The following is a selective list of photographers born in the month of May. Not intended to be an exhaustive listing by any means, it may contain people you’ve heard of and some you’ve not. If your favorites have not been included please excuse the oversight and leave a comment. The photographers included are organized, if you will, in order of day of the month starting with May, 1 and following rather than by birth year. If that seems a little weird consider it an exercise in artistic license. You can organize your list any way you’d like. We hope you enjoy what’s here…
Sally Mann – May 1, 1951.
Born in Lexington, Virginia, Sally Mann was introduced to photography by her father, Robert Munger. Munger was a physician who photographed Mann nude as a little girl. Mann began to photograph when she was sixteen. Most of her photographs and writings are tied to Lexington, Virginia. Mann graduated from The Putney School in 1969. She took up photography at Putney, where, she claims, her motive was to be alone in the darkroom with her boyfriend. She made her photographic debut at Putney, with an image of a nude classmate. Her father encouraged her interest in photography; his 5×7 camera became the basis of her use of large format cameras today.
Philippe Halsman – May 2, 1906.
Philippe Halsman is known as an American portrait photographer. Halsman had his first success in America when the cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden used his image of model Constance Ford against the American flag in an advertising campaign for “Victory Red” lipstick. A year later, in 1942, he found work with Life magazine, photographing hat designs; a portrait of a model in a Lilly Daché hat was the first of his many covers for Life. In 1952 John F. Kennedy sat twice for photographs by Halsman. A photograph from the first sitting appeared on the jacket of the original edition of Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage; one from the second sitting was used in the senatorial campaign.
In 1958 Halsman was listed in Popular Photography magazine’s “World’s Ten Greatest Photographers”, and in 1975 he received the Life Achievement in Photography Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers, of which he was elected the first president in 1945. He also held many large exhibitions worldwide. Halsman’s list of kudos is far too long to list here. Suffice it to say, Philippe Halsman is one of the greatest portrait photographers to have ever lived.
Jacob Riis – May 3, 1849.
Jacob Riis was a Danish-American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist and social documentary photographer. He is known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help the impoverished in New York City; those impoverished New Yorkers were the subject of most of his prolific writings and photography. He endorsed the implementation of “model tenements” in New York with the help of humanitarian Lawrence Veiller. Additionally, as one of the most famous proponents of the newly practicable casual photography, he is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his very early adoption of flash in photography.
While living in New York, Riis experienced poverty and became a police reporter writing about the quality of life in the slums. He attempted to alleviate the bad living conditions of poor people by exposing their living conditions to the middle and upper classes.
John William Draper – May 5, 1811.
Richard Draper was an English-American scientist, philosopher, physician, chemist, historian and photographer. He is credited with producing the first clear photograph of a female face (1839–40) and the first detailed photograph of the moon in 1840. He was also the first president of the American Chemical Society (1876–77) and a founder of the New York University School of Medicine. Draper did important research in photochemistry, made portrait photography possible by his improvements (1839) on Louis Daguerre’s process, and published a textbook on Chemistry (1846), textbook on Natural Philosophy (1847), textbook on Physiology (1866), and Scientific Memoirs (1878) on radiant energy. In 1839–1840, Draper produced clear photographs, which at that time were regarded as the first life photographs of a human face. Draper took a series of pictures, with a 65-second exposure in sunlight. The first ones, of a female assistant whose face was covered with a thin layer of flour to increase contrast, were not preserved. Draper also photographed his sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper. In March 1840 Draper became the second person to produce photographs of an astronomical object, the Moon, considered the first astrophotographs. In 1843 he made daguerreotypes of the solar spectrum that revealed new infra-red and ultra violet lines. In 1850 he was making photo-micrographs and engaged his then teenage son, Henry, into their production.
Richard Avedon – May 15, 1923.
