Helen Levitt

Inspiration The Best Street Photographers of All Time

© Helen Levitt

Street photography, a genre with a rich and varied history, encompasses some of the medium’s most prominent figures and some of the most captivating and iconic images ever captured.

─── by Edward Clay, March 27, 2024
  • Assembling a list of its most important exponents is no mean feat, and of course, many who were known primarily as documentarians or photojournalists were also street photographers. But this is what we’ve attempted to do: select what we believe are the 50 best street photographers of all time, each of whom has left a profound mark on the style.


    1. Henri Cartier-Bresson

    “Photography is nothing—it’s life that interests me.”

    Few if any practitioners have shaped the medium in the manner of Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of the Magnum Agency, his contributions to photographic reportage earned him the moniker ‘The Father of Photojournalism.’ Born in Chanteloup, France, he was interested in art from a young age, inspired by his mother’s cultural pursuits, and initially explored painting before embracing photography in 1929. Obtaining his first Leica camera at the turn of the 1930s, he began capturing the essence of everyday life in his homeland and beyond, pioneering the dynamic, spontaneous style of imagery which would set the foundation for contemporary street photography, rooted in a concept he called ‘the decisive moment’.


    2. Elliott Erwitt

    “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”

    Born in Paris in 1928, Elliot Erwitt is widely regarded as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, who over an impressive seven-decade career, explored various genres including photojournalism, commercial, and street photography. It is for the latter that he is perhaps most renowned, for he is responsible for some of the most iconic representations of his native land in existence, images that continue to serve as powerful symbols of their era and showcase his exceptional ability to capture the intricacies and subtleties of ordinary life.


    3. Berenice Abbott

    “I didn’t decide to be a photographer; I just happened to fall into it.”

    Berenice Abbot (1898 -1991) was a hugely influential photographer, who played a pivotal role in connecting the vibrant cultural worlds of Paris and New York. Hailing from Springfield, Ohio, she relocated to New York in 1918 to pursue independent studies in sculpture. In 1921, she moved to Paris where she honed her skills at the Man Ray Studio before further refining her craft in Berlin. Upon returning to NYC in 1929, Abbott was struck by the city’s rapid transformation and thus dedicated herself to capturing the disappearing old and emerging new, transcribing the streets, parks, and people in her unique modernist and perceptive visual language.

    Man Diving, Ganges Floods, Benares, Uttar Pradesh 1985 Raghubir Singh
    “Man Diving, Ganges Floods, Benares, Uttar Pradesh” (1985)

    4. Raghubir Singh

    “Photography, to me, is the dewdrop that reflects my inner and outer worlds simultaneously”

    While during his remarkable career, Raghubir Singh (1942-1999) resided in various cities across the globe – including London, Paris, and Hong Kong – it was in his homeland where he produced his most memorable work. His captivating, chromatic images vividly convey the rich tapestry of everyday life in India, and stand as some of the most captivating representations of the country ever recorded.


    5. Daido Moriyama

    “The camera doesn’t matter.”

    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.


    6. Saul Leiter

    “A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person.”

    Saul Leiter (1923- 2013) regarded as one of the most significant figures in post-war photography, was an early pioneer of color photography, known for his stunning, almost painterly images captured on the streets of Manhattan during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Despite his artistic brilliance, Leiter’s work remained underappreciated until later in his life. It wasn’t until the release of the acclaimed documentary “Early Color” in 2006 that his contributions gained widespread recognition. Tragically, Leiter passed away shortly after the film’s release, but his legacy lives on through various exhibitions and publications, including the recent compilation “The Unseen Saul Leiter”.


    7. William Eugene Smith

    “I didn’t write the rules. Why would I follow them?”

    William Eugene Smith was a highly influential photographer, credited with developing the photo essay to its modern form. Combining creativity with honesty and technical skill, the candid images he captured for LIFE magazine during and after the Second World War, helped shape the terrain of modern photojournalism, and remain vital historical documents that convey the complexities behind some of the most important stories of the time.


    8. Robert Doisneau

    “If I knew how to take a good photograph, I’d do it every time.”

    Considered a pioneer of photojournalism alongside his compatriot Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau hailed from the suburbs of Paris, and throughout his illustrious career, devoted himself to capturing the essence of everyday life on the city’s bustling streets. Unlike many of his contemporaries who favored gritty realism, Doisneau was a natural romantic who sought out moments of beauty, an experience her likened to ‘finding treasure.’

    color street photo by Mark Cohen
    © Mark Cohen

    9. Mark Cohen

    “When you feel like you’re making pictures– the most important is to make new pictures.”

