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The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

Updated September 24, 2018 761 votes 280 voters 18.5k views33 items

List RulesVote up the photographers who have created the most controversy with their body of work.

This is a list of the most controversial photographers. Throughout history art and fashion photographers have pushed against the bounds of convention, the law, and good taste.

The scope of controversy in photography is broad, including fashion photographers known to shoot provocative campaigns, like Steven Klein or David LaChapelle; to photographers who use corpses as their models, like Joel-Peter Witkin. Profane themes are all possible subjects for a controversial photographer.

All of these photographers have created notable bodies of work and though some of their scandalous photos might even seem tame in the modern day, it's difficult to determine who has truly been the most controversial photographer of all time. Even if some of the names are new to you, their fashion campaigns and controversial art are familiar. It’s up to you to help determine which photographers have made, or are still making, the most controversial photographs.

  • 1

    Robert Mapplethorpe

    Dec. at 42 (1946-1989)

    BirthplaceFloral Park, New York

    Robert Mapplethorpe (; November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, known for his sensitive yet blunt treatment of controversial subject-matter in the black and white medium of...  more
  • 2

    Jan Saudek

    Age: 86

    BirthplacePrague, Czech Republic

  • 3

    BirthplaceLondon, United Kingdom

  • 4

    Diane Arbus

    Dec. at 48 (1923-1971)

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Diane Arbus (; March 14, 1923 – July 26, 1971) was an American photographer. Arbus famously worked to normalize marginalized groups and highlight the importance of proper representation of all...  more
  • 5

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    Terrence Richardson (born August 14, 1965) is an American fashion and portrait photographer. He has shot advertising campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Aldo, Supreme, Sisley, Tom Ford, and Yves Saint Laurent...  more
  • 6

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Joel-Peter Witkin (born September 13, 1939) is an American photographer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work often deals with themes such as death, corpses (and sometimes dismembered...  more
  • 7

    Jill Greenberg

    Age: 54

    BirthplaceMontreal, Canada

    Jill Greenberg (born July 10, 1967) is an American photographer and Pop artist. She is known for her portraits and fine art work that often features anthropomorphized animals that have been digitally...  more
  • 8

    Sally Mann

    Age: 70


    Sally Mann HonFRPS (born May 1, 1951) is an American photographer, widely known for her large-format, black-and-white photographs—at first of her young children, then later of landscapes suggesting...  more
  • 9


    Dec. at 69 (1899-1968)

    BirthplaceZolochiv, Ukraine

    Arthur (Usher) Fellig (June 12, 1899 – December 26, 1968), known by his pseudonym Weegee, was a photographer and photojournalist, known for his stark black and white street photography in New York...  more
  • 10

    Ren Hang

    Age: Died at 29 (1987-2017)

    BirthplaceJilin, China

  • 11

    Nan Goldin

    Age: 68

    BirthplaceWashington, D.C., United States of America

    Nancy "Nan" Goldin (born September 12, 1953) is an American photographer. Her work often explores LGBT bodies, moments of intimacy, the HIV crisis, and the opioid epidemic. Her most notable work is...  more
  • 12

    Tierney Gearon

    Age: 58

    BirthplaceGeorgia, USA, Atlanta

    Tierney Gearon (born 9 September 1963) is an American photographer who came to prominence in Britain after a media controversy over her work at the Saatchi Gallery. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia....  more
  • 13

    BirthplaceWaterbury, Connecticut, United States of America

    Anna-Lou "Annie" Leibovitz (; born October 2, 1949) is an American portrait photographer. She is best known for her engaging portraits—particularly of celebrities—which often feature subjects in...  more
  • 14

    Marwane Pallas

  • 15

    Helmut Newton

    Dec. at 83 (1920-2004)

    BirthplaceBerlin, Germany

    Helmut Newton (born Helmut Neustädter; 31 October 1920 – 23 January 2004) was a German-Australian photographer. He was a "prolific, widely imitated fashion photographer whose provocative, erotically...  more
  • 16

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Steven Meisel (born June 5, 1954) is an American fashion photographer, who obtained popularity and critical acclaim with his work in US and Italian Vogue and his photographs of friend Madonna in her...  more
  • 17

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Steven Klein or Kline may refer to:...  more
  • 18

    BirthplaceMiddletown, New York, United States of America

    Spencer Tunick (born January 1, 1967) is an American photographer best known for organizing large-scale nude shoots. Since 1994, he has photographed over 75 human installations around the world....  more
  • 19

    BirthplaceMilan, Italy

    Oliviero Toscani (born 28 February 1942) is an Italian photographer, best-known worldwide for designing controversial advertising campaigns for Italian brand Benetton, from 1982 to 2000. Toscani was...  more
  • 20

    Garry Gross

    Dec. at 73 (1937-2010)

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    Nude photos of 10 year old Brooke Shields

    Garry Gross is an actor....  more
  • 21

    Chris von Wangenheim

    Dec. at 39 (1942-1981)

    BirthplaceWrocław, Poland

    Christoph von Wangenheim (21 February 1942 – 9 March 1981) was a German fashion photographer of the late 1960s through the early 1980s....  more
  • 22

    BirthplaceVienna, Austria

    Gottfried Helnwein (born 8 October 1948) is an Austrian-Irish visual artist. He has worked as a painter, draftsman, photographer, muralist, sculptor, installation and performance artist, using a wide...  more
  • 23

    Michael Stokes

    Age: age 55

    BirthplaceBerkeley, CA

  • 24

    BirthplaceMelbourne, Australia

    Bill Henson (born 7 October 1955) is an Australian contemporary art photographer....  more
  • 25

    BirthplaceJapan, Tokyo

    Nobuyoshi Araki (荒木 経惟, Araki Nobuyoshi, May 25, 1940) is a Japanese photographer and contemporary artist. He is also known by the nickname Arākī (アラーキー). Araki has published over 500 books. He is...  more
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List Rules: Vote up the photographers who have created the most controversy with their body of work.