Jamel Shabazz

Top 20 20 Street Photographers You Should Know

© Jamel Shabazz

“Sometimes I feel like the world is a place I bought a ticket to. It’s a big show for me as if it wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t there with a camera.” Garry Winogrand


─── by Josh Bright, September 13, 2023
  • We’ve assembled a collection of 20 photographers, from across the medium’s history, whose captivating images encapsulate the very essence of this unique genre.

    Naturally, it’s worth noting that this list is subjective and not comprehensive. Reducing it to only 20 photographers is an almost impossible task given the sheer number of iconic exponents of the genre. However, we believe the 20 we have selected, truly demonstrate the incredible potential of street photography.

    Portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson with his Leica in 1957 by Jane Bown
    © Jane Bown

    1. Henri Cartier Bresson

    No other photographer has shaped the genre of ‘street photography’, or perhaps the medium as a whole, as profoundly as Henri Cartier-Bresson. The founder of the prestigious Magnum Agency, he is often referred to as ‘The Father of Photojournalism’, and is considered by many as the most important photographer of the 20th century.

    Born on August 22, 1908, in Chanteloup, France, Cartier-Bresson became interested in art at an early age thanks to his mother who read him poetry, took him to classical music concerts and on frequent trips to Paris where they would visit exhibitions. He later moved to the French capital and studied painting but switched to photography in 1929 after receiving his first camera as a gift. In 1931, he purchased his first Leica, its compact size perfect for the dynamic style of street photography that would become his trademark. Rooted in a theory of perception he called ‘the decisive moment’, his remarkable oeuvre helped shape the landscape of contemporary photography, and includes some of the most compelling ‘street photography’ in existence.

    self portrait by Alex Webb
    © Alex Webb

    2. Alex Webb

    Renowned photojournalist and judge of our 2020 Street Photography Award (alongside his wife and fellow photographer Rebecca Norris Webb), California-born Alex Webb is one of the finest contemporary exponents of the genre, known for his captivating depictions of life across the globe.

    His stunning compositions, notably those captured in Latin America and the Caribbean, are characterized by dynamism, intricate details, and vivid, sun-soaked hues, highlighting his rare artistry, skill, and masterful eye for light and color, whilst showcasing the profound ability of street photography to encapsulate the essence of a place.

    Portrait of photographer Jill Freedman
    © Jill Freedman

    3. Jill Freedman

    Jill Freedman was an American street and documentary photographer who dedicated her life to capturing unique stories with rare authenticity and grace. Drawn to those on the fringes of society, Freedman immersed herself in their lives, building close relationships and observing them through her lens as they navigated their daily routines. Her images are both penetrating and unflinchingly honest, yet infused with a tenderness that echoes the deep humanism of those earlier pioneers in this field, exemplified in ‘Street Cops’, her renowned body of work which beautifully conveys the human stories behind a troubled period in New York City history.

    Photography of photographer Saul Leiter. Still from photography documentary, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter 
    © In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter 

    4. Saul Leiter

    Regarded as one of the most important practitioners of the post-war period, Saul Leiter was an early pioneer of color photography, best known for the stunning, painting-like images he captured on the streets around his Manhattan home during the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

    Unlike that of his contemporaries, Leiter’s work often verged on the abstract. He photographed through windows filtered by rain, steam, or faint reflections, employed shadows, unusual angles, and often a telephoto lens, in contrast to the wide-angle style commonly preferred by street photographers.

    However, despite his artistry, it wasn’t until the latter stages of his life that his work began to gain the recognition that it so thoroughly deserved, in part thanks to the release of the critically acclaimed documentary, Early Color in 2006. Sadly, Leiter passed away just days after the film’s release, but his color street photography lived on through numerous exhibitions and photobooks including the recently-published ‘The Unseen Saul Leiter’, cementing him as undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and influential ‘street photograpers’ in the genre’s illustrious history,

    Self portrait by Nikos Economopoulos
    © Nikos Economopoulos

    5. Nikos Economopoulos

    Nikos Economopoulos, judge of our 2021 Street Photography Award, is an internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning Magnum photographer renowned for his penetrating depictions of everyday life in the Balkans.

    Born in 1953 in the Peloponnese Region of southern Greece, he initially pursued a career in journalism before dedicating himself exclusively to photography in his mid-thirties. Galvanized by a desire to capture the “Balkan Paradox,” Economopoulos has spent much of his career documenting the complexities of life in the region, capturing the individualities of its various nations and the cultural ties that connect them.

    Photo of photographer Jamel Shabazz
    © Jamel Shabazz

    6. Jamel Shabazz

    Judge of our Street Photography Award in September 2022, Brooklyn-born Jamel Shabazz has devoted the past four decades to capturing the essence of life in his home city.

    Shabazz found his passion for photography during his teenage years, inspired by his father’s own photographic pursuits. After a brief stint in the military, he returned from his station in Germany in the early 1980s to a tumultuous NYC, plagued by industrial decline, stagnation, and a rising tide of crime, yet simultaneously, alight with the burgeoning counter-cultural movement of hip hop.

