What makes a photographer influential? Many of the photographers saluted here have made their marks on our industry as teachers and mentors. Some have been advocates for photographers' rights, setting business standards other photographers follow. But when our readers talked to us or wrote into PDN Online to name the photographers who had influenced them the most, what came up again and again was the importance of their images. While Richard Avedon was the overwhelming top choice as most influential photographer of the last 20 years, all the photographers we pay tribute to here have created a body of work that has inspired imitators, forged a path for admiring colleagues and stirred young artists to become photographers.
One more word about this list. We know 20 living photographers aren't enough. We encourage you to write to us about the many widely admired photographers not included here. And we look forward to expanding this list considerably when it's time for PDN to celebrate 50 years in business.
MARY ELLEN MARK
photographed by Tito Sanpaolesi, March 2000.
I would say what makes Mary Ellen Mark so influential is her absolute, unwavering commitment to her work and her art. She's unshakable. When you look at her new book, it's all personal work, but I would guess that 98 percent of that work was done on assignment. She bent every assignment to her vision. It's not like she screws on one head to do her commercial work and then puts it in a closet and puts on another head to do her "personal" work. It's all personal to her. That's a very hard thing to do. With her, it's also her absolute respect and even affection for her subjects. She can shoot the most down‑and‑out subjects and she still loves them in a big way.
A big thing that affected me in my own work is her need to get in close and interact with her subjects. She's in there, she's talking with them, she's moving them around, whatever she needs to do, she's right in there. She got me off the tripod.