    Mark Cohen, (b.1943)  is an acclaimed American photographer recognized for his pioneering close-up street photography. Cohen’s distinctive approach involves photographing subjects at close range, utilizing a wide-angle lens and flash, predominantly in black and white. He often crops their heads from the frame, focusing instead on small details, a technique he characterizes as ‘intrusive’, resulting in imagery that is intense, visceral and captivating.


    10. Richard Kalvar

    “I capture reality, never pose it.”

    For over five decades, New York photographer Richard Kalvar (b.1944) has skillfully captured the drama of everyday life, both in his hometown and across the globe. Characterized by wit, perceptivity, and dexterity, his work is profoundly compelling, palpably visceral, and often infused with humor, perfectly embodying his statement: “Life is a farce, the skill is in showing it”.


    11. Jamel Shabazz

    “What I strive to do through my work, is to teach compassion.”

    Brooklyn-born Jamel Shabazz (b.1960) has dedicated over four decades to capturing life in his beloved hometown. Shabazz’s journey into photography began during his teenage years, inspired by his father’s own photographic pursuits. Following a brief military service, he returned to a New York City plagued by industrial decline, crime, and addiction, yet brimming with the burgeoning hip-hop movement. Driven by a profound desire to ‘honor and uplift’ his community, Shabazz embarked on a mission to document the streets, subways, and squares of his neighborhood, capturing honest, joyful, and poignant images that vividly portray the zeitgeist of a city at a pivotal moment in its modern history.


    12. Nikos Economopoulos

    What captivates me is the crossing of thresholds, the suspension of disbelief, the exchange of emotions in shared spaces, the minute wonders of life in the street.”

    Born in 1953 in the Peloponnese Region of southern Greece, Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos began his career in journalism before shifting his focus solely to photography in his mid-thirties. Driven by a fascination with the “Balkan Paradox,” he has dedicated much of his career to documenting the intricacies of life in the region, capturing the distinct complexities of each nation, as well as the cultural bonds that unite them


    13. Garry Winogrand

    “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.”

    American photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) once famously described the world as a unique ‘show’, accessible only through the lens of his camera. It is a sentiment that encapsulates his practice: his evocative black & white images perfectly capture the chaotic theater of everyday life in America’s major cities during the mid-20th century, demonstrating why renowned photography curator John Szarkowski dubbed him, ‘the central photographer of his generation.’

    Black and white photo of people in Pike Street, Seattle, 1983 by Mary Ellen Mark

    14. Mary Ellen Mark

    “Photograph the world as it is.”

    Driven by a deep sense of humanism, American photographer Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) dedicated much of her remarkable five-decade career to capturing individuals on the fringes of society with unwavering honesty, acuity, and compassion. While celebrated for her storytelling, Mark always considered herself primarily a street photographer and possessed the same innate perceptivity as the genre’s most iconic figures. Before photographing her subjects, she would spend time with them, treating them with warmth, honesty, and respect, thus fostering a profound sense of intimacy in her work, and evoking empathy and connection in the viewer.


    15. Josef Koudelka

    “I don’t pretend to be an intellectual or a philosopher. I just look.”

    Czech photographer Josef Koudelka (b.1938) has dedicated seven decades to documenting life in his homeland. Starting in the 1950s as a student, he began photographing Gypsies and theater scenes in Prague while also pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering. He transitioned to full-time photography in 1967 and gained international recognition for his courageous documentation of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague. He later left Czechoslovakia for political asylum, and joined Magnum Photos as an associate in 1971 before becoming a full member 3 years later.

    16. René Burri

    “A photograph is a moment – when you press the button, it will never come back.”

    Rene Burri (1933-2014)  like many icons of the genre, was a photojournalist, who dedicated his life to traveling the world and documenting significant global events, movements, and personalities. He photographed iconic artists like Pablo Picasso, covered important events across the globe including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 50th anniversary of the Long March in China in 1985, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, and in Cuba famously captured captivating and iconic photos of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Yet, his depictions of everyday life are equally arresting. Whether in black and white or color, the Swiss photographer documented his surroundings with remarkable artistry. His extraordinary eye for form and composition resulted in imagery that are both beautiful compositions and important visual documents of their time.


