Photo District News
The 25 most influential living photographers
Photo subjects have their say
October 2005
BY Michelle Golden and Jason Skog

In an online poll conducted earlier this year, we asked our readers to name the most influential living photographers. The 25 you selected are listed below—in strictly alphabetical order. These 25 photographers are mentors, teachers, role models. They have forged new techniques, explored new subjects, and taken photography into new, provocative territory. As a tribute to these influential masters, we invited portrait photographers to photograph artists who had influenced them. Other photographers were proud to share portraits with us that they have had the privilege of shooting in the past. Portraits and self-portraits of all 25 of these influential photographers can be found this month on our website,

Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Williams Eggleston
Elliott Erwitt
Robert Frank
Lee Friendlander
Nan Goldin
Andreas Gursky
Nadav Kander
Josef Koudelka
David LaChapelle
Annie Leibovitz
Jay Maisel
Sally Mann
Mary Ellen Mark
James Nachtwey
Arnold Newman
Martin Parr
Irving Penn
Eugene Richards
Terry Richardson
Sebastiao Salgado
Cindy Sherman
Joel Strenfeld
Mario Testino
Albert Watson

Mary Ellen Mark photographed for PDN by Shannon Fagan


“His work has always seemed to me to be a particularly personal view of the world and so it has remained particularly important to me. To photograph Robert’s portrait was to preserve a record of a memorable conversation in New York. We shared a moment and now I share it with you.”
-Steve Pyke


“Her "Untitled Film Stills" were among the most important and influential photographs of the last quarter century. I think in a very dramatic way they opened up a whole new way of thinking about art photography which was less concerned with the tradition and history of art photography and more concerned with the larger culture, with film and advertising. It's also an enormously personal work. I feel like the pictures operate on both a cultural and a deeply personal level.”
‑Gregory Crewdson


“The first story we worked on together was in Portugal in 1975, one year after the coup d'etat. Even then you could tell he was full of devotion to his subject and operated with an intense vision. His determination was tremendous. I'm not even remotely surprised by the way he's been regarded. This is someone who had been an economist, and he came to photography later in life than other people. But when he decided to do it, he hit it with incredible intensity. And he's never lost that intensity.”
‑David Burnett


Eggleston's images are so simple, they almost defy description. He made photographing the everyday in color look very straightforward, and yet his images are very complex and subtle. What is interesting is that it takes a while to get it. When The Guide first came out, most people couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Now, nearly 25 years later, his contribution and importance grow every year as people are slowly converted to his unique vision.
‑Martin Parr


One of the things that makes Jay so is the purity of his visual language combined with gifts as an educator. He has an incredible ability to articulate his visual language, to explain what act eye sees. He has a singular approach to what he does, and he's uncompromising in the way he look his whole life exploring that one area. There aren’t a lot of photographers who have done that.
-Stephen Wilkes


When we talk about the power of photography, we are usually referring to the medium's effect on viewers. But photos also have an impact on their subjects. In this article we talk to the subjects of some well known images about their sudden fame, the experience of being photographed, and what it feels like to become a symbol that is scrutinized and studied by thousands of strangers. Interviews by Michelle Golden and Jason Skog



Mary Ellen Mark's 1983 picture of Erin "Tiny" Charles was first published in LIFE magazine for a story about teenage runaways in Seattle and later landed on the cover of Mark's book Streetwise. In 1984, Mark and her husband, filmmaker Martin Bell, directed a documentary based on the essay, also called "Streetwise," which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985. The image of Tiny appeared on the movie's poster.

I FIRST MET MARY ELLEN and Martin [Bell, Mary Ellen Mark's husband] at this club called The Monastery [in Downtown Seattle]. I happened to be high off of weed and Mary Ellen was trying to talk to me, and at first I thought they were the police, so I was kind of rude to them. And the next day I saw them and apologized and we started talking and they said they wanted to do a story for LIFE magazine and asked if I wanted to be in the photographs and I said "yes."

We did this shot one day around Halloween. I'm not really sure what I was dressed up as...everyone thought maybe a hooker. [laughs].

I like it. Mary Ellen does really good pictures. She always liked the straight, serious look. She doesn't like a lot of smiling because it's more natural when you look serious. I was always the type that liked to smile, though, so it was kind of hard to pose there without smiling.

A few months after the photos, they came back to Washington to do the movie. I've kept in contact with them ever since.

I didn't think the movie was going to be as popular as it was. I didn't think it going to be nominated for awards stuff. I got to go to New York and sign photographs for the poster and did a couple of talk shows.

After the movie came out, like five years later, I had someone come up to me an me how much they liked the movie and asked how I was doing. But I don't get recognized much anymore because I’ve changed quite a bit. I gained weight [laughs]. And I don't go downtown or go to clubs anymore. I don't hang out like that, because I've changed my life around.


Mary Ellen and Martin just came in December. I love it when they come around. They're like my second set of parents that I never had. They were supposed to come and film me having my ninth baby, but [the baby] came kind of early. They still came and did interviews and photos and stuff. They're putting together pictures and interviews I've done through the years with them.