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20 female photographers you should know

We have never seen so many images as we do today, nothing has ever been as documented and shared as the photographs that we all take and which excite us daily. Why can a photograph make us cry, laugh, travel, or even change our lives? A picture is really worth more than a thousand words and these women photographers have dedicated, and continue to dedicate their whole lives to that which makes us vibrate – one more amazing photograph. After all, one single picture is capable of changing lives, overthrowing governments, changing consciences, and when we have stories of female photographers who don’t even have a mattress in their house because their lives are dedicated to chasing moments immortalized by their photographs, we think to ourselves – this is the image of great women!

1. Ruth Orkin

Photographer Ruth Orkin captured one of the most striking pictures that even today any woman can still relate to. This image reminds us of what it was like to be a woman alone in Europe after the Second World War. This photograph, taken in 1951, shows Ruth's friend, Ninalee Craig, strolling down a street in Florence, where strange men noticed and noted her presence. Ruth's daughter, Mary Engel, claims that although this image was not staged, her goal was to show a woman exploring the world by herself. Ruth Orkin worked for the New York Times, and was co-director of a film nominated for the Oscars. Before her death in 1985, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York did a showing of her work.

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2. Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin's photographs are anything but insignificant. Considered the most influential photographer of the last 50 years, the bare emotion that this photographer transports to her photographs is extremely realistic. Born in Washington and having shown her first work at a New York nightclub in 1979, Nan Goldin fills her images with sexuality, transgression and drug abuse, especially in the 1980s. In 2004, her series "Sisters, Saints & Sybils" touches on her sister Barbara’s suicide at the age of 18. Nan Goldin is the goddess of raw memories, frozen in time.

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3. Annie Leibovitz

Everyone knows Annie Leibovitz and her work in the world of celebrities. Annie was born in 1949 in Connecticut and her first famous work was shot in 1970 for Rolling Stone magazine, when she photographed John Lennon. Two years later she was appointed head of photography at the same magazine and the successful career she has today really took off. In 1980, she photographed John once again, this time with his wife Yoko Ono, and with the first Polaroid taken, she immortalized one of the couple's most famous photographs. In 1983 she began working at Vanity Affair, where she photographed countless celebrities, including Barack Obama. Annie Leibovitz was the first woman to be shown at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

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4. Helen Levitt

Until her death in 2009, Helen Levitt photographed the streets of New York and the street scenes that characterize her photography. Even as one of the less acclaimed female photographers of her time, Helen has memorable work, as can be seen in the picture she portrayed, first in black and white and later on in color, of street life in New York.

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5. Shirin Neshat

Born in Iran in 1958, Shirin Neshat is known for her country's femininity ideas. Her work focuses on the difference in duality between Iran and the Western world, between feminine and masculine, antiquity and modernity, black and white. Her work takes into account the socio-political and psychological dimensions of women's experiences in today's Islamic societies, where she recognizes the religious forces that shape the Muslim identities of women throughout the world. You can see her TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/shirin_neshat_art_in_exile

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6. Lalla Essaydi

Born in Morocco in 1956, photographer Lalla Essaydi creates staged photographs of Arab women, investigating the shape of power and gender manifestation in the way her subjects pose with their bodies in negative space. Many of her photographs involve words, more specifically Arabic calligraphy, something which is traditionally performed by men in Morocco. Her work is autobiographical, focusing on her experiences growing up in Morocco and as a woman living in Saudi Arabia, but she also goes beyond these experiences and includes her Western reality as well.

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7. Sally Mann

Born in 1964 in Virginia, Sally Mann is one of the most controversial contemporary photographers, especially due to her series "At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women", where she captures the adolescent life of girls, which she portrays as a period of quest for independence and change. Sally characterizes her work by the distance that exists between adults and children and uses her camera to portray it.

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8. Tina Modotti

Born Assunta Adelaide Luigia Modotti Mondini, the photographer better known as Tina, was born in Italy in 1896 and immigrated to the United States at the age of 16. Tina was an actress, political activist and artist before, during and after her marriage to photographer Edward Weston. Tina created a roll of incredible photographs, especially those shot in Mexico before her death in 1942. Tina Modotti photographed and was part of the chain of Mexican murals led by Diogo Rivera, and on her tombstone Pablo de Neruda wrote: Pure your gentle name, pure your fragile life, bees, shadows, fire, snow, silence and foam, combined with steel and wire and pollen to make up your firm and delicate being.

