All photographers take pictures. These three changed the world.
· Ansel Adamses’ depictions of the Western landscape contributed to wildlife preservation in America.
· Dorothea Lange’s images brought humanity to one of American history’s most heartbreaking eras.
· Annie Leibovitz’s portraits include shots of legendary rock stars, actors, models, and visionaries.
If a picture says a thousand words, these famous photographers in history have novels under their belts. The legendary artists broadcasted visions of American landscapes, social inequality, and the faces of history’s most famous figures through their artform.
Ansel Adams: 1902—1984 (Landscape)
There’s a fair chance that an Ansel Adams portrait is hanging up your house, office, or business—even if you don’t know it. Adams is America’s most famous landscape photographer. He is known for capturing nature in the West in spectacular black-and-white stills. He is best known for his snapshots of Yosemite National Park, capturing the scenery of the grand setting.
Adams received his first camera when he was 12 years old. By 19, his career was booming. How did his shots become so iconic? The dramatic quality of his images was accomplished through technology he developed with photographer Fred Archer. They developed the “Zone System,” which advocated for a specific exposure process to draw out the full tonal range of an image.
In addition to being an incredibly successful photographer, Adams was also a fierce environmentalist. He used his photographs of the American Midwest landscape to encourage nature preservation. His advocacy contributed to the swell of the National Parks system. Today, you can find his breathtaking shots across a variety of physical and digital mediums.
Dorothea Lange: 1895—1965 (Social Realism)
“Migrant Mother” defined the Great Depression. The photographer behind this historic image is Dorothea Lange. She was a photojournalist and documentarian who produced much of her most well-known work reflecting on the Great Depression.
As a young adult, Lange studied photography at Colombia University. After relocating to San Fransisco and opening a studio, she spent 15 years sustaining herself by photographing the city’s socialites. However, once the Great Depression hit, Lange’s focus shifted. She left her studio and began to photograph the economic destruction in the real world.
She documented homelessness, poverty, unemployment, soup kitchens, and migrants camps, working hand-in-hand with the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs helped to give a human face to the effects of the Great Depression.
Lange later photographed the forced relocation of Japanese Americans into internment camps. Many of these images were withheld by the U.S. government until after her death. They are now available to the public, aiding in the remembrance of the atrocities of the relocations to these camps.
Annie Leibovitz: 1949—Present (Portraits)
One of the 21st century’s most gifted photographers is America’s prize portrait snapper, Annie Leibovitz. Leibovitz is one of the biggest names in photography for a reason. She has photographed a plethora of celebrities from the late-20th century onward, including a variety of musicians, actors, models, athletes, authors, educators, philosophers, scientists, and icons.
Leibovitz’s career launched in the 1970s when Rolling Stone asked her to photograph John Lennon on tour. As she was promoted within the publication, she focused her energy on shooting the rock, pop, and punk stars of the era.
Leibovitz’s images became historic, including her final portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken hours before Lennon’s assassination.
After a photography tour in 1983, Lebovitz joined Vanity Fair. She expanded her lens to famous subjects beyond the music industry. Still, her work continued to focus on people. Her well-lit and engaging pictures transformed the artistic landscape of photography, as well as shifting the intimacy and uniqueness of portraits.
A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:
- Dirt Cheap Professional Photography Courses You Can Take Right Now | Living101
Do you aspire to succeed as these photographers have? You don’t have to break the bank to do it.
- The whimsical side of wildlife photography | Science101
There is plenty of whimsy, beauty, and hilarity behind wildlife photography.