The Greatest Photographers of the Twentieth Century
NBER Working Paper No. 15278
A survey of textbooks reveals that scholars consider Alfred Stieglitz to have been the greatest photographer of the twentieth century, followed in order by Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman, Man Ray, and Eugène Atget. Stieglitz, Evans, and Atget were experimental artists, who were committed to realism, whereas Man Ray and Sherman were conceptual innovators, who constructed images to express ideas. During much of the twentieth century, photography was dominated by the experimental approach and aesthetic of Stieglitz and his followers, but late in the century this changed; as photography grew increasingly central to advanced art in general, it came to be dominated by conceptual innovators. Sherman’s celebrated creation of artificial scenes is characteristic of the almost exclusively conceptual uses that today’s advanced artists make of its techniques and images, as technical and aesthetic considerations are generally subordinated to conceptual concerns.