    17. Ernst Haas

    “I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.”

    One of the medium’s most important figures, Ernst Haas (1921-1986) was an Austrian-born photographer who spent much of his professional life in New York City. An early pioneer of color, Haas possessed the extraordinary ability to infuse ordinary moments with profound artistic expression. His depictions of life, both in his adopted home city and further afield, are defined by remarkable artistry and skill, and even today, decades after they were captured, continue to delight, influence, and inspire.


    18. Gordon Parks

    “I feel it is the heart, not the eye, that should determine the content of the photograph. What the eye sees is its own. What the heart can perceive is a very different matter.”

    Although he photographed across a range of styles and subjects throughout his illustrious career, Gordon Parks (1912-2006) is best remembered for his insightful photo essays during his tenure as the first Black-American staff photographer for LIFE magazine from 1948 to 1972. The penetrating imagery he captured in cities like Chicago and New York City, captured the often harsh realities of everyday life for African Americans whilst challenging pervasive stereotypes, and resonated with audiences, often sparking positive change for the people photographed.


    19. Raghu Rai

    “A photograph has picked up a fact of life, and that fact will live forever.”

    Few photographers have portrayed everyday life in India in the manner of Raghu Rai. Born in Jhang (now Pakistan) in 1942, Rai initially pursued civil engineering before switching to photography aged 23. He became the chief photographer for The Statesman newspaper (1966-1976) before becoming the Picture Editor for Sunday, a weekly news magazine published in Calcutta (1977-1980). In 1971, Rai joined Magnum after Henri Cartier-Bresson, impressed by an exhibition of Rai’s work in Paris, extended him an invitation.


    20. Bruno Barbey

    “Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.”

    Bruno Barbey, regarded as one of the most important photographers of our time, has dedicated the last five decades to traveling the world and capturing powerful images that depict the complexities of key historical moments. Throughout his extensive career spanning more than five decades, he has photographed on all five continents, documenting conflicts and wars in places such as Nigeria, Vietnam, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, and Iraq, whilst also capturing the essence of everyday life for ordinary people, with artistry and humanism that deeply resonates with viewers.


    21. Jill Freedman

    “I was obsessed and driven. I thought about photography all of the time, I dreamed about it. I was totally in love.”

    Jill Freedman (1939-2019) was a dedicated street and documentary photographer who devoted her life to capturing the intricacies of daily life. Drawn to those on the margins of society, Freedman often spent months immersing herself with her subjects, observing them through her lens as they navigated their daily existence. Her images are intimate, penetrating, and unflinchingly honest, yet they also exude a tenderness, rooted in the same deep humanism that inspired the pioneers of this genre decades earlier.


    22. Alex Webb

    “The viewer is yet another eye that is part of the compact that makes a photograph what it is.”

    American photographer and Magnum member Alex Webb (b.1952), is renowned for his stunning images that capture fleeting moments of everyday life across the globe. From his homeland to Latin America and the Caribbean, Webb’s compositions are defined by dynamism, intricate details, and vibrant, sun-soaked hues. His images, showcase the artistry and skill of one of the most gifted photographers of our time, highlighting street photography’s ability to encapsulate the essence of scene.


    23. Alfred Stieglitz

    “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”

    Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) played a pivotal role in the development of modern photography during the early 20th century, both in his work as a photographer and as an art dealer, exhibition organizer, publisher, and editor. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Stieglitz studied engineering in Germany, his parents’ homeland, before returning to New York City in 1890. Over the next two and a half decades he meticulously documented the city’s people and landscapes with a technical mastery of tone and texture and a creative vision that imbued his photographs with a deeply atmospheric quality that exemplified why he believed photography deserved a place among the fine arts.


    24. Vivian Maier

    “If you really have something to say better to be behind the camera than in front of it.”

    Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was a profoundly talented street photographer who, over five decades, amassed a collection of over 100,000 negatives which she kept hidden from the world. During her time off from her job as a nanny in Chicago, Maier roamed the city streets, capturing everyday moments with an artistry that far surpassed that of her professional counterparts. Often working in color long before it gained widespread acceptance, her photographs – which came to light after her death in 2009 – remain utterly captivating today, standing as a testament to the extraordinary talent and enigmatic nature of one of the medium’s most intriguing figures.


