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The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

Updated September 24, 2018 567 votes 192 voters 13.7k 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.

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  • 1
    Robert Mapplethorpe is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    45
    21

    Robert Mapplethorpe

    Dec. at 43 (1946-1989)

    BirthplaceFloral Park, New York

    Robert Mapplethorpe (; November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, known... more on Wikipedia
  • 2
    Andres Serrano is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    27
    10

    Andres Serrano

    Age: 70

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Andres Serrano (born August 15, 1950) is an American photographer and artist who has become... more on Wikipedia
  • 3
    Diane Arbus is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    21
    8

    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... more on Wikipedia
  • 4
    Jan Saudek is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    32
    24

    Jan Saudek

    Age: 85

    BirthplacePrague, Czech Republic

  • 5
    David Hamilton is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    14
    6

    BirthplaceLondon, United Kingdom

  • 6
    Terry Richardson is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    20
    14

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    Terrence Richardson (born August 14, 1965) is an American fashion and portrait photographer.... more on Wikipedia
  • 7
    Sally Mann is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    19
    15

    Sally Mann

    Age: 69

    BirthplaceVirginia

    Sally Mann HonFRPS (born May 1, 1951) is an American photographer, widely known for her... more on Wikipedia
  • 8
    Weegee is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    10
    3

    Weegee

    Dec. at 69 (1899-1968)

    BirthplaceZolochiv, Ukraine

    Arthur (Usher) Fellig (June 12, 1899 – December 26, 1968), known by his pseudonym Weegee, was... more on Wikipedia
  • 9
    Oliviero Toscani is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

    BirthplaceMilan, Italy

    Oliviero Toscani (born 28 February 1942) is an Italian photographer, best-known worldwide for... more on Wikipedia
  • 10
    Jill Greenberg is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    11
    8

    Jill Greenberg

    Age: 53

    BirthplaceMontreal, Canada

    Jill Greenberg (born July 10, 1967) is an American photographer and Pop artist. She is known... more on Wikipedia
  • 11
    Joel-Peter Witkin is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Joel-Peter Witkin (born September 13, 1939) is an American photographer who lives in... more on Wikipedia
  • 12
    Tierney Gearon is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    11
    8

    Tierney Gearon

    Age: 57

    BirthplaceAtlanta, Georgia, United States of America

    Tierney Gearon (born 9 September 1963) is an American photographer who came to prominence in... more on Wikipedia
  • 13
    Ren Hang is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    10
    7

    Ren Hang

    Age: Died at 29 (1987-2017)

    BirthplaceJilin, China

  • 14
    Daido Moriyama is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

    BirthplaceOsaka Prefecture, East Asia, Kansai region, Honshu, Ikeda

    Daidō Moriyama (森山 大道, Moriyama Daidō, born October 10, 1938) is a Japanese photographer noted... more on Wikipedia
  • 15
    Nobuyoshi Araki is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

    BirthplaceJapan, Tokyo

    Nobuyoshi Araki (荒木 経惟, Araki Nobuyoshi, May 25, 1940) is a Japanese photographer and... more on Wikipedia
  • 16
    Annie Leibovitz is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    13
    14

    BirthplaceWaterbury, Connecticut, United States of America

    Anna-Lou "Annie" Leibovitz (; born October 2, 1949) is an American portrait photographer. She... more on Wikipedia
  • 17
    David LaChapelle is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

    BirthplaceFairfield, Connecticut, United States of America

    David LaChapelle (born March 11, 1963) is an American commercial photographer, fine-art... more on Wikipedia
  • 18
    Michael Stokes is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    2
    3

    Michael Stokes

    Age: age 55

    BirthplaceBerkeley, CA

  • 19
    Irina Ionesco is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    1
    3

    Irina Ionesco

    Age: 85

    BirthplaceParis, France

    Irina Ionesco (born September 3, 1930) is a French photographer born in Paris, France. She... more on Wikipedia
  • 20
    Bill Henson is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    7
    7

    BirthplaceMelbourne, Australia

    Bill Henson (born 7 October 1955) is an Australian contemporary art photographer.
  • 21
    Steven Meisel is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    1
    3

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Steven Meisel (born June 5, 1954) is an American fashion photographer, who obtained popularity... more on Wikipedia
  • 22
    Helmut Newton is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    7
    7

    Helmut Newton

    Dec. at 84 (1920-2004)

    BirthplaceBerlin, Germany

    Helmut Newton (born Helmut Neustädter; 31 October 1920 – 23 January 2004) was a... more on Wikipedia
  • 23
    Spencer Tunick is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

    BirthplaceMiddletown, New York, United States of America

    Spencer Tunick (born January 1, 1967) is an American photographer best known for organizing... more on Wikipedia
  • 24
    Marwane Pallas is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    5
    4

    Marwane Pallas

  • 25
    Pierpaolo Ferrari is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time
    4
    4

    Pierpaolo Ferrari

PeopleControversial