In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve put together a listing of the top female street photographers in History. Some of these have been profiled before, others are being listed for the first time. We hope you check them out. More about these ladies can be found via Google and other such things.
We’re late to the Women’s History month (by 18 days) so we’ll be doing our own take on female artists, which we’ll call Women’s History for a Month. 🙂 Never conform when non-conformity produces better results.
Frances Benjamin Johnston – 1864 – 1952
Johnston, from Washington, D.C., wrote magazine articles before being given her first camera by George Eastwood. She was trained a Eastman Kodak and by the Smithsonian’s director of photography before going on to become a landmark documentary photographer. Johnston went on to become the White House photographer for presidents Harrison, Cleveland, McKinley, “TR” Roosevelt, and Taft. By the time of her death, she’d gone from being the only female photographer in D.C. to being world renown.
Alice Austen – 1866 – 1952
Austen was one of the first female photographers to work outside of a photography studio. She is most well-known as a documentary photographer. During her life, she took some 8,000 photos of which 3.500 still exist. She left a strong legacy despite being a self-proclaimed amateur, and was a street shooter in the nineteenth century, long before the term street photographer existed. Perhaps Vivian Maier could never have existed without the likes of Austen.
Jessie Tarbox Beals – 1870 – 1942
Beals was the first published female photojournalist in the United States and the first female night photographer. She is best known for her freelance news photographs, particularly of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and portraits of places such as Bohemian Greenwich Village.
Dorothea Lange – 1895 – 1965
Dorothea Lange turned a career as a studio photographer into one of the most important set of documentary photos in U.S. history. Her work documenting migrant workers during the Great Depression is unparalleled. You can view our extensive profile of her work or a brief on her place in the history of street photography here.
Berenice Abbott – 1898 – 1991
Abbott was a NYC street photographer who worked as a darkroom assistant for Man Ray before venturing out on her own. She was influenced to go into street work via exposure to Eugene Atget’s photography, much of which she bought after his death. You can read more on Berenice in our History of Street Photography, Part 5.
Ilse Bing – 1899 – 1998
Ilse Bing came to photography from having purchased a Voigtlander camera in 1928 in order to illustrate her PhD thesis on Art History. Before long, she was gaining photojournalism commissions from Das Illustriete Blatt, a German periodical. Not long after, to her family’s surprise and consternation, she gave up work on her thesis and turned full time to photography. In 1930, she moved to Paris and soon began work for French newspapers and other periodicals, supplementing her work with more personal themes. Once WWI was underway, she moved to New York, which she’d successfully visited in 1936, and met an influx of European photographers fleeing the war. She continued to work mostly doing children’s portraits, but did little photojournalism thereafter.
Elsie Amelie “Lisette” Model – 1901 – 1983
Lisette Model, a French-Austrian immigrant, became one of the foremost female photographers in the U.S. She had her first major works published in the 1930s, and by the 1940s, she was teaching in New York. Among her famous students was Diane Arbus, and perhaps was a major influence to Viv Maier, whose style sometimes closely matched Model’s. You can read more about Lisette in our History of Street Photography, Part 9.
Margaret Bourke-White – 1904 – 1971
Refusing to be defined by the roles society offered women, Margaret Bourke-White made her own mark on the world. She photographed Gandhi minutes before his assassination, covered the war that followed, was with U.S. Troops when they liberated Germany’s Buchenwald concentration camp, had the first cover of Life magazine, and was the first western journalist allowed in the Soviet Union. Some have claimed her unconventional lifestyle overshadowed her work (i.e, she was as sexually liberated as most men of her time) but that’s mostly sexist bullshit. Her body of work stands on its own; nothing overshadows it except, perhaps, the toughness of the lady herself. I encourage you to learn more for yourself. If you’re interested, start with this video. #badass
Eve Arnold – 1912 – 2012
Eve Arnold was an American-born photographer who, according to the New York Times, “… Came to be regarded as a grande dame of postwar photojournalism for her bold, revealing images of subjects as diverse as Marilyn Monroe and migratory potato pickers.” She lived in the UK for the last 51 years of her life, from whence she worked as a photojournalist. She was among the first women hired by Magnum Photos. She a leader during a time the NY Times characterized as “the golden age of news photography, when magazines like Life and Look commanded attention with big, arresting pictures.” She was a precursor to some of the latter celebrity photographers, getting recognition for shots of Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe. During her life’s work, she took an estimated 750,000 photos, that documented everything from the sublime life of the celebrate to the shit storms of urban streets. Arnold earned her unprecedented access to her subjects through her skill and her sensitivity. She said, “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” Arnold died in London in 2012 at the age of 99.
