Controversial

The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time 

Ranker Art
Updated September 24, 2018 329 votes 147 voters 11.2k views 33 items

List Rules Vote 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.

list ordered by
1
Robert Mapplethorpe is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Robert Mapplethorpe Dec. at 43 (1946-1989)

Birthplace: Floral 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 ...more
2
Jan Saudek is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Jan Saudek Age: 83

Birthplace: Prague, Czech Republic

3
Terry Richardson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 53

Birthplace: New 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 ...more
4
Diane Arbus is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Dec. at 48 (1923-1971)

Birthplace: New 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
Sally Mann is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 67

Birthplace: Virginia

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 ...more
6
David Hamilton is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 85

Birthplace: London, United Kingdom

7
Andres Serrano is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Andres Serrano Age: 68

Birthplace: New York City, New York

Andres Serrano (born August 15, 1950) is an American photographer and artist who has become famous through his photos of corpses and his use of feces and bodily fluids in his work, notably his ...more
8
Jill Greenberg is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Jill Greenberg Age: 51

Birthplace: Montreal, 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 ...more
9
Joel-Peter Witkin is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 79

Birthplace: New 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
10
Ren Hang is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Ren Hang Age: Died at 29 (1987-2017)

Birthplace: Jilin, China

11
Helmut Newton is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Dec. at 84 (1920-2004)

Birthplace: Berlin, 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 ...more
12
Annie Leibovitz is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 69

Birthplace: Waterbury, 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 ...more
13
Weegee is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Dec. at 69 (1899-1968)

Birthplace: Zolochiv, 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 ...more
14
Tierney Gearon is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Tierney Gearon Age: 55

Birthplace: Georgia, 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, ...more
15
Nobuyoshi Araki is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 78

Birthplace: Japan, 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 ...more
16
Daido Moriyama is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 80

Birthplace: Ikeda, Japan

Daidō Moriyama (森山 大道, Moriyama Daidō, born October 10, 1938) is a Japanese photographer noted for his images depicting the contrast of traditional values and modern society in post-war Japan.He ...more
17
Garry Gross is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
bigcraig added Dec. at 73 (1937-2010)

Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America

Nude photos of 10 year old Brooke Shields

Garry Gross is an actor.
18
Gottfried Helnwein is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 70

Birthplace: Vienna, 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 ...more
19
Chris von Wangenheim is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Dec. at 39 (1942-1981)

Birthplace: Wrocław, Poland

Christoph von Wangenheim (21 February 1942 – 9 March 1981) was a German fashion photographer of the late 1960s through the early 1980s.
20
Steven Klein is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 58

Birthplace: New York City, New York

Steven Klein or Kline may refer to:
21
David LaChapelle is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 55

Birthplace: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States of America

David LaChapelle (born March 11, 1963) is an American commercial photographer, fine-art photographer, music video director, and film director. He is best known for his photography, which often ...more
22
Michael Stokes is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Michael Stokes Age: age 55

Birthplace: Berkeley, CA

23
Oliviero Toscani is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 77

Birthplace: Milan, 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 ...more
24
Spencer Tunick is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Age: 52

Birthplace: USA, Middletown, New York

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
25
Irina Ionesco is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
Irina Ionesco Age: 83

Birthplace: Paris, France

Irina Ionesco (born September 3, 1930) is a French photographer born in Paris, France. She traveled and painted for several years before discovering photography and eventually became known for ...more