Q: Name the one photographer who has had the most impact on your career and describe their influence.
Heroes and mentors can have a tremendous impact on the efforts of all budding visual artists. Whether it’s the eloquence of a past master sourced from a monograph or memoir or a pithy insight conveyed by an admired mentor during a lecture, workshop or internship, these encounters can have a profound influence on determining future direction and building the motivation to forge ahead. For a head start in drawing up your own list of heroes to emulate, we asked seven photographers from diverse backgrounds to describe the one role model who has influenced them the most.
Nancy Brown, headshot © Glen McLaughlin
When I became a professional photographer I had a great advantage because for 20 years before I chose this career path, I was a professional model in New York City, where I worked with many photographers. I’ve always been a people photographer, and during my modeling career, I worked a number of times for a great commercial people photographer named Klaus Lucka. I admired his creativity, as well as the way he produced assignments. He was an expert in the technical side of photography, so his concentration was on a relationship with his talent. The energy was always good in his studio and the shootings fun. After I opened my photography studio I believe my past experiences with Klaus helped me run my business in a very professional manner. His example made me realize that when you are organized and prepared for a shoot the work should be fun and energetic for everyone. I had worked in many studios that did not have a good atmosphere and I knew I did not want to be one of those photographers! Klaus always had a good team around him, which I’ve also been fortunate to benefit from through the years—this is invaluable when photographing people because when the team is watching your back you can just have fun making images!
Stefen Chow, headshot © Lin Hui-Yi
John Clang. In my opinion, he is one of the most balanced photographers in the industry, as he has married personal work with his commercial assignments on a very successful and tremendously high level. His works speak on many different levels, something I have always aspired to do. He has also been a wonderful mentor for me over the years, asking difficult questions, which I would constantly ponder over the time that followed. He has kept true to himself and has taught me not to allow others to define you, a trait I find to be rare in this present and challenging period.
Steve Simon, headshot © Tanja Rohweder
I was drawn to the work of Eugene Richards, whose work stopped me in my tracks. I invested a lot of money and made my way from Edmonton, Alberta, to Rockport, Maine, for his workshop. How did he get so emotionally and physically close to his subjects? There was a powerful emotional intimacy to his work, and I learned that concentration, patience, passion and respect for his subjects were some of the answers. I realized I was not making the work I really wanted to be making. He inspired me to find a personal project and go deeper with my camera, breaking free from the shackles of the daily newspaper assignment work I was doing at the time. I was encouraged to be open and to unlearn some processes that had become formulaic and were preventing me from moving beyond my comfort zone. He taught us what it feels like to be vulnerable in front of the camera, which gave me more empathy for my subjects. I learned to slow down and to make time to capture the work I was after through patience and perseverance. All these lessons continue to influence how and what I photograph.
Ami Vitale, headshot © Ima Garmendia
Susan Meiselas has had the most impact on my career—both because of her soulful, brave images and also because she has given so much of herself to mentoring others like me. She is a powerful role model with a generous spirit and continues to inspire me by her thoughtful insights into this enigmatic profession. Perhaps one of the most important lessons she shared when I was first starting out as an impatient, young photographer was to hold onto the copyright to any work I cared about. Over the years, I’ve been pressured many times, and I always remembered her wise advice. I’m so grateful for this, as it has allowed me to move forward and have a body of work that becomes more meaningful with time. I love that her career is not always about herself but rather about connecting people and ideas to create something for the greater good of us all—aka, the Kurdistan project.
Mark Alberhasky, headshot © Mark Alberhasky
Ansel Adams. As a young novice grappling with the strange underpinnings of 35mm photography, I sought guidance from every direction. As such, I was challenged to reconcile approaches that weren’t always consistent or complementary. Then I discovered Adams, whose black-and-white visions became my epitome of artistic photography. His series of photo manuals (my first was Camera and Lens) provided insights into the medium with a scientific flair that demystified what for me was an undefined art form. His discussion of subject previsualization laid a foundation I’ve never forgotten. Despite paradigm shifts in technique and technology, his melding of technical mastery and artistic expression remains a benchmark for which I strive.
Louie Palu, headshot © Louie Palu
Don McCullin’s body of work changed my life. His photographs made such a strong impact on me that from the day I saw his book Hearts of Darkness at age 16, I never wanted to be anything else but a photojournalist. His work made me believe that we must never turn away from tragedy, violence or the less fortunate in our world. His raw, unflinching images cut to the core of the issue and offer the viewer no quarter. His work is the slap in the face that we all need to wake up to the fact that the world is not a bed of roses. Yet in contrast, he is still able to capture gentle moments where he helps us see humanity and our own fragility. McCullin’s work taught me the value of honesty, truth and sacrifice all in the face of trying to find meaning in the middle of madness. Fame means nothing and being true to ourselves is a quality that we should value the most. The camera is a tool, photography is the language, but your beliefs are the heart of the image and what count the most.
Bill Eppridge, headshot © Adrienne Aurichio
As a journalism major at the University of Missouri, I had many photographic heroes, among them Gordon Parks, David Douglas Duncan, Robert Capa and Carl Mydans—all world-class photojournalists. Shortly after graduation and probably because I had won the NPPA’s College Picture Competition two years in a row, I landed a dream assignment from National Geographic. It was to be a nine-month, around-the-world picture essay documenting a traveling school. It was at that time I came to realize how important one person would be to my career. W.E. (Bill) Garrett was to be my picture editor. I had known Bill from school, where he had been my instructor at the renowned Missouri Photo Workshop. He had graduated only a few years earlier and swiftly become a staff National Geographic photographer and then an editor. I went to Washington for one long day to prepare for the trip. Late in the afternoon, I was in Garrett’s office for final instructions, and there waiting for me was a huge box of film—Kodachrome and Ektachrome. I had never shot color before; we had no use for it in school. Bill told me to take the film. With a little fright and panic in my voice, I had to ask him, “Bill, how do you shoot color?” For a moment, he just stared at me, then he put his head in his hands and said nothing for about 15 seconds. Then he looked up, stared me in the eye and said with authority, “Look, Eppridge, I know your work, I know how you think, I know very well how you see. Do not shoot color!!! Shoot black-and-white. Forget what those little yellow boxes say on the outside. Just do what you always do—Shoot black-and-white!!! You are looking for content, not pretty colors.” I did just that. The story ran more than 20 pages, and I never looked back. From that time on, I never consciously photographed in color. Bill’s advice was golden, and I live by it to this day. Garrett went on to become editor of National Geographic magazine, and I went on to become a staff photographer at Life, then at Sports Illustrated—but those are other stories (see our feature It’s a Living).