Helen Levitt – 1913 – 2009
Levitt, among this blogger’s favorite photographers, took photos close to her Brooklyn, NY home that documented life in the streets. Her sensitive shots highlighted the relationships among the people and between the citizenry and their urban environment. Her color street work is unsurpassed. Levitt was documented in the History of Street Photography, Part 7.
Rebecca Lepkoff – 1916 – 2014
Rebecca Lepkoff was not as widely known outside of her NYC base as some of the other photographers presented here, but she’s come to be included in numerous exhibits. She was known for taking photos in the 1940 of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She created a second book of people and life in Vermont in 1950. She died in Vermont at age 98.
Lida Moser – 1920 – 2014
Lida Moser was an American photographer and author, whose career spanned six decades. he was known for her photojournalism and street photography as a member of both the Photo League ] and the New York School. She authored a number of books of her own work and co-authored several photographic technique books. Articles and ongoing columns appeared in numerous journals and is exhibited in museums worldwide, such as the National Portrait galleries in Washington, D.C. and London.
Ruth Orkin — 1921 — 1985
Ruth Orkin was a photographer from the moment she got her first camera at age 10, shooting her friends and teachers in school. Age 17, she took a bicycle trip from LA to NYC, photographing what she saw along the way. By age 22, Orkin was in NYC, working as a nightclub photographer at night and shooting baby photos in the daytime. Once she’d purchased her first professional camera, and ended up working for all the major magazines. She spent the remainder of her career working as a freelance photojournalist and filmmaker, with her husband, Morris Engel.
Diane Arbus – 1923 – 1971
Diane (pronouned dee AHN) Arbus was a masterful NYC photographer who specialized in people who society marginalized: sideshow freaks, nudists, gays, strippers. Her candid shots laid them bare, without judging nor sentimentality. Learn more about Arbus in the History of Street Photography, Part 10.
Dorothy Bohm – 1924 – present
Bohm, who was born Dorothea Israelit in Russia, is known for her portraiture, street photography, early adoption of colour, and photography of London and Paris. She is considered to be one of the grand masters of British photography. She was one of the first to work street in color, having been encouraged to try it by André Kertész. Her work shows a gentleness as well as the ability to harness layering, adding complexity to the visuals without cluttering the shot.
Vivian Maier – 1926 – 2009
Vivian Maier was unknown during the entirety of her photographic career, with her work having been discovered shortly after her 2009 death. Nonetheless, she’s taken the photography world by storm, with her extensive portfolio showing her mastery of composition, shapes, lighting, and the capture of candid life. You can learn more about Maier in our essay, An Introduction to Vivian Maier, and the Phenomenon of the Artist-Photographer.
Mary Ellen Mark – 1940 – 2015
Mark was a prolific NY photographer, known for her photojournalism, documentary, portrait, and advertising work. At her death in 2015, she’d amassed 18 published collections of her work. She received numerous accolades, including three Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from the George Eastman House and the Outstanding Contribution Photography Award from the World Photography Organisation. Arguably, perhaps her forte was getting forthright shots of people when they knew she was photographing them.
Graciela Iturbide – 1942 – present
Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico in 1942, the first of 13 children. She got her first camera at age 11, getting serious about photography after the death of her daughter in 1970. Iturbide photographs everyday life, almost entirely in black-and-white. She was inspired by the photography of Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado and Álvarez Bravo. She focuses particularly on Mexico’s indigenous cultures and has photographed life in Mexico City, Juchitán, Oaxaca and on the Mexican/American border.