Richard Avedon was an American fashion and portrait photographer. An obituary published in The New York Times said that “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century”. Avedon was born in New York City, to a Jewish family. His father, Jacob Israel Avedon, was a Russian-born immigrant who advanced from menial work to starting his own successful retail dress business on Fifth Avenue, called Avedon’s Fifth Avenue. His mother, Anna, from a family that owned a dress-manufacturing business, encouraged Richard’s love of fashion and art. Avedon’s interest in photography emerged when, at age 12, he joined a Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) Camera Club. He would use his family’s Kodak Box Brownie not only to feed his curiosity about the world, but also to retreat from his personal life. In 1944, Avedon began working as an advertising photographer for a department store, but was quickly endorsed by Alexey Brodovitch, who was art director for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Lillian Bassman also promoted Avedon’s career at Harper’s. In 1945 his photographs began appearing in Junior Bazaar and, a year later, in Harper’s Bazaar. In 1946, Avedon had set up his own studio and began providing images for magazines including Vogue and Life. He soon became the chief photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. From 1950 he also contributed photographs to Life, Look and Graphis and in 1952 became Staff Editor and photographer for Theatre Arts Magazine. Avedon did not conform to the standard technique of taking studio fashion photographs, where models stood emotionless and seemingly indifferent to the camera. Instead, Avedon showed models full of emotion, smiling, laughing, and, many times, in action in outdoor settings which was revolutionary at the time. However, towards the end of the 1950s he became dissatisfied with daylight photography and open air locations and so turned to studio photography, using strobe lighting. Photographer Annie Leibovitz names Avedon as a major influence, describing his style as ‘personal reportage’, developing close rapport with one’s subjects. An obituary published in The New York Times said that “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century”.
Ralph Eugene Meatyard – May 15, 1925.
Ralph Eugene Meatyard was born in Norman, Illinois and raised in the nearby town of Bloomington. He turned 18 during World War II and joined the U. S. Navy but the war ended before he received any overseas assignments. After being mustered out, he briefly studied Pre-Dentistry, but changed directions and became an optician. After his marriage, Meatyard and his wife Madelyn relocated to Lexington, Kentucky where he plied his trade as optician for a company that also sold photographic equipment. Meatyard purchased his first camera, Rolleiflex medium-format camera, in 1950 to photograph his newborn first child. He joined the Lexington Camera Club and the Photographic Society of America in 1954. It was at the Lexington Camera Club that Meatyard met Van Deren Coke. Coke was an early influence behind much of Meatyard’s work. Coke exhibited work by Meatyard in an exhibition for the University of Kentucky entitled “Creative Photography” in 1956. In the mid-1950s, Meatyard attended a series of summer workshops by Henry Holmes Smith and with Minor White. White fostered Meatyard’s interest in Zen Philosophy. Using his children as props to explore what could be called his prime subject, Meatyard addressed the surreal “masks” of identity and the ephemeral nature of surface matter. Much of his work was made in abandoned farmhouses in central Kentucky during family weekend outings and in derelict spaces around Lexington. His work has been exhibited with the work of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, and Eikoh Hosoe. Ralph Eugene Meatyard died of congenital heart failure in 1972.
Gertrude Käsebier – May 18, 1852.
Gertrude Kasebier was one of the most influential American photographers of the early 20th century. She was known for her images of motherhood, her portraits of Native Americans and her promotion of photography as a career for women. Born Gertrude Stanton on 18 May 1852 in Fort Des Moines (now Des Moines). Her father, John W. Stanton, transported a saw mill to Golden, Colorado at the start of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1859, and he prospered from the building boom that followed. In 1860 eight-year-old Stanton traveled with her mother and younger brother to join her father in Colorado. That same year her father was elected the first mayor of Golden, which was then the capital of the Colorado Territory. After the sudden death of her father in 1864, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where her mother, Muncy Boone Stanton, opened a boarding house to support the family. From 1866 through 1870 Stanton lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with her maternal grandmother and attended the Bethlehem Female Seminary (later called Moravian College). Little else is known about her early years. On her twenty-second birthday, in 1874, she married twenty-eight-year-old Eduard Käsebier, a financially comfortable and socially well-placed businessman in Brooklyn. The couple had three children but the marriage was troubled by personal differences and was never a happy one. In spite of their differences, her husband supported her financially when she began to
attend art school at the age of thirty-seven, a time when most women of her day were well-settled in their social positions. Käsebier never indicated what motivated her to study art, but she devoted herself to it wholeheartedly. Over the objections of her husband in 1889 she moved the family back to Brooklyn in order to attend the newly established Pratt Institute of Art and Design full-time. In 1898 Käsebier photographed several notable Sioux warriors. At the height of her career, 1898 through 1909, she produced dozens of photographs of Native Americans. Many of these are her most well known images. Käsebier focused more on the expression and individuality of the person than the costumes and customs. During this period she became a commercial success and clashed with Alfred Stieglitz, even though he published a number of her photographs in ‘Camera Notes,’ declaring her “beyond dispute, the leading artistic portrait photographer of the day.” Käsebier’s strong interests in the commercial side of photography were directly at odds with Stieglitz’s idealistic and anti-materialistic nature. Eduard Käsebier died in 1910, finally leaving his wife free to pursue her interests as she saw fit. She continued to take a separate course from Stieglitz by helping to establish the Women’s Professional Photographers Association of America. Throughout the late 1910s and most of the 1920s Käsebier continued to expand her portrait business, taking photos of many important people of the time including Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens, Arthur B. Davies, Mabel Dodge and Stanford White. In 1924 her daughter Hermine Turner joined her in her portrait business. In 1929 Käsebier gave up photography altogether and liquidated the contents of her studio. That same year she was given a major one-person exhibition at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. Käsebier died on 12 October 1934 at the home of her daughter. A major collection of her work is held by the University of Delaware.
