Self-portrait photography is certainly a fascinating field used by artists since the beginning of the media itself.
If you want to know some famous self-portrait photographers, whether this is to inspire your own self-portraits or to learn some photographic history – this is the right place.
In this list, you’ll find some who used the self-portrait as a study for painted portraits and others who used it as the main medium for their fine art.
You’ll find famous examples like the Andy Warhol Self-Portrait to the little-known self-portrait of Degas.
Through this sample of talented artists, you’ll get to see the photographic meaning of taking your own photo and how deep it can be.
Sometimes there’s a fine line between a self-portrait and just a selfie. However, you’ll find that self-consciousness is an important element.
If you’re ready to explore the work of some of the most talented self-portrait photographers in history – keep on reading.
Table of Contents
Who are the most Famous Self Portrait Photographers?
Cindy Sherman is one of the most famous self-portrait photographers. However, it’s also been questioned whether her work is self-portraiture or not, as she constructs different personas for her photographs.
She uses her photography to reflect on matters of identity and gender roles. Cindy Sherman most famous series is Untitled Film Stills, where she portrays stereotypical female roles in films.
Andy Warhol is one of the most well-known figures in art history, as he is considered the father of pop art. While he wasn’t particularly famous as a self-portrait photographer, he did experiment with self-portraiture.
Andy Warhol Self-Portrait in Drag was influenced by Duchamp’s female alter ego created by Man Ray. He also made the work Self-Portrait using his most identifiable style of acrylic paint and screenprint in different colors.
Vivian Maier had a low-key lifestyle and worked as a caregiver. She never intended to be an artist or a professional photographer but dedicated her free time to documenting the streets of New York.
Her work was discovered in 2007, and it’s been exhibited and published all over the world. Vivian Maier Self-Portrait is one of her most famous images.
In fact, self-reflection is an important aspect of her work – there’s even a book dedicated exclusively to her self-portraits.
Robert Mapplethorpe was a famous photographer mostly known for his portraits of celebrities, his nude photos and his still-life images.
He would also do self-portrait photography on occasion. One of his most famous images is the one where he’s holding a cane with a skull on a dark background – this was taken a year before he died of AIDS.
Many people consider this to be a self-portrait, even if it was his brother who shot the photograph because it was the result of Robert Mapplethorpe’s creative process.
Woodman started taking self-portraits at 13 years old and continued until she took her own life at 22 years of age. The reason for her tragic fate is not certain.
However, many believe that she committed suicide due to the lack of recognition of her artistic work. Her state consists of over 800 negatives, videos and photo books – they now receive positive acclaim.
Man Ray is a well-known artist who experimented with multiple media. He used photography in different ways, including camera-less photographs.
He did artistic self-portraits – many of them diverging from traditional portraiture. The most clear example of this is the one made for the Daniel Gallery in 1916.
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Other photographic self-portraits depict him more clearly but still use his non-traditional techniques, such as solarisation.
Veronika Lavey is an artist who uses fine art photography and painting in her work. Mostly she makes self-portraiture and conceptual art.
Uzochukwu is a self-portrait photographer who explores the concepts of longing and belonging relating to race and queerness. He uses post-production to create many of his surreal images.
Despite his young age, he’s been exhibited worldwide, and he’s represented by Galerie Gomis.
She doesn’t consider her photography to be self-portraits – although her work features mainly herself.
She uses humour to explore the relationship between complete strangers, gender roles, national identities, and family issues.
Morrisey also explores the boundaries of the media itself using still and moving pictures.
Friedlander is a famous self-portrait photographer. He’s explored self-portraiture for more than six decades.
Throughout this time, he’s used his shadow, his own reflection in shop windows, and his body to create amazing compositions.
Lawson is a famous portrait photographer who explores the Black aesthetic and African-American life. She doesn’t use professional models – instead, she casts people she meets on the street.
However, her images are staged and carefully designed. Only one self-portrait is known, and it was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection.
While Arbus is one of the most famous portrait photographers, her self-portraits aren’t as well known. She did, however, many of them.
She often photographed herself with her camera – one of these times, she was naked while pregnant.
Claude Cahun was both a photographer and writer. She always used female pronouns when she wrote about herself.
However, in her self-portrait photography, she portrays herself in various personas. Here is where she reflected what she once stated – that her gender was fluid.
She often collaborated with her partner Marcel Moore – some believe that he was the one who took many of her portrait photographs.
Jun Ahn is most famous for her Self-Portrait series, where she captured herself on top of skyscrapers.
She also experiments with high-speed photography and is fascinated with using repetition to capture the moment of randomness.
All her work revolves around the same topic, though – the memento mori.
Jo Spence starts as a wedding photographer. Later, her concerns as a feminist and socialist made her turn to documentary photography.
When she’s diagnosed with breast cancer, she uses self-portraiture to help her deal with the illness. This is how she developed phototherapy.
Newman started as a studio portrait photographer. He later experiments with still-life, documentary, and abstract photography.
He’s mostly known for his environmental portraits of famous artists and politicians. He developed this approach after Beaumont Newhall and Alfred Stieglitz offered him an exhibition with Ben Rose in 1941.
Amongst his photographs, there’s an early self-portrait and a later one that’s much more famous.
Thompson is a self-portrait photographer who creates surreal and conceptual images. He shoots in abandoned houses and other unusual locations.
His intention is to break the traditional storyline narrative and instead create a loop of unchanged state where his photographs live.
We all know Picasso’s famous paintings – including his self-portraits. However, his photographic work is less known.
Most of these images were shown for the first time at the exhibition Picasso & the Camera. According to Lens Culture, “he used the camera to capture life in the studio and at home, try out new ideas, to study his work and document his creation”.
Educated in business and finance, he became a fashion photographer. While he still does commercial work, he’s highly invested in his conceptual portrait photography. In it, he often uses self-portraits to create his series.
Bailey-Gates received the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation Award in 2015 after graduating from the School of Visual Arts.
He uses self-portrait photography to defy cultural norms. His most famous self-portrait was an image created for Valentino, for which he received a homophobic backslash.
Cornelius is one of the most famous self-portrait photographers in history because his daguerreotype self-portrait is considered the first person captured with the photographic process in the US. He had to pose still for 10 to 15 minutes to create this image.
Marcel Duchamp is mostly famous for his ready-made art and his pioneering role in the Dada movement. However, photography was part of the multiple media he used in his art career.
In the exhibition Inventing Marcel Duchamp: The Dynamics of Portraiture, the National Portrait Gallery presented over 100 portraits and self-portraits of Duchamp.
Goldin engaged with self-portrait photography as part of her overall body of work as she approached her subjects with intimacy. This often meant including herself in the pictures as they became part of the community she was photographing.
When she dedicated her work to the LGQBT community, she was living with them and fell in love with them. Later, she focused on drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. In this period, she photographed close friends and their everyday life.
Bayard invented a photographic process about the same time as Daguerre. However, he was persuaded to wait before releasing his invention, and Daguerre bit him to the punch.
To express his anger and discontent, he created the first staged photography in history – Self Portrait as a Drowned Man. For this self-portrait, he pretended to have committed suicide.
He also made multiple self-portraits during his lifetime.
Weegee was a multifaceted photographer – his work ranges from being a street photographer with a pony for children photographs to a still photographer on a Stanly Kubrick film.
Amongst his many photographs, you can also find some self-portraits. Not just that, he also became an actor and starred in his own movies, including a nudie cutie pseudo-documentary film.
Wearing is a famous contemporary photographer. She uses photography to expose that the camera doesn’t have an objective point of view and how it’s used in mass media.
She also photographs strangers to challenge the idea of ‘the other’ as being something we think we already know. In the book 21st Century Portraits, her method of working is described as “frame[ing] herself as she frames the other”.
Coplans studied art thanks to a scholarship offered to war veterans like himself. He struggled to find his way and dabbled with abstract painting.
Later, he relocated to the US and worked for the Artforum magazine, to which he dedicated most of his writing career. He also dedicated time to his curatorial practices. He returned to create art only late in life.
One of his most famous self-portraits is a study of the ageing body in which he appears nude in different positions. He never shows his face – which is why it’s not interpreted as an exploration of identity.
Frances Benjamin Johnston
She received her first camera from George Eastman and was trained by Thomas Smillie – director of photography at the Smithsonian Museum.
She dedicated her work mostly to portrait photography. She was a believer and fighter for women’s rights. She was the only photographer in Washington at the time, and, amongst others, she photographed the suffragettes.
Her most famous self-portrait is the one she made as the liberated New Woman. She did other self-portraits, including one where she is dressed as a man with a fake moustache.
