Controversial
288 voters

The Most Controversial Photographers Of All Time

Updated September 24, 2018 756 votes 288 voters 19k 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
    Dec. at 42 (1946-1989)
    59
    34

    BirthplaceFloral Park, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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
    Age: 86
    44
    28

    BirthplacePrague, Czech Republic

  • 3
    30
    12

    BirthplaceLondon, United Kingdom

    NationalityUnited Kingdom

  • 4

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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
  • 5
    Dec. at 48 (1923-1971)
    25
    16

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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
  • 6
    15
    10

    BirthplaceMontreal, Canada

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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
  • 7
    21
    18

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    NationalityUnited 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
  • 8
    Age: 70
    22
    23

    BirthplaceVirginia

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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)
    9
    6

    BirthplaceZolochiv, Ukraine

    NationalityAustria, United States of America, Austria-Hungary

    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
    Age: Died at 29 (1987-2017)
    11
    10

    BirthplaceJilin, China

    NationalityChinese

  • 11
    11
    10

    BirthplaceAtlanta, Georgia, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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
  • 12
  • 13
    Dec. at 83 (1920-2004)
    9
    8

    BirthplaceBerlin, Germany

    NationalityAustralia, 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
  • 14
    12
    13

    BirthplaceWaterbury, Connecticut, United States of America

    NationalityUnited 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
  • 15
    Age: 68
    7
    6

    BirthplaceWashington, D.C., United States of America

    NationalityUnited 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
  • 16
    7
    7

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Steven Klein or Kline may refer to:  ...more
  • 17

    BirthplaceMilan, Italy

    NationalityItaly

    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
  • 18
    bigcraig addedDec. at 73 (1937-2010)
    6
    7

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Nude photos of 10 year old Brooke Shields

    Garry Gross is an actor.  ...more
  • 19
    Dec. at 39 (1942-1981)
    5
    7

    BirthplaceWrocław, Poland

    NationalityUnited States of America, Germany

    Christoph von Wangenheim (21 February 1942 – 9 March 1981) was a German fashion photographer of the late 1960s through the early 1980s.  ...more
  • 20

    BirthplaceVienna, Austria

    NationalityRepublic of Ireland, 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
  • 21
    Age: age 54
    5
    8

    BirthplaceSevenum, Netherlands

  • 22
    3
    4

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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
  • 23
    4
    7

    BirthplaceMelbourne, Australia

    NationalityAustralia

    Bill Henson (born 7 October 1955) is an Australian contemporary art photographer.  ...more
  • 24
    7
    12

    BirthplaceJapan, Tokyo

    NationalityJapan

    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
  • 25

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

    NationalityJapan

    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 has  ...more
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List Rules: Vote up the photographers who have created the most controversy with their body of work.