May/June 1998
Kathleen Seiler
When we did our first listing of photography's 100 most important people in 1994, we heard from plenty of readers, some of whom disagreed with our choices and others who told us that we'd put together a valuable guide to the photo business. One thing is certain: The business has changed. In putting together our new list, we noted several trends ‑for instance, the rising tide of celebrity photography at the expense of traditional news and documentary photography. We have in fact replaced more than half the names from the 1994 list (see page 92).

It's important to understand our criteria in making these decisions. We are not assessing the career‑long impact of a particular photographer, and we are not passing judgment on the lasting artistic merit of anyone's work. Rather, our list gauges the influence of photographers (and reps, dealers, retouchers, book publishers, etc.) right now. It measures stylistic impact, as well as financial and cultural clout. We take into account industry buzz, but we also look to real accomplishments. Is it subjective? Of course. Photography is a business, but it's also an art. You can't rate influence simply by figuring who has had the most exhibitions or who bought the most pictures at the last auction. But if you ask enough people, you can make educated guesses about who the decisive players are. In coming up with this list we relied on a panel of outside experts and our own hunches.

We made the job easier by setting up rules. First, we decided to exclude anyone who wasn't living or working primarily in the United States. Why? Because there would simply be too many important people to choose from in too many realms of activity. (Our number 1 choice does stretch the rules‑but with good reason.) To avoid a conflict of interest with advertisers, we did not include any photographic manufacturers or technical experts. Likewise, we did not include anyone from American Photo or our parent company, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. (To be fair, we do mention those people on page 87.)

You will note that one of our regular departments, Inside Photography, has been left out of this issue. That's because the entire special section that begins on the following pages is an insider's view of the workings of the photography industry. As you will see, it is a wondrous and powerful business.


photography by Grant Delin

16 west 46th street

Not just anyone could put a photo of Jean-Claude Van Damme lounging seductively across a chair in a tank top and underwear on one page, opposite a photo of a child in the South Bronx dressed as a clown for Halloween and sitting next to a TV with a Casper cartoon on. But Mary Ellen Mark did. In her 1997 book, Mary Ellen Mark: Portraits (Smithsonian Institution Press), the photographs flow easily from the downtrodden to the celebrity, never failing in their beauty and impact. "Doing long documentary projects is harder and harder because it's not really supported in magazines as much anymore," says Mark. "You have to make time for personal projects. Portraiture is kind of an extension of my documentary work." And it pays the bills.

Among her recent assignments, she says, one stands out ‑a 1997 documentary project for The New Yorker about a group of skinheads in Antelope Valley, a suburb of northern Los Angeles. Also in 1997, Mark wrote Matthew Brady and the Image of History (Smithsonian Institution Press). She is currently compiling two more books: one with her photos taken around the United States from the 1960s to the '90s and the other featuring her pictures of Mother Teresa. "I love photographing people ‑that would never change," she says.