Famous German Photographers

Famous German Photographers – Frames of Influence

The art of visual storytelling is rooted in the fertile grounds of Germany, which has birthed many talented artists and photographers who provide unique insight into the marvels of very relevant human experiences. In this article, we will dive into the worlds of the 10 most famous German photographers in history, whose use of the camera has woven narratives about many facets of life. From the meticulously crafted landscapes of Andreas Gursky to the empowering and provocative visuals of Ellen von Unwerth in fashion, you can be sure to learn more about these renowned German photographers!



Modern and Contemporary Observations on German Photographers

In history, some of the greatest photographers have emerged from Germany, and have gone on to influence global perspectives in a variety of ways. Among the many famous photographers and artists from Germany, we have covered the top 10 pioneers of the art form, whose unique styles of expression have sculpted the way we see different aspects of culture and history. Through innovative techniques, German photographers have pioneered avant-garde approaches such as digital manipulation methods to produce works that challenge conventional scales of printed images and make one question the potential of photography.

Through the works of artists like Thomas Ruff and Candida Höfer, many modern photographers have carried over the notion of challenging reality, whether that is achieved via black-and-white photography, portraiture, or complex compositions that show us a profound grasp of the human condition. Concepts of glamor and sensuality have also been championed by some of fashion photography’s best artists.

From Helmut Newton to Ellen von Unwerth, there have been many twists and turns in the way that fashion photography is understood.

Similarly, one cannot overlook the impact of German photographers without mentioning the names of artists like Erich Salomon, whose socio-political photography exposed the inner circles of various world leaders through candid snapshots. Meanwhile, the complex nuances of contemporary life live on in the work of Wolfgang Tillmans, whose diverse portfolio continues to inspire many photographers.



10 Famous German Photographers to Know

The contributions of German photographers have captured and immortalized many fascinating visual narratives that encourage one to view photography as more than just a lens for observation. Below, you will encounter our selection of the 10 most famous German photographers in art history.


Franz Benque (1841 – 1921)

Artist Name Franz Benque (also known as Francisco Benque in Brazil)
Date of Birth 12 March 1841
Date of Death 30 March 1921
Place of BirthLudwigslust, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, travel photography, landscapes, and nature
Famous Artworks
  • Portrait of Henri Rieunier in Uniform (1880)
  • Sitzung der Hamburgischen Bürgerschaft (1897)
  • A Man Sitting in a Chair Next to a Dog (1921)
  • Maquette van een stoombaggerschip (n.d.)

Franz Benque was one of the most renowned portraiture and landscape photographers from Germany, who was born in Ludwigslust in 1841. The famous German photographer is remembered on the internet for his late 19th and early 20th-century photographs, few of which remain today that showcase glimpses of the spaces he traveled to in his day. 

Photographer From GermanyMaquette van een stoombaggerschip (n.d.); Nationaal Archief, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Benque studied photography under C.C. Hersen and then relocated to Austria in 1864 to partner with a watchmaker named Guglielmo Sebastianutti and establish a studio. Benque received recognition from the local press and various specialized organizations, including a silver medal from the 1867 World’s Fair of Paris.


Karl Blossfeldt (1865 – 1932)

Artist Name Karl Blossfeldt
Date of Birth 13 June 1865
Date of Death 9 December 1932
Place of BirthSchiele, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesMicrophotography and Modern art
Famous Artworks
  • Dipsacus laciniatus (1928)
  • Acanthus mollis (1928)
  • Cucurbita (1928)
  • Blumenbachia hieronymi (Loasaceae) (1932)

Karl Blossfeldt was one of the most prolific photographers from Germany who specialized in microphotography. Blossfeldt’s intriguing botanical photographs are reminiscent of monochrome sculptures that show off the natural features of plants.

Top 10 Famous German PhotographersAcanthus mollis (1928); Karl Blossfeldt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Blossfeldt’s most famous publication Urformen der Kunst draws attention to the artistic potential of natural elements, which use black and white photography to highlight the designs of plants and natural subjects that would otherwise go unnoticed by the human eye. His use of blank backgrounds also established a decent figure-ground relationship alongside his self-built camera that could magnify his subjects up to 40 times.


August Sander (1876 – 1964)

Artist Name August Sander
Date of Birth 17 November 1876
Date of Death 20 April 1964
Place of BirthHerdorf, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, portraiture, documentary photography, and typology
Famous Artworks
  • Young Farmers (1914)
  • Berlin Coal Carrier (1929)
  • Secretary at West German Radio, Cologne (1931)

Among the top portrait photographers from Germany was August Sander, whose career was kickstarted after the release of his project called People of the 20th Century, which featured an extensive study of German society. The project represented a diverse range of people from German society between the 1920s and his death in 1964.

Around 150 images were exhibited posthumously by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2004 and drew attention to the photographer’s attention to detail and deep empathy, which he evoked in this sociological project. Furthermore, Sander’s photography was also characterized by a style known as typology, which originated in Sander’s series Face Of Our Time in 1929. Later, the term “typology” was used to describe the style of images from the works of Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1959.


Erich Salomon (1886 – 1944)

Artist Name Erich Salomon
Date of Birth 28 April 1886
Date of Death 7 July 1944
Place of BirthBerlin, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, portraiture, candid photography, and political art
Famous Artworks
  • Franzosisches Aussenministerium, Flandrin (1928 – 1932)
  • Interior of an Industrial Area of a Building (1930)
  • Group of Well-Dressed Men and Women at a Banquet (1930)

Erich Salomon was recognized as one of the first photographers of candid photography, who was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1886. Salomon engaged with many celebrities and politicians he met at events in the early 20th century and used his candid approach to capture some of the most unguarded and intriguing images of the period. Salomon was also born into a Jewish family and was among the many groups who fled the country. In 1932, he entered the Netherlands and worked as a freelance photojournalist. Sadly, his career was cut short after he was detained and deported in 1943, forcing him into a camp at Auschwitz in 1944.

Different Photographer From GermanyErich Salomon (right) and his son Otto Salomon (Peter Hunter) (left), London 1935; Erich Salomon (camera cable release, see his left hand), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Helmut Newton (1920 – 2004)

Artist Name Helmut Newton
Date of Birth 31 October 1920
Date of Death 23 January 2004
Place of BirthBerlin, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, Contemporary art, fashion, and black and white photography,
Famous Artworks
  • Pool at Suburban House, Melbourne (1973)
  • Yves Saint Laurent, Vogue France, Rue Aubriot, Paris (1975)
  • 200 Motels, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation (1976)

Helmut Newton was among one of the most famous 20th-century German photographers whose legacy is well-cemented in the fashion industry. Newton collaborated with many high fashion brands and was best known for his bold approach to beauty and fashion. His images helped propel alternative modes of thinking around eroticism, women, and the use of techniques in contrast and lighting to bring out the best in each model.

Examples of Famous German PhotographersPortrait of Laurel Martyn, 1952 by Helmut Newton; Helmut Newton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born to a Jewish household in Berlin, Germany, Newton started photography when he was 12 years of age and apprenticed under a well-known photographer called Yva. His go-to choice of cameras included a medium format camera such as the Hasselblad and Rolleiflex cameras, which helped bring clarity to his images as he manipulated natural light to create many visually pleasing and moody images.


Candida Höfer (1944 – Present)

Artist Name Candida Höfer
Date of Birth 4 February 1944
Place of BirthEberswalde, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, Conceptual art, Contemporary art, space, and architecture
Famous Artworks
  • Teatro Colón Buenos Aires (2006 – 2008)
  • Uffizi Firenze III (2008)
  • Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos Lisboa III (2009)
  • Teatro Degollado Guadalajara III (2015)

Candida Höfer is one of the most famous German photographers to date, who is widely recognized for her large-format photographs of interior architectural spaces. From museums to galleries and public libraries, Höfer’s practice narrows in on the beauty of symmetry in such spaces and invites her audience to engage with the complex relationships between human occupation, presence, and absence.

Her photographs are also characterized by the vivid balance of colors amid the somewhat eerie empty spaces where one would expect to find some form of human presence. The absence of humans in these spaces and images also adds to the monumentality of her work. Höfer was born in 1944 in Eberswalde, Germany, and trained under Bernd and Hilla Becher alongside other key artists such as Axel Hütte and Thomas Struth.


Ellen von Unwerth (1954 – Present)

Artist Name Ellen von Unwerth
Date of Birth 17 January 1954
Place of BirthFrankfurt, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesContemporary art, fashion editorial photography, pinups, beauty, and  empowerment
Famous Artworks
  • David Bowie and Kate Moss (2003)
  • Madonna (2014)
  • Hot Cat on Tin Roof, Zoe Kravitz, Los Angeles (2020)

Ellen von Unwerth is one of the most respected names in German photography history and is celebrated for her playful and provocative style. She is widely recognized as an iconic photographer in fashion and editorial photography and is best known for creating images that empower women using the female gaze and femme sexuality. Von Unwerth’s images have been featured in many leading fashion magazines, making her a pioneering contemporary fashion photographer.

10 Famous German PhotographersEllen Von Unwerth, 2019; Myles Kalus Anak Jihem, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What makes her work so unique is that her approach does not intend to objectify women, as traditionally seen in fashion photography history, rather, it uses fantasies and fetishism to empower the models in her photos in a sense of reclaiming sexuality. Her rise to fame emerged after her work for Guess and shooting with famous model Claudia Schiffer.


Andreas Gursky (1955 – Present)

Artist Name Andreas Gursky
Date of Birth 15 January 1955
Place of BirthLeipzig, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesPhotojournalism, photomontage, landscape art, urban architecture, nature, and Contemporary art
Famous Artworks
  • Salerno (1990)
  • Paris, Montparnasse (1993)
  • Rhein I (1996)
  • Chicago Board of Trade (1997)
  • 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001)

Andreas Gursky is among the most expensive German photographers, whose works have sold for up to millions on auction. Gursky is renowned for his photomontages and large-scale, high-quality prints that capture the imagined and vast urban scenes of the modern world. Gursky was born in Leipzig, Germany, and has since created many works that showcase his eye for detail and mastery over constructing landscapes that evoke the grandiosity of the human experience. Among his most famous photographs include images from his Rhein (1996 – 1999) series and the Chicago Board of Trade (1997 – 2009).


Thomas Ruff (1958 – Present)

Artist Name Thomas Ruff
Date of Birth 10 February 1958
Place of BirthZell, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesModern art, Contemporary art, interior spaces, blurred pornography, portraiture, and domestic architecture
Famous Artworks
  • Substrat 30 I (2006)
  • jpeg li02 (2009)

Thomas Ruff is one of the most celebrated photographers from Germany who is best known for his experimental approach to digital photography that makes one question the traditional notions of perception and reality. Ruff’s practice is shaped by his exploration of various genres, including portraiture, technology, and domestic spaces that help him unpack the intersections between imagination and reality.

Using found JPEGS, Ruff critiques the idea of images as innocent documents and instead explores the underlying structures and prejudicial nature of images. His diverse approaches also include the use of satellite images, which he collages and renders using 3D software, which he then transforms into large chromogenic prints.


Wolfgang Tillmans (1968 – Present)

Artist Name Wolfgang Tillmans
Date of Birth 16 August 1968
Place of BirthRemscheid, Germany
Associated Movements, Themes, and StylesContemporary art, abstract photography, nightlife, Photocopy-Realism, identity, and LGBTQA+ experiences
Famous Artworks
  • Glypthothek Munich (2007)
  • Lotta Burenius, Lima (2013)
  • In the Garden (2017)
  • Wie wahrscheinlich ist es, dass nur ich recht habe in dieser Sache? (2018)

Renowned German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans is one of the best contemporary photographers from Remscheid, Germany, who is recognized for his versatility and experimental visual language. Tillmans’ images have won him the 2000 Turner Prize and established him as the first non-British photographer to win the award. His photography style is defined by his encounters with German nightlife, travels, and queer communities, which he captures beautifully in vivid abstract compositions, portraits, and still lives.

Examples of Photographer From GermanyTillmans in the 1990s; Stuart Mentiply, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons


By exploring the work of photographers from diverse cultures, one can learn to appreciate the unique perspectives of those whose heritage and culture provide much insight into how one can establish their individuality. In studying the art of these German photographers, you may also discover visual narratives that empower and incite you to think about the complexities of the human experience. 




Frequently Asked Questions


Who Is the Most Famous German Photographer from the 20th Century?

August Sander was recognized as the most famous German photographer from the 20th century. Sander’s photography was centered around portraiture and documentary-style photography. The Face of Our Time (1929) was his first publication that captured the essence of his approach to photography and was part of his life-long documentation project, which aimed to capture the soul of German society.


Which German Photographer Is Famous for Large-Format Images?

Andreas Gursky is recognized as the most famous German photographer who often uses large-format photographic prints that depict vast architectural spaces, landscapes, and various emblematic scenes of contemporary life. 


Who Was the German Photographer Who Photographed the 9/11 Disaster?

Thomas Hoepker is credited as the famous German photographer behind the documentary photographs of the 9/11 disaster. Hoepker worked as a photojournalist since the 1960s and is also a member of the Magnum Photos group.


Cite this Article

Jordan, Anthony, “Famous German Photographers – Frames of Influence.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. November 17, 2023. URL: https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-german-photographers/

Anthony, J. (2023, 17 November). Famous German Photographers – Frames of Influence. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-german-photographers/

Anthony, Jordan. “Famous German Photographers – Frames of Influence.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, November 17, 2023. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-german-photographers/.

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