Dorothea Lange – May 26, 1895.
Dorothea Lange was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography. Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn at birth, she dropped her middle name and assumed her mother’s maiden name after her father abandoned the family when she was 12 years old, one of two traumatic incidents early in her life. The other was her contraction of polio at age seven which left her with a weakened right leg and a permanent limp. “It formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” Lange once said of her altered gait. “I’ve never gotten over it, and I am aware of the force and power of it.” Educated in photography at Columbia University in New York City, in a class taught by Clarence H. White. She was informally apprenticed to several New York photography studios, including that of the famed Arnold Genthe. In 1918, she left New York with a female friend to travel the world, but was forced to end the trip in San Francisco due to a robbery and settled there, working as a photo finisher. By the following year she had opened a successful portrait studio. She lived across the bay in Berkeley for the rest of her life. In 1920, she married the noted western painter Maynard Dixon, with whom she had two sons. After a 1935 divorce, she remarried and spent five years documenting rural poverty and the exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant laborers. Working for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration, they brought the plight of the poor and forgotten – particularly sharecroppers, displaced farm families, and migrant workers – to public attention. Distributed free to newspapers across the country, her poignant images became icons of the era.
One of Lange’s most recognized works is titled “Migrant Mother.” The woman in the photo is Florence Owens Thompson. In 1941, Lange was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for achievement in photography. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she gave up the prestigious award to record the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, on assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA). She covered the internment of Japanese Americans and their subsequent incarceration, traveling throughout urban and rural California to photograph families preparing to leave. Today her photographs of the internment are available in the National Archives on the website of the ‘Still Photographs Division’, and at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. In 1945, Lange was invited by Ansel Adams to accept a position as faculty at the first fine art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). Imogen Cunningham and Minor White joined as well. Lange died on October 11, 1965, in San Francisco, California, at age 70. In 2006, an elementary school was named in her honor in Nipomo, California, near the site where she photographed “Migrant Mother”. On May 28, 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced Lange’s induction into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts. The induction ceremony took place on December 15, her son accepting the honor in her place.
Joyce Tenneson – May 29, 1945.
Joyce Tenneson is an American fine art photographer known for her distinctive style of photography, which often involves nude or semi-nude women. Tenneson earned her master’s degree in photography from George Washington University after starting as a model for Polaroid. She left her job as a photography professor at 39, and moved from Washington to New York. Tenneson shoots primarily with the Polaroid 20×24 camera. In an interview with a photography magazine, Tenneson advised artists: “I very strongly believe that if you go back to your roots, if you mine that inner territory, you can bring out something that is indelibly you and authentic – like your thumbprint. It’s going to have your style because there is no one like you.” As a child, her parents worked on the grounds of a convent, which is where she grew up with her two sisters. She and her sister “were enlisted to be in holiday pageants and processions. It was a mysterious environment – something out of Fellini – filled with symbolism, ritual, beauty, and also a disturbing kind of surreal imagery.” Tenneson moved from Manhattan to Rockport, Maine in 2004. Her work has been displayed in more than 100 exhibitions around the world. Tenneson’s work has been used as cover images by many magazines including Time, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Premiere, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine.