Four Contemporary Photographers to Know

Irina Werning

Feature image: Photograph by Irina Werning

Four Contemporary Photographers to Know

With so many fabulous contemporary artists in the world, it can be overwhelming to try and learn about them all. So here are four contemporary photographers with drastically different styles to get you started!

Nick Brandt

Nick Brandt, Akessa and Maria on Sofa Fiji, 2023 via Atlas Gallery

Nick Brandt’s most recent work, The Day May Break, is a three-part series that seeks to portray the global impact of environmental destruction on people and animals. The third part of this series, Sink/Rise, features striking photos of people fully submerged underwater. These photos were taken off the coast of the Fijian islands. Global warming temperatures are causing sea levels to rise across the earth; the Pacific islands are experiencing this rise at a quicker rate than anywhere else. The extremes in weather and the rise of the sea have rendered low-lying areas uninhabitable. Brandt used locals in these photos to represent the many people who will lose their homes and land as the water slowly rises. The photos show Fijian people seated in chairs, lying on a bed frame, playing on a seesaw, and standing on the seafloor. In every photo, the individual's eyes are open wide, looking out at the ever-expanding sea or facing the viewer with determination. These sobering and compelling images reveal an apocalyptic future where environmental needs have been ignored, and refuge has been destroyed. 

Thandiwe Muriu

Thandiew Muriu, image from Camo Series, via artist website
Thandiew Muriu, image from Camo Series, via artist website

The photography of Thandiwe Murius Camo series features bold patterns, bright colors, and surreal illusions. These portraits feature solitary figures standing against bold fabrics with elaborate patterns. The figures are dressed in the same fabric as their backgrounds causing them to meld into the overall photo. The figure’s face, hair, and, at times, arms can be seen among the repeating patterns. Objects typical to Kenyan households are used as accessories by the subjects of the photos. From mosquito-repellent coils used as eyewear to earrings crafted from claw clips, Muriu creatively recycles these commonplace items. The resulting images feel like an optical illusion, but no digital manipulations are made of the works. Muriu explores how culture can create and consume individual identities through these photos. Each image is created with precise intentions. From the accessories to the hair and outfits, Muriu speaks to the rich traditions of her culture through a modern lens. One that she hopes may also redefine female beauty and empowerment. 

Patty Carroll

Patty Carroll, Phoney Yellowtrace, Anonymous Women via artist's website

Patty Carroll’s Anonymous Woman works consist of an ongoing three-part series: Reconstructed, Demise, and Draped. Carrol uses mannequins instead of humans in all these works because they are the traditional ‘ideal woman.’ They don’t age, don't get wrinkles, and are perpetually thin and silent. Reconstructed features elaborate domestic scenes where the mannequin's head is replaced with a household item, like a watering can or lampshade. These women become part of their surroundings, trapped by their possessions and the “myths of domestic perfection.” Their most basic identities are consumed and confined to the home. Similar to Reconstructed, the series Demise also features elaborate domestic scenes. In these works, the women, or mannequins, don’t camouflage into the backgrounds like they did in Reconstructed. Here, the home acts as a “metaphor for the internal life of women; their worries, desires, and interior dialogue.” In the third part, Draped, the domestic scenes disappear completely and are replaced by copious amounts of draped fabric. Everything is draped in fabric, including the women. Draped speaks to women's often invisible labor while caring for a home and family. Their hard work is largely unnoticed by the outer world, yet society demands women’s obsession with creating a perfect household. 

Irina Werning

Irina Werning, from Las Perlilargas series via artist
Irina Werning, from Las Perlilargas series via artist's website

Irina Werning’s images Las Pelilargas celebrate Latin American women and girls’ long hair. Werning speaks to this distinct cultural practice and the way many Indigenous communities in Argentina believe that hair spiritually tethers women to nature. Werning has been working on Las Pelilargas for the last seventeen years and has traveled throughout Latin America to document this cultural practice. The resulting images feel like a celebration and are often taken with the individual’s back turned or with their hair falling around their face. In almost every image, these women’s faces are either completely or partially obscured by their hair. This adds a sense of continuity and community to the works; these women’s cultures connect them with each other as well as their ancestors. 

“..I always ask them: why do you have long hair? “Because I like it, cause my dad looks after it..” but the true reason is invisible and passes from generation to generation. It is the culture of Latin America, where our ancestors believed that cutting hair was cutting life, that hair is the physical manifestation of our thoughts and our souls and our connection to the land.”

Werning says on her website

Every artist has a unique style, message, and purpose. These contemporary works help generate deep conversations about the many perspectives of the world around us.

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