    25. Alfred Eisenstaedt

    “t is more important to click with people than to click the shutter”

    German-American photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995) played a pivotal role in shaping the evolution of street photography, pioneering the use of the 35mm camera during his four-decade tenure with LIFE magazine, starting in 1936. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Eisenstaedt wasn’t confined to a specific industry or style. He possessed the versatility and ability to capture a variety of moments and situations with a sharp eye and masterful eye for composition.


    26. Harry Gruyaert

    “I work completely intuitively. I do not have a concept.”

    Renowned for his vivid, painting-like portrayals of everyday life worldwide, Harry Gruyeart is a master street photographer who has dedicated his career to capturing what he terms ‘the beauty of banality’. Born in Belgium in 1941, Gruyeart initially studied photography and filmmaking, and began his career as a director of photography for Flemish films before relocating to Paris in the 1960s and delving into street photography. Over the subsequent decades, he traveled extensively, exploring countries such as the United States, India, Egypt, Japan, and notably, Morocco, where he produced some of his most compelling work. Gruyeart’s pioneer use of color earned him widespread recognition, including the Kodak Prize in 1976, and in 1982, he became a member of Magnum Photos.


    27. André Kertész

    “Photography is my only language”

    André Kertész (1894 – 1985) was one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, renowned for his utterly compelling monochrome imagery which laid the foundation for generations of eminent practitioners. In 1925, Kertész left his native Hungary for Paris, where, over the ensuing decades, he created some of his most memorable work. While his images spanned several genres, his depictions of the city streets are among the most iconic ever captured. Characterized by geometric shapes, shadows, reflections, and remarkable acuity, they had significant influence, shaping the genre as we know it today.


    28. William Eggleston

    “I had this notion of what I called a democratic way of looking around, that nothing was more important or less important.”

    William Eggleston (b.1939) is often referred to as ‘The Father of Color Photography’ for his groundbreaking work in capturing everyday life in the American South during the 1970s. Eggleston’s focus was predominantly on his home state of Tennessee, where he continues to reside, yet despite his strong ties to the area, his approach deliberately steered away from narrative storytelling. Instead, he had a remarkable talent for transforming the ordinary into enchanting and sometimes surreal glimpses of rapidly evolving suburban life in the Deep South, his deeply compelling imagery helped lay the foundation for the acceptance of color photography while revealing the medium’s artistic potential


    29. Bill Cunningham

    “If someone is wearing something terrific, that’s what I want to photograph.”

    Bill Cunningham (1929-2016) was a prominent figure in street and fashion photography who spent nearly four decades navigating the streets of New York City, often on his bicycle, capturing candid images of its most stylish inhabitants. Driven by a profound interest in others, Cunningham was celebrated for his honesty and benevolence, which often seemed at odds with the elitism of the fashion world. His dynamic and lively images not only contributed to the emergence of a new style of fashion-focused street photography but also served as significant cultural touchstones, documenting the style zeitgeist of several eras.


    30. Joel Meyerowitz

    “You fill up the frame with feelings, energy, discovery, and risk, and leave room enough for someone else to get in there.”

    Undoubtedly one of the most influential practitioners of the medium still alive today, American photographer Joel Meyerowitz (b.1938) 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 America’s landscapes, Meyerowitz’s name is most synonymous with street photography. His portrayals life on the streets of New York City during the 1960s and 1970s, possess the same dynamism and artistic flair that characterized the work of his predecessors, yet it is his mastery of Kodachrome’s vivid palette that set him apart.


    31. Martine Franck

    “What I like most about photography is the moment that you can’t anticipate: you have to be constantly watching for it, ready to welcome the unexpected.”

    One of the finest practitioners of her time, Martine Franck, like her husband Henri Cartier-Bresson, was a major proponent of the humanist style, spending much of her life traversing the globe to capture utterly compelling depictions of everyday life. While she also photographed artists and writers, Franck is best known for her humanitarian reportage. Beginning with her first expedition to Asia in 1963, she spent more than 40 years photographing people from across the world with a combination of grace, honesty, and artistry, or as her close friend Robert Doisneau described it “un regard amical” (a friendly eye).


    32. Fred Herzog

    “Timing in photography is almost everything. You have to pay attention to where the light comes from, you have to pay attention to your background.”