She is a politically engaged contemporary artist questioning issues about racism, sexism, etc. However, she’s most famous as a self-portrait photographer thanks to her works Kitchen Table and Family Pictures and Stories, where she was the main character.
Her most recent works revolve around the role and struggles of African-American entertainment figures. She’s represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery.
Liu Bolin is one of the most famous self-portrait photographers in contemporary art, thanks to his concealment artworks.
He works with an assistant that helps him to paint himself and blend with the background. He has stated that his work is fuelled by a sense of not fitting in with society.
He was a hyper-realistic painter and photographer who used both media to do self-portraits. He also did portrait photography, and many of his models accused him of sexual harassment – they were never disproven.
In sight of these allegations, he was dismissed from the Yale School of Art, and the National Gallery of Art cancelled his upcoming exhibition.
Although he’s most famous for his paintings, he was also passionate about photography. He mostly used it as studies of the human body for his paintings. Only a few photographs reached our days – mostly about friends and models but also a self-portrait with Christine and Yvonne Lerolle.
Hendricks isn’t as famous as a self-portrait photographer as he is a painter. However, he’s used photography in his practice with much success.
One of the clearest examples is his triple self-portrait, where he photographed himself standing in front of two self-portrait paintings.
Brooke Shaden is a self-portrait photographer who uses juxtaposition to explore the darkness and lightness inside human beings.
So, while she’s the model in each one of her photographs, her work is meant to represent any one of us. Her images are often surreal, with a dream-like atmosphere.
Shaden is also committed to empowering other self-portrait photographers by sharing her method and experience in talks, workshops, and online courses.
Ana Mendieta was a contemporary artist who explored the connection between body and earth. Her self-portrait photography comes mostly as documentation of her performances. Some of the most well-known are Untitled (Self-Portrait with Blood) and Untitled (Facial Cosmetic Variations).
Otero is one of the youngest self-portrait photographers in the art world. At age fifteen, she was the youngest artist in Spain to have a solo exhibition in a gallery.
Since then, her work has been awarded and exhibited all over the world. She uses self-portraits to reflect on the “human paradigms and experiences”.
Like many self-portrait photographers, Zank creates surreal situations to explore aspects of human nature. In his case, he reflects on isolation and our relationship with nature.
However, he claims to work mostly on spontaneity and instinct without thinking too much about the message of the photo.
Ilse Bing was a commercial photographer who did reportages, portraits, and advertising jobs. As part of her artistic work, she was very interested in urban subjects.
However, one of her most famous images is her self-portrait photograph with mirrors taken in 1931. Reflections and symmetry were often used in her work regardless of the subject.
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Tommy Kha uses self-portrait photography to explore many concepts. They often related to his Asian heritage, being a second-generation immigrant in the US.
In his first series, he portrayed the roles he was supposed to fulfil – a doctor, a lawyer, etc. The usual expectations most immigrant parents have of their children.
Then, he moved on to half-self-portraits photographing himself with his mom. He has a difficult relationship due to his gender identity.
Yijun Liao (A.K.A. Pixy Liao) is a Chinese artist living in New York. She’s mostly famous for her work Experimental Relationship.
This series of portrait and self-portrait photography depicts her and her younger partner challenging gender norms. She considers they were mostly acting in front of the camera.
Stacey Tyrell is one of the many self-portrait photographers using her work to question what it means to be Black. Being part of the Caribbean Diaspora, she explores the concepts of identity and heritage.
Backra Bluid is her most famous photo series. In it, she explores not only other people’s preconceptions but also her own.
As a street photographer, she made portraits of the average people. She was very talented in capturing the essence of modern life, and that’s why her images were often published in Harper’s Bazar and other magazines.
Her portrait photography and teaching career left a big legacy as she was the teacher of another famous photographer – Diane Arbus.
She often pointed the camera at herself, although self-portrait photography wasn’t her main genre.
Ed van der Elsken
He captured the post-war life in Amsterdam better than any other photographer. he also made intimate self-portraits and videos.
You can see him reflected in the mirror while photographing his wife – photographer Ata Kandò as well as you can see him in the last stages of his terminal disease.
He didn’t put a filter on what he documented. He was honest and treated his personal life in the same way as he did public or political life.
As Aperture Publishing says: “Ed van der Elsken showed the Dutch as they like to see themselves: diverse, open, and rebelliously normal.”