making that context part of the composition just as much as the people he photographs.

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Merel Schoneveld (1983- )

People’s expressions: for my photography, this is the most elusive thing of all. Yet whenever I do manage to capture that candid, unposed expressiveness in my images, I feel like I hit the jackpot.

Merel Schoneveld is either very lucky or extraordinarily talented, and I think she’s definitely the latter. No other modern street photographer captures the expressiveness of people in urban spaces better than Merel Schoneveld. She does this not only in overwhelming volume but also at the highest level.

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Alan Schaller (1989- )

In his series “Metropolis,” Alan Schaller’s exploration of the theme of disconnection immediately struck a chord with me. In our largely urban and always online world, we are far too disconnected from each other. Considering his wider work, I love his use of light to cast his subject matter in high and striking contrast across all of his photography. I also appreciate the humor he often injects into his work.

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Andrew Harnik

I discovered Andrew Harnik’s photography when I encountered an image he made during the floor fight over the U.S. House of Representatives speakership in January 2023. I love his ability to depict unguarded moments often with a sense of humor. He also puts his photographic subjects in context especially where combining people in the news and the journalists who cover them are concerned.

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