Contemporary photography is such an abstract concept that it’s sometimes difficult to understand what is it and who are the main representatives.
In this guide, I’ll talk about contemporary photography in the context of fine art and show you some examples for your inspiration.
You’ll also discover some famous contemporary photographers for your inspiration.
Let’s dive right in!
What is Contemporary Photography?
The term contemporary photography can create some confusion. Some people hear ‘contemporary’ and think about something happening right now, or at least during their lifetime.
However, that would mean something different for a 20-year old than an 80-year old.
Other people think a contemporary photographer is someone alive and producing. Although, if an artist stops creating, it wouldn’t mean that the artwork they did yesterday is not contemporary.
Contemporary photographers can’t be defined by something subjective. The contemporary photography scene is something well described by art critics and historians.
Art history creates categories to analyze and study different art manifestations. Categories may be based on the discipline (painting, photography, sculpture, etc.), style (impressionist art, pop art, etc.) or a time period (modern art, contemporary art, etc.).
Contemporary photography is a category that encompasses fine art photography created after the late 1960s – when modern photography ended.
If you want to know more about the history of photography, I recommend the books of John Szarkowski. He was the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he was one of the most influential historians, curators and critics.
What is Contemporary Art?
Contemporary art entails any artwork – whether it’s performance, video, sculpture, painting, etc., created in the past few decades up until the present day.
The exact origin is still debated, but most historians consider it at the end of the 1960s or the early 70s. Despite the somewhat precise date range, it refers to the period that follows modernism.
8 Examples of Contemporary Photography
We’ve seen that contemporary photography is not about something that’s captured in digital or film or shown on social media or print.
It’s also not about the topic – there are famous contemporary artists that photograph nature, others capture portraits and others do conceptual images.
To try and clarify the definition, below you’ll find some contemporary photography examples to show you how vast it can be in terms of technique, styles and subjects.
David LaChapelle is an American Photographer who takes inspiration from paintings and art and applies it to fashion photography.
He’s also a well-known artist whose modern photography images have been exhibited in art galleries and museums around the globe.
McCurry photographed the Afghan Girl – one of the most famous photos in the world today. He travels the world and captures intimate images of traditional subjects.
While his work is known as contemporary documentary photography, he’s also criticized for the digital manipulation of his pictures. So, not everyone might consider him a documentalist – but he certainly is amongst the most famous photographic artists.
One of the most famous contemporary photographers in the field of photojournalism is Ami Vitale. She’s won the World Press Photo five times, and she’s a Nikon Ambassador and National Geographic photographer.
She’s also a founding member of Ripple Effect Images – a non-profit organization that empowers women and children around the world.
Contemporary photography is not necessarily about new technology. Some fantastic artists such as Zelco Nedic, who uses a technique from a much earlier period called wet collodion – he even paints on the print sometimes as part of the post-processing.
While digital photography is not a mandatory technique, many photographers use it for capturing images that can later be transformed using Photoshop.
Such is the case of Katrina Yu, who builds a reality for her self-portraits. Aside from her personal projects – her fantasy-style appeals to many commercial clients too.
If you think family photos can’t have contemporary new perspectives, you need to check out the gallery of Anne Geddes.
She’s an Australian photographer based in New York who’s won multiple prizes and entered the International Photographic Hall of Fame in 2017 with her artworks featuring newborn babies.
Titarenko is an artist who captured a contemporaneous moment using long exposures as his work reflects the social atmosphere lived at the end of the Soviet Union.
His photographs are not a document of this event – they are a personal interpretation.
Some photographers are also visual artists whose work can be an image created without a digital camera. In the case of Velizar Ivanov, he’s interested in CGI (computer-generated images).
The image shown here is a standard photograph created with a camera, but you can visit his website if you want to see his CGI work.
15 Famous Contemporary Photographers
Many contemporary artists started their careers before the 1960s-1970s.
This means that you can find an earlier period in their work classified as modern and a more recent production categorized as contemporary photography.
Here’s a non-comprehensive guide of famous contemporary photographers – it’s just a starting point to get you inspired.
You can expand your visual culture with photography books, a visit to a museum or gallery, or by browsing the multiple online platforms dedicated to contemporary art.
- Cindy Sherman
- Nick Knight
- Helmut Newton
- An-My Le
- Henry Cartier Bresson
- Chris McCaw
- Viviane Sassen
- Sebastiao Salgado
- Andreas Gursky
- Wolfgang Tillmans
- Zhang Huan
- Bernd and Hilla Becher
- William Eggleston
- Annie Leibovitz
I hope this guide to contemporary photography was helpful and inspirational.
As you’ve seen, contemporary art and photography are quite complex topics that open an extensive and rich debate – this article is just an introduction.
Make sure you share your favourite famous contemporary photographers in the comments so we can continue the discussion.