    Motivated by a fervent desire to ‘honor and elevate the young people in his community,’ Shabazz took to the sidewalks, public squares, and subways of his local area, and with honesty, artistry, and deep respect, photographed his compatriots capturing iconic photographs of the time, which convey the zeitgeist of a city at a key moment in its modern history.

    color portrait photo of Martin Parr
    © Martin Parr

    7. Martin Parr

    Judge of our 2023 Street Photography Award, British photographer Martin Parr is among the most influential practitioners of our time and a master of the genre, perhaps best known for his seminal portrayals of holidaymakers in the seaside town of New Brighton, (which formed the series ‘Last Resort’) along with his irony-infused depictions of global tourism (‘Small World’). Parr‘s work has consistently focused on the everyday, capturing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of society in striking, saturated hues (achieved in part through his innovative use of daylight flash), and with a unique sense of humor that sets him apart from his contemporaries.

    Black & white portrait photograph of photographer Daido Moriyama
    © Daido Moriyama

    8. Daido Moriyama

    A giant of contemporary street photography, Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama is best known for his subversive, granular portrayals of his homeland during the 1960s and 70s, which vividly convey the essence of the subject matter and laid the foundation for a generation of renowned Japanese photographers.

    Moriyama’s unique style, characterized by a lack of traditional composition, stands in stark contrast to the conventionally composed images of his Western contemporaries, offering a uniquely, modern take on street photography that has resonated far beyond his homeland.

    B&w portrait of photographer Harry Gruyaert
    © Harry Gruyaert

    9. Harry Gruyaert

    Renowned for his vivid, painting-like depictions of everyday life, Harry Gruyeart, is a master street photographer, who has spent his career traversing the globe, capturing images that demonstrate what he calls ‘the beauty of banality’.

    Born in Belgium in 1941, he studied photography and filmmaking and during his early career worked as a director of photography for Flemish films, before relocating to Paris and turning to street photography during the 1960s. He spent the ensuing decades travelling internationally, including, the US, India, Egypt, Japan, and notably, Morocco, where he captured some of his most compelling work. He earned widespread acclaim and recognition for his innovative use of color, winning the Kodak prize in 1976, and becoming a Magnum member six years later.

    B&w portrait of photographer Bruce Gilden
    © Bruce Gilden

    10. Bruce Gilden

    Judge of our 2022 Street Photography Award, Magnum Photographer Bruce Gilden stands as one of the genre’s most vital contemporary figures, celebrated for his raw and powerful portrayals of life on the streets. His close-up shots are characterized by grit, and humor, and are often taken barely an arm’s length from his subjects, whilst also employing daytime flash to striking effect.

    Following the acclaim garnered by his depictions of his hometown New York City, as well as New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Gilden expanded his focus outside of his homeland, travelling the globe, including notably, Japan during the latter half of the 1990s and Haiti, which he first visited in 1984 and returned to more than twenty times over the next two decades ultimately resulting in the publication of the eponymous photo book in 1996.

    Self Portrait, New York, date unknown © Vivian Maier
    © Vivian Maier
    11. Vivian Maier

    NYC-born Vivian Maier was a masterful and prolific street photographer who, over five decades, captured over 100,000 negatives, none of which she revealed to the world. Wandering the streets of Chicago during her days off from her job as a nanny, Maier photographed moments of everyday life, capturing stunning images (which came to light after her death in 2009) that display a perceptivity every bit as impressive as many of her most iconic contemporaries. Often employing color long before it gained widespread acceptance, her work remains utterly compelling today, a testament to the artistry of one of the medium’s most intriguing and enigmatic figures.

     

    Black and white portrait of Elliot Erwitt
    © Alfred Weidinger

    12. Elliot Erwitt

    Born in Paris in 1928, Elliot Erwitt stands as one of the most significant photographers of the 20th century, who left behind a diverse and extensive body of work that continues to resonate today. Throughout his seven-decade career, he ventured into photojournalism, commercial photography, and street photography, though it is perhaps for the latter that he is best known. He is responsible for some of the most iconic depictions of his homeland in existence, images that today, stand as compelling emblems of their time, and which exemplify his mastery in capturing the subtleties and nuances of everyday life.

    B&W portrait of Bruce Davidson
    © Bruce Davidson

    13. Bruce Davidson

    Bruce Davidson is an exceptionally perceptvie American photographer, who has dedicated some six decades to capturing the intricacies of life, both within his homeland and beyond.

    A close confidant and mentee of the late Henri Cartier-Bresson who welcomed him to the Magnum Agency in 1958, Davidson spent the latter part of the 20th century assembling a remarkable portfolio that spans a myriad of genres. While much of his work leans toward documentary or photojournalism, it simultaneously offers many captivating examples of street photography. His monochrome series and more recent color portrayals depicting life in iconic cities like NYC, Chicago, and other distant locales, capture the essence of their tim,e and stand as a testament to the talent and perceptivity of one of the most distinguished street photographers of our era.