    German-born Fred Herzog (1930-2019) was a key pioneer of color photography who dedicated over half a century to capturing the essence of his adopted home city of Vancouver. ⁠Preceding contemporaries like Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, who also explored the beauty of Kodachrome, Herzog remained undeterred by prevailing critical biases towards black and white photography, capturing stunning images that helped persuade the world of the distinctive artistic merits of color. ⁠


    33. Bruce Gilden

    “If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph.”

    One of the genre’s most influential living figures Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden forged his reputation on the streets of his home city, New York, capturing everyday life in his distinct, confrontational manner. Shot at arm’s length from his subjects, using flash, his early works are visceral, compelling, and unreservedly forthright, permeated with grit, humor, and intrigue. Following his success in New York City and at events like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Gilden expanded his work to other parts of the world. He notably spent time in Japan during the second half of the 1990s and first visited Haiti in 1984, returning on more than twenty occasions, culminating in the publication of an eponymous photo book in 1996.


    34. Lee Friedlander

    “The world makes up my pictures, not me.”

    American photographer Lee Friedlander is renowned for his compelling depictions of quotidian moments across his homeland. Born on July 14, 1934, in Aberdeen, WA, Friedlander studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before moving to New York in 1956. Influenced by the works of Eugène Atget and Walker Evans, he captures spontaneous imagery that often includes candid portraits of people, signs, and reflections of himself in storefront windows. Friedlander’s approach embodies his own declaration: “You don’t have to go looking for pictures. You go out and the pictures are staring at you.”


    35. Richard Sandler

    “Some people don’t like the term (street photography) but I’m fine with it. To me, it means photographing on impulse wherever you are.

    Richard Sandler (b.1946) is celebrated for his captivating black-and-white portrayals of everyday life in his native New York City. He began his photography journey in 1977 in Boston after receiving a camera from a friend who also introduced him to darkroom techniques. Inspired by the legendary Garry Winogrand, Sandler embarked on a quest to capture the social fabric of the streets. Returning to his native New York City, he spent decades walking its sidewalks, Leica in hand, documenting his fellow city dwellers with keen insight, technical skill, and profound humanism reminiscent of his esteemed predecessors.

    color street photo of kid playing with ball by David Alan Harvey

    36. David Alan Harvey

    “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”

    David Alan Harvey is a renowned American photographer known for his distinctive style blending direct documentary with his distinct visual language. Born in San Francisco in 1944, and raised in Virginia, Harvey discovered his passion for photography at the age of 11 when he purchased a used Leica with savings from his newspaper route. By 20, he had produced his first photo essay, and he would go on to complete over 40 assignments for National Geographic, covering diverse stories worldwide. He joined Magnum as a nominee in 1993 and became a full member four years later following a private investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him.


    37. Sabine Weiss

    “…I photograph to preserve the ephemeral…”

    A prominent figure in the French Humanist movement alongside renowned photographers like Edouard Boubat, Robert Doisneau, Brassaï, and Willy Ronis, Swiss-born photographer Sabine Weiss made Paris her home shortly after World War II. Over the following decades, she skillfully documented everyday life on the city streets, displaying a rare combination of sensitivity, honesty, and a keen eye for composition. Working under Robert Doisneau’s Rapho Agency, Weiss’s images – published in prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Life, Paris Match, and The New York Times Magazine – are exemplary works of street photography. While rooted in reportage, her photographs stand out for the intimate connection she formed with her subjects, a quality that distinguished her approach and made her work truly unique.

    Black and white photo of boys playing by Weegee

    38. Weegee

    “I am a perfectionist. When I take a picture…it’s gotta be good.”

    Arthur Fellig (1899 – 1968) known by his pseudonym Weegee, is celebrated for his iconic images of New York City during the 1930s and 1940s. Born in 1899 in Lemburg (now in Ukraine), his family immigrated to the United States when he was just ten years old. He became a freelance news photographer in 1935, and over the next decade and a half, made a name for himself by capturing striking images of nocturnal New York, gaining access to crime scenes by bribing police officers, and later, by obtaining permission to install a police radio in his car. His gritty, tabloid-style photographs depicting the aftermath of street crimes, disasters, and tragedies, often using bright flash, are controversial and have been labelled voyeuristic by some, yet Weegee’s influence was undeniable. His focus on capturing the harsh realities of urban life is said to have inspired many notable photographers, including Diane Arbus.


