Early last year, a large-format print of a photograph by Richard Avedon went up for sale through Christie’s with a pre-sale estimate of $350,000-$550,000; in the end, it sold for $615,000. While photography might have struggled for decades to be accepted as a fine art, it’s since gained its rightful place in the art market, as modern collectors drive new trends and movements within the industry.
Photography might be one of the newest fine art media on the block, but it’s also one of the most powerful—transcending borders and traversing great distances. As contemporary photographers continue to make waves at auction, fresh, new voices have emerged, pushing the genre into unexpected and uncharted territory.
Here’s a quick look at just 10 artists on 500px who have inspired us with their singular visions, creative courage, adventurous spirits, and willingness to try new things. Of course, we’ve just barely scratched the surface, so please add your favorite fine art photographers in the comments!
This award-winning photographer got his start at the early age of sixteen, when he and a friend spent their days creating surreal photographic compositions in Photoshop. During this time, he dreamt up impossible scenarios, mind-bending happenings, and places that never existed.
In some ways, Aaron works like a scientist in a lab; reality is just a tool, to be explored, bent, or distorted into something new. “In school, my professor told me my images were like experiments,” he recently shared on Twitter. “I mean, like, yeah.”
For Aaron, photography has been more than an art form; it’s been a refuge and a solace. Looking back, he says creating—and escaping into—alternate realities became a form of self-therapy. In the past, he’s drawn inspiration from the likes of the painter Rene Magritte, an influence that can still be seen in his work today, where almost nothing is exactly what it might appear to be on the surface.
In the 1990s, this photographer-to-be went off to summer camp with a disposable camera in hand and instructions from his mother to document his adventures, and an artist was born. Today, his work merges performance art and photography, often featuring dancers frozen in space, their bodies forming dynamic, organic shapes in otherworldly landscapes.
Right now, we’re living in the Anthropocene epoch, where human activity has become the dominant influence on the environment and climate; Rob’s photographs serve as a reminder of our enduring connection with the natural world—and with each other—harkening back to a half-imagined Edenic realm where humankind and nature exist side-by-side. He’s also seen nature in peril up-close, having escaped the Oregon wildfires.
Rob has backpacked since the age of fourteen, and as a photographer, he’s traversed mountain lakes, burnt canyons, vibrant salt flats, and more, bringing back with him images that occupy a strange and uncanny space between the real and imagined. Like Aaron, Rob too has found inspiration in the surrealists, including Magritte and Salvador Dali, to tell stories that are at once timeless and modern.
This award-winning photographer, currently based in Slovakia, often finds inspiration in places overlooked by others, including the Socialist era swimming pools that served as the setting for one of her largest series to date, featuring cool and aloof swimmers, lost in a dream or a memory of days gone and forgotten.
Maria’s imagined characters often participate in repetitive, everyday activities, from exercising to waiting in doctor’s offices, suspended in time. While her nostalgic color palette and retro architectural spaces harken back to decades-long past, Maria also speaks to our hopes and anxieties about a future utopia, defined by symmetry, harmony, and serenity; pain might not exist, and yet tension and unspoken rules linger just below the surface.
Maria’s cinematic sensibility, combined with her curiosity about the modern human condition, result in images that are simultaneously soothing in their beauty and poignant for their implications. In her work, silence and loneliness are nearly as present as the figures themselves, and both sensations linger in our imaginations long after we turn away.
A self-described “creator of worlds,” this self-portrait artist blurs the line between reality and dreams, inspired by a childhood colored by imagination, wonder, and darkness. Part photographer and part actor/performance artist, she inhabits characters sprung forth from her own mind, memory, and stories, often combining contrasting themes like birth and death, and fear and longing.
Like Cindy Sherman before her, Brooke is not always herself in her images; sometimes, she’s a fictional person, a figure from a daydream, an embodiment of her own fears, or an invisible piece of her own psyche. She floats; she falls; she flies.
“I used to be terrified of looking weird to people,” she shared earlier this month. “I always shut up and shut down so no one would notice me. I found myself through dark art. Once I was at some horribly social dinner where I showed my images to someone and they didn’t talk to me the rest of the night. I thought—so, this is what it’s like to be interesting.”
Drawing inspiration from Zen Buddhism, this Indonesian photographer finds joy and serenity in pristine, lonely landscapes. Born in Semarang and currently based in the city of Jakarta, he’s always sought out wild, silent spaces close to the sea, the mountains, and the rainforest, sequestered from the noise of modern life. Rendered in monochrome, his images are often minimalist, absent of all but the bare essentials.
Hengki received his first camera at the age of eleven, and whether he’s submerged underwater or watching the sunrise from the misty mountaintops, he still approaches the natural world with the awe and wonderment of a child, open to whatever mysteries or surprises unfold before his eyes.
Hengki’s approach echoes the work of legendary photographers ranging from Ansel Adams to Michael Kenna, but his reverence for the Indonesian islands—and his familiarity with their unparalleled terrain—lends his photographs an undeniable, irreplicable sense of place. At the same time, they feel out-of-time, as if they could have been made a century ago—or another hundred years into the future.
In 2016, this Lagos, Nigeria-based photographer suffered a traumatic skateboarding accident that left him with a broken femur; as he recovered, he channeled his physical and emotional pain into self-portraiture, using whatever he had available (at the time, a camera phone). By the end of that year, he had started to share his work online, striking a raw and honest chord that resonated with people around the world.
Citing Gregory Crewdson as one of his influences, Adeolu’s images share a similarly cinematic atmosphere, transporting us into another world rich with mystery, metaphor, and psychological meaning. In 2017, he again gained international recognition for his work on Losing Amos, an homage to his grandfather, who passed away in 2014; donning clothes previously owned by his grandfather, he again created self-portraits, stepping into the past and inhabiting his own memories.
While Adeolu often veers into the surreal, merging fact and fiction, the emotional truth behind his photographs has remained a constant. As he reveals, it’s sometimes the most magical, fantastical scenes—or half-remembered dreams—that truly reflect our experience of reality, our notion of selfhood, and our connection with the past.
This Australian seascape photographer spends much of his time in the ocean, chasing waves and capturing their abstract, sculptural forms. While the water is unpredictable and spontaneous, he often enters its depths with an idea of the image he’d like to capture already fixed in his imagination; from there, it’s up to the sunlight and the elements to bring it to life.
Warren can take hundreds of photographs in just a few hours at sea, and for him, the ocean represents an escape—a return to the natural world and the vast unknown, outside of the confines of modern life. He works alone most of the time, with the only sound being the melodies of the waves. He knows he has no control over nature’s whims; for him, that’s where the magic is.
Warren has braved freezing conditions and stayed in the ocean after dark in search of the perfect wave. The only thing that ever came between him and the sea was a broken leg that left him temporarily shore-bound; even then, he longed for the water.
A self-described “forest creature,” this self-taught Spanish photographer has pulled inspiration from literary and cinematic figures ranging from Lewis Carroll to David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. Her muse is often childhood, and her work is colored by all its mysteries and anxieties. She’s also a poet, and her passion for folklore informs her images.
In the past, Dara’s been compared to Sally Mann and Mary Ellen Mark, whose photographs similarly capture the pain, magic, and fears that come with being young and growing up, as well as Francesca Woodman, whose self-portraits explored notions of identity and fantasy, and Diane Arbus, who shared a fascination with twins.
Dara’s work finds its setting in the untamed wilderness where animals