    Black & white photo of Brassai
    © Brassai

    14. Brassaï

    Dubbed the ‘Eye of Paris’ by his close friend, author Henry Miller, Hungarian-born artist Brassaï worked across an array of disciplines during his extraordinary career, yet gained preeminence through his vivid photographs of life in the French capital.

    He relocated to Paris in 1924 and established an enduring connection with the city and some of its more ‘clandestine’ components, focusing predominantly on the working-class Montparnasse neighborhood and the prostitutes, pimps, and revelers, who called it home. Published in 1933, ‘Paris by Night’, his debut photobook, was the culmination of this work: sixty four stunning photographs that offered a unique perspective on the city’s nocturnal beauty. A masterpiece of street photography, it demonstrated a unique and creative approach to the style, not seen at the time, and would leave a considerable mark both on the medium thenceforth.

    Black & white portrait of Helen Levitt
    © Helen Levitt

    15. Helen Levitt

    Helen Levitt was one of the finest street photographers of the twentieth century and an early exponent of color photography who dedicated much of her life to capturing the theater of everyday life in her native New York with a perfect balance of grace, veracity. and creativity.

    While she briefly worked with a commercial portrait photographer, her true inspiration came from a chance encounter with the great Henri Cartier-Bresson in the early 1930s, and an exhibition that featured his work, alongside that of Walker Evans and Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Armed with her 35mm Leica, she roamed the neighborhoods surrounding her Manhattan home and captured life on its stoops and sidewalks in her distinctive visual language, one shaped in part by her interests in left-wing politics, avant-garde film, the surrealist movement, and contemporary dance.

    Self portrait Robert Doisneau
    © Robert Doisneau

    16. Robert Doisneau

    Considered a pioneer of photojournalism alongside his compatriot Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau hailed from the suburbs of Paris, and dedicated much of his prolific career to capturing everyday scenes on its bustling streets. A natural romantic, he eschewed the gritty realism favoured by many of his friends and contemporaries, choosing instead to seek out moments of beauty, which he likened to ‘finding treasure.’ It is a sentiment epitomized in his most iconic image “Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville”, which ironically, was not a candid moment, but actually a staged recreation of a scene he had observed earlier on the same day.

    Self portrait Diane Arbus
    © Diane Arbus

    17. Diane Arbus

    “If you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.” – Diane Arbus

    Simultaneously celebrated and criticized, New York City-born photographer Diane Arbus was a unique practitioner whose portrayals of those on society’s fringes have been labelled as ‘predatory,’ or ‘voyeuristic’ by her critics, notably Susan Sontag who called them ‘anti-humanist’. Yet her impact on the medium is undeniable.

    Although much of her famous work comprises ‘posed’ portraits, the informal setting and intimate connection between Arbus and her subjects engendered a sense of candidness, distinguishing them from typical depictions of this style and highlighting why she is considered one of the foremost street photographers of her time, albeit one whose legacy is still debated to this day.

     

    portrait of joel meyerowitz
    © Joel Meyerowitz

    18. Joel Meyerowitz

    Undoubtedly one of the most influential practitioners of the medium still alive today, American photographer Joel Meyerowitz played a pivotal role in the color movement of the 1970s, alongside fellow Americans like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore.

    While he also gained renown for his large-scale depictions of Cape Cop’s landscapes, Meyerowitz’s name is most synonymous with street photography. His vibrant and lively depictions of life on the streets of New York City during the 60s and 70s, pulsate with the same dynamism and artistic flair that characterized the work of his predecessors, yet his mastery of Kodachrome’s vivid palette set him apart.

    Gary Winogrand by Judy Teller
    © Judy Teller

    19. Garry Winogrand

    American photographer Garry Winogrand once famously remarked that the world felt like a place to which he had bought a ticket; a unique ‘show’ only accessible via the lens of his camera.

    This sentiment perfectly encapsulates his practice, his evocative photography vividly communicating the chaotic theater that was everyday life in America’s major cities during the mid-20th century and displaying the innate instinct and remarkable eye that led renowned photography curator John Szarkowski to dub him ‘the central photographer of his generation.’

    Black & white self portrait of Sabine Weiss
    © Sabine Weiss

    20. Sabine Weiss

    A prominent figure in the French Humanist movement alongside luminaries like Edouard Boubat, Robert Doisneau, Brassaї, and Willy Ronis, Sabine Weiss migrated from her native Switzerland to Paris just after World War II, and over the subsequent decades, captured the fabric of everyday life on the city’s streets with a rare blend of sensitivity, honesty, and a remarkable eye for composition.

    Employed by Doisneau’s Rapho Agency, her images were published in some of the most important publications of the time, including Vogue, Life, and The New York Times Magazine. Though also reportage, her photos stand as some of the most compelling and significant examples of ‘street photography’ in existence, demonstrating a unique closeness between Weiss and her subjects that set her apart from many of her contemporaries.

     

    All images © their respective owners