    39. Steve McCurry

    “A picture can express a universal humanism, or simply reveal a delicate and poignant truth by exposing a slice of life that might otherwise pass unnoticed.”

    Steve McCurry is one of the most prominent figures in contemporary photography, celebrated for his remarkable ouevre which includes some of the most iconic images of our time. Born in Philadelphia in 1950, McCurry initially studied cinematography at Pennsylvania State University. After a brief stint as a staff photographer for a local newspaper, he embarked on a journey to India that would profoundly shape his career. It was during this trip that he had a realization: “if you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.” This epiphany became the cornerstone of his approach to photography, shaping the style which has resulted in a vast collection of captivating and truly iconic photographs, spanning every corner of the globe. 


    40. Walker Evans

    “The eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.”

    Like his compatriot Dorothea Lange, American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) is renowned for his work with the Farm Security Administration, documenting the impact of the Great Depression. Considered one of the foremost figures in the American documentary tradition, Evans dedicated five decades to traversing his homeland, capturing the subtleties of life with stark realism, yet simultaneouslym a keen eye for rhythm and composition which resulted in images that are both informative and absorbing.


    41. Diane Arbus

    “A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”

    Diane Arbus (1923-1971) occupies a unique position, garnering both acclaim and criticism for her portrayal of individuals on society’s margins. While some view her work as “predatory”, “voyeuristic,” or, in the case of Susan Sontag, “anti-humanist”, her impact on the medium is undeniable. Her most famous images – often staged portraits – possess an informal quality that stems from the intimate connection between Arbus and her subjects, demonstrating why she is considered one of the foremost street photographers of her era. However, the ongoing debate surrounding her legacy highlights the complexities of her contribution to photography and the enduring questions it raises about representation and ethics in the art form.


    42. Brassaï

    “My images were surreal simply in the sense that my vision brought out the fantastic dimension of reality.”

    Dubbed the ‘Eye of Paris’ by his close friend, author Henry Miller, Hungarian-born artist Gyula Halász, better known as Brassaï (1899-1984) excelled across various disciplines during his extraordinary career, but it was his atmospheric photographs of the French capital for which he is best known. After relocating to Paris in 1924, Brassaï forged a deep connection with the city and its more ‘clandestine’ aspects, particularly focusing on the working-class Montparnasse neighborhood and its inhabitants. His debut, 1933 photobook, “Paris by Night,” is considered a masterpiece of street photography, showcasing a creative and distinctive approach to the genre that altered its landscape thenceforth. 

    color photo of girl and bicycle by Evelyn Hofer

    43. Evelyn Hofer

    “I tried to meet the person first, to show my respect and desire to take the portrait wherever he or she would prefer.”

    Few photographers in history have captured the essence of their subjects quite like Evelyn Hofer (1922-2009) the enigmatic German-born photographer who dedicated her life to photographing people and places, both in her adopted New York City and beyond. With a unique blend of grace, artistry, and a painter’s eye for color, Hofer’s work stands apart. In contrast to the dynamic, hand-held cameras favored by many of her contemporaries, Hofer predominantly used a tripod-mounted, large-format camera, a method that required immense patience and attention, resulting in images imbued with sensitivity and stillness. 


    44. William Klein

    “I came from the outside, the rules of photography didn’t interest me.”

    Although he worked across a range of disciplines during his extraordinary career, William Klein (1926-2022) is best known as a photographer, primarily focusing on photojournalism, street photography, and fashion in his native New York City. Often blending all three genres to create unique and captivating imagery, Klein is renowned for his creative and subversive approach to the medium, which fuses grit with beauty. His images, often grainy, out of focus, or breaking the ‘rules’ of composition, have influenced generations of practitioners, including the now-iconic Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama.

    black and white photo of kids in new york street by Helen Levitt. Best street photographers all time
    New York, 1940

    45. Helen Levitt

    “Since I’m inarticulate, I express myself with images.”

    Helen Levitt (1913-2009)  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, shaped in part by her interests in left-wing politics, avant-garde film, the surrealist movement, and contemporary dance.


    46. Bruce Davidson

    Most of my pictures are compassionate, gentle and personal. They tend to let the viewer see for himself. They tend not to preach. And they tend not to pose as art.”

    A close confidant and mentee of the late Henri Cartier-Bresson, who welcomed him to the Magnum Agency in 1958, American photographer Bruce Davidson (b.1933) spent the latter part of the 20th century assembling a remarkable portfolio that spans myriad genres. While much of his work leans toward documentary or photojournalism, it also offers captivating examples of street photography. His monochrome series and more recent color portrayals depicting life in iconic cities like NYC and Chicago, as well as other distant locales, capture the zeitgeist of their time and stand as a testament to the talent and perceptivity of one of the most distinguished street photographers of our era


    47. Jacques Henri-Lartigue

    “Photography to me is catching a moment which is passing, and which is true.”

    Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) was a French painter and photographer renowned for his dynamic photographs captured during the 20th century. A far cry from the gritty urban imagery often associated with modern street photography, Lartigue depicted high society in his homeland, reflecting his own life and privileged upbringing. He began photographing the people and places around him as a boy and maintained his youthful exuberance throughout his long photography career. His images, marked by spontaneity, joyfulness, and candidness, transported viewers into his world, a sentiment echoed by Richard Avedon, who described seeing them for the first time in 1963 as, ‘one of the most moving experiences of my life.’


    48. Martin Parr

    “Photography is the simplest thing in the world, but it is incredibly complicated to make it really work.”

    British photographer Martin Parr stands as one of the most influential practitioners of our time. He is best known for his seminal portrayals of holidaymakers in the seaside town of New Brighton, forming the iconic series ‘Last Resort,’ as well as his irony-infused depictions of global tourism in ‘Small World.’ Parr’s oeuvre consistently focuses on the everyday, capturing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of society in striking, saturated hues. This effect is achieved in part through his innovative use of daylight flash, imbuing his images with a unique sense of humor that sets him apart from his contemporaries.


    49. Robert Frank

    “The eye should learn to listen before it looks”

    One of the most influential documentary photographers in history, Robert Frank (1924- 2019) was born in Zürich, Switzerland, but relocated to the US during his early 20s, and would become synonymous with the country. Throughout the 1950s, he traversed the nation, capturing candid images of everyday life that culminated in his landmark 1959 photobook, “The Americans”. Considered one of the most important bodies of work in the medium’s history, it featured over 80 monochrome images taken during road trips across the United States, capturing both its iconography and the harsh realities of life for many. Controversial at the time for its unflinching critique of the American Dream, its impact has been unprecedented, serving as both a touchstone of the era and a blueprint for photographic storytelling.

    color street photo of woman in new york by Jeff Mermelstein

    50. Jeff Mermelstein

    “Street photography is an important documentation of our time.”

    Jeff Mermelstein (b.1957) is renowned for his striking, upfront, and often humor-tinged depictions of everyday life in New York City. Working on both personal projects and assignments for publications such as LIFE, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine, he has been photographing the streets of NYC since the early 1980s, inspired by the likes of Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and Lee Friedlander. More recently, Mermelstein has gained recognition for his unique and satirical series started in 2017, wherein he secretly photographs New Yorkers’ phones as they write and read messages.


    51. Tony Ray-Jones

    “Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think it is possible to walk, like Alice, through a looking glass, and find another kind of world with the camera.”

    Despite his untimely death aged just 31, Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) was hugely influential in the development of British photography. His practice was shaped by the five years he spent in the US during the early 1960s – a period of great innovation for American photography – where he studied under renowned Harper’s Bazaar Art Director Alexey Brodovitch while also befriending Joel Meyerowitz, with whom he often photographed on the city streets. 

    Returning to his native England, in 1966, Ray-Jones captured the customs and eccentricities of his compatriots. He returned to the US in 1971 with his wife and had numerous projects planned, but sadly died a year later after contracting leukaemia. His images, honest yet nostalgic and imbued with irony, compassion, and humor, would live on, influencing a generation of photographers, including, most notably, Martin Parr


    52. Constantine Manos

    “Taking good pictures is easy. Making very good pictures is difficult. Making great pictures is almost impossible.”

    Magnum photographer Constantine Manos has spent decades capturing life, both in his native USA and his parents’ homeland of Greece. He has produced photo essays for publications such as LIFE and Esquire, yet he is perhaps best known for his colorful depictions of the US, predominantly set in coastal regions. He refers to these settings as ‘democratic’ spaces—where everyday life unfolds amidst a diverse cross-section of society, engendering moments of humor, joy, and love, fundamental tenets of the human condition


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    Looking for more motivational insights? – Check out our selection of The 100 most inspiring quotes for photographers