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5 Famous Female Photographers

Updated on September 23, 2014

A View of the World Through the Lens of Famous Female Photographers

Since the camera was invented, it has allowed photographers to tell a story in a single image. Many of the most-recognized photos in the world, like the flag raising over Iwo Jima, have been shot by men, but women have also recorded amazing images that have enriched our lives with their beauty, poignancy or immediacy. Here are some of the famous female photographers who have earned a place in the history books by recording moments of our lives with their cameras.

(Image credit: Annie Liebovitz photo by Robert Scoble and edited under Creative Commons license)

Dorothea Lange was a documentary photographer and photojournalist who is best known for her Depression-era images that recorded the plight of the poor, especially migrant workers, displaced farm families, and sharecroppers. Many of her most famous images were shot while she was employed by the Farm Services Administration (FAA).

Lange may have developed a passion for telling the story of other people's plights due to her own challenges. She contracted polio when she was 7 and always walked with a limp. She once said, "It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me. I've never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and the power of it."

Despite her work for the FSA, however, Lange's work later got her in trouble with the US government. Lange gave up a Guggenheim Fellowship to work for the War Relocation Authority (WRA), where she set to work documenting the Japanese interment. But the images were "so obviously critical that the Army impounded them," according to Wikipedia. The images weren't seen again for about 50 years, when nearly 800 images were uncovered in the National Archives. A 2006 article in the New York Times described some of the photos: "In harrowing images that uncomfortably echo the Nazi round-ups of Jews in Europe, Lange's photographs document long, weaving lines of well-dressed people, numbered tags around their necks, patiently waiting to be processed and sent to unknown destinations."

In 1945, Lange joined the faculty at the first fine art photography department, headed by Ansel Adama, at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA)., and in 1952 she co-founded the photographic magazine Aperture.

Lange died of cancer in 1965. She was posthumously inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2008.

(Image of Dorothea Lange by the Farm Services Administration)

Books About Dorothea Lange

Crowd of Onlookers on First Day of Japanese Internment - Photo by Dorothea Lange

famous female photographers - dorothea lange - japanese internment
famous female photographers - dorothea lange - japanese internment

Imogen Cunningham - Known for her portraits of people and flowers

Imogen Cunningham bought her first camera when she was 18, but didn't find it very interesting and soon sold it to a friend. Five years later, she took up the hobby again while attending the University of Washington, where she ended up subsidizing her tuition by taking photos of plants for the botany department.

Cunningham then went on to an esteemed career in photography. She opened a portrait studio in Seattle and became a well-respected photographer whose portraits were shown in magazines and exhibits. Her work earned the attention of Vanity Fair, where she went to work photographing stars without any makeup. She also maintained her interest in botanical photography. One of her best known works, Two Callas, debuted at the 1929 "Film und Foto" exposition after being nominated well-known photographer Edward Weston.

Later she gained the attention of another famous photographer, Ansel Adams, who invited her to join him as a faculty member in the art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts.

According to Wikipedia, Cunningham continued to take photos into her 90s. She died at age 93 in 1976.

Margaret Bourke-White was the first female photographer for Life magazine, where she worked for many years. She was also the first female war correspondent and the first woman permitted to work in combat zones, as well as the first foreign photographer allowed to photograph Soviet industry.

Known by her colleagues at Life magazine as Maggie the Indestructible, she was a witness to many historic events. She toured Germany with General George S. Patton, photographing the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp soon after liberation, and later traveled to India to record the historic (and violent) partition of India and Pakistan.

"Maggie the Indestructible" developed Parkinson's disease in the 1950s, which forced her to slow down her career. She died of the disease in 1971 at the age of 67.

(Image credit: photo of Margaret Bourke-White at home by creenik on Wikipedia

Books About Margaret Bourke-White

First Issue of Life Magazine - Photo by Margaret Bourke-White

famous female photographers - margaret bourke white - first cover of life magazine
famous female photographers - margaret bourke white - first cover of life magazine

Julia Margaret Cameron - Known for her soft focus portraits

Julia Margaret Cameron didn't take up photography until middle age (she was 48 when her daughter gave her a camera as a present), but she quickly became enthralled by it. Wikipedia says she was "one of the most prolific and advanced of amateurs in her time." She is best known for her portraits of famous subjects, including Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and others. Many of her famous portraits are the only existing photo of these historic individuals, as photography was still in its infancy when the images were taken.

Her photos were largely ignored and unappreciated during her lifetime, but her work has gained significance since her death. In the book Dialogue with Photography, Imogen Cunningham said, "I'd like to see portrait photography go right back to Julia Margaret Cameron. I don't think there's anyone better."

Books About Julia Margaret Cameron

Annie Liebovitz - Famous portraits in Roling Stone, Vanity Fair and elsewhere

Annie LIebovitz is arguably one of the most well-known portrait photographers of the 20th century. She started her career as a staff photographer for the then-new magazine "Rolling Stone" in 1970. A few years later, she became the chief photographer, a job she held for 10 years. Liebovitz is well known for her portraits of celebrities, but has also earned a number of other honors. She was only the second living person and first woman to have a show at the National Portrait Gallery, and millions have seen her photos on the cover of Vanity Fair, other magazines, and book and album covers.

Some of Liebovitz's most well-known images include the shot of Bruce Springsteen on his Born in the USA album, as well as the photo of Bill Gates for his book, The Road Ahead. Liebovitz is also the photographer behind the famous photo of a naked John Lennon curled up against a fully-clad Yoko Ono. That photo, which appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, was shot just hours before Lennon was killed.

Liebovitz is still working and continues to contribute to magazines like Vanity Fair, where she is a contributing editor.

Famous female photographers

A History of Women Photographers - Explore the lives and works of 240 famous female photographers

The five female photographers featured on this page aren't the only ones who have shaped the history of photography with their images. This book takes a look at 240 women photographers

A History of Women Photographers
A History of Women Photographers

Product description: Women have had a special relationship with the camera since the advent of photographic technology in the mid-nineteenth century. Photographers celebrated women as their subjects, from intimate family portraits and fashion spreads to artistic photography and nude studies, including Man Ray's Violon d'Ingres. Lesser known and lesser studied is the history of women photographers, who continue to make invaluable contributions to this flourishing art form.

Featuring more than 300 illustrations, A History of Women Photographers is the only comprehensive survey of women photographers from the age of the daguerreotype to the present day. In this edition, author Naomi Rosenblum expands the book's coverage to include additional photographers and fourteen new images. The text and the appendix of photographer biographies have been revised throughout, and Rosenblum also provides a new afterword, in which she evaluates the influence of rapidly changing digital technology on the field of photography and the standing of women photographers in the twenty-first century.


What Do You Think of These Famous Female Photographers? - Please share your thoughts and feedback

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    • pavlo-badovskyi profile image

      pavlo-badovskyi 5 years ago

      Wow, great lense!

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      I especially enjoyed reading about Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. Such ground-breakers. Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" is haunting. Blessings.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      I remember quite vividly Annie Liebovitzs portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. I did not know that she was the Chief Photographer for the Rolling Stone magazine until reading this very interesting and educational lens.

      Margaret Bourke-White was a pioneer being the first female allowed to "Shoot" in a combat zone.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      You introduced me to some photographers of which I was unaware. I look forward to reading more about them. Thank you for featuring talent that is often overlooked. Appreciated.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      I think this is quite inspiring for us gals who love to write and to photograph! Girl Power.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Inspiring article and beautiful photography indeed.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Good information female photographers.

    • traveller27 profile image

      traveller27 5 years ago

      Great job on this article about these five talented photographers.