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9. Dorothea Lange

Her famous photograph "Migrant Mother" captured during the Great Depression brought her fame, but the Great Depression also wiped out her photography business. In 1931 Dorothea Lange had to send her children to a boarding school, live apart from her husband and leave her home while they both worked in separate studios. Dorothea began photographing the effects of the Great Depression of 1930 on people and ended up exhibiting her work with the help of photographers Willard Van Dyke and Roger Sturtevant. One of her other most famous pictures of this era is the "White Angel Breadline". In an interview, Dorothea spoke about her photograph "Migrant Mother" and said: "We just survived. I did not ask her name or her story. She told me her age, she was 32 years old. She told me that she and her children had been living off frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and from the birds her children killed. She had sold her car tires in order to buy food."

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10. Anna Atkins

Anna Atkins, who died in 1871 at age 72, is acclaimed as the first female photographer. Anna is also recognized as the first woman to have published the first book with photographs, instead of the more common illustrations used at the time. Anna came from the world of scientific botany, following her father’s footsteps. Anna and her father were very close friends of William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the first form of photography, and it’s suspected that her interest in this art came from here. Her book “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” quickly gained the approval of her peers, and in doing so she established photography as a medium accepted by the scientific community.

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11. Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger is known as the feminist photographer. Her work combines photographs with other materials and words, thus creating statements about politics, feminism, and other social issues. In her work, Barbara uses photographic prints, metals, fabrics, magazines and other materials to create images, collages and other art forms. Barbara was born in New Jersey in 1945, and her conceptual work is marked by her social values and the red frame or line around her pictures, as well as the text that she includes on this red border. Her untitled image that states "Your body is a battleground" was created for the Women's March in Washington, in support of reproductive freedom.

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Other contemporary photographers worth following

12. Meridith Kohut

A regular contributor to The New York Times, Meridith Kohut is from Venezuela. Her work mostly portrays this country’s economic and social crisis, and her courage has led her to risky situations, while capturing great photographs.

Instagram

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13. Meeri Koutaniemi

Meeri Koutaniemi, from Finland, won the Lumix Photo Festival Award in Germany in 2014, among others. Her work was about female genital mutilation. Though direct, her approach was filled with respect and integrity.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/meerikoutaniemi

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14. Mahin Mohammadzadeh 

Mahin Mohammadzadeh, a native of Iran, fought hard to become a photographer and is the only female photographer in the Sistan province. She is a woman of determination, which is essential when one lives in one of the country’s poorest provinces. Mahin photographs the lives of a part of the country that we rarely have a chance to witness. Her work is honest and, above all, real.

Instagram

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15. Charlotte Schmitz

Charlotte Schmitz was born in Germany, but currently lives in Turkey. Her work is based on a contemporary woman and on the issues that affect this woman. Her perspective is always personal, in documentary style photography.

Instagram

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16. Justyna Mielnikiewicz

Justyna Mielnikiewicz, born in Poland and currently based in Georgia, is one of the most important female photographers of her generation. Justyna Mielnikiewicz explores the subject of human experiences, where she tells stories about women, sexuality and gender in Russia. Her words are a mirror of her work in the TED Talk she gave in Tbilisi.

Instagram

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17. Melissa Spitz

Melissa Spitz, born in the USA, creates strong images, and her photographic story about her mother who suffers from mental illness is overwhelming. Her work is raw and beautiful.

Instagram

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18. Maja Hitij

While working as an intern at the Associated Press in Israel, Maja Hitij, born in Slovenia and based in Germany, didn’t even have a mattress at home and never complained about it. Maja documented the difficulties that the Syrian refugees experienced on the border of Slovenia and Austria, but also helped gather food for them. Maja Hitij is a photojournalist with a mission: to make a difference through photography.

Instagram

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19. Farzana Wahidy

A native of Afghanistan, Farzana Wahidy captures the most intimate moments of everyday life in Afghanistan, usually focusing on women's issues in this country.

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20. Violeta Santos-Moura

Born in Portugal, Violeta Santos-Moura shows a deep look at Israeli society. Her view on common controversial subjects is done with a new vision, which allows her to create a new aura surrounding her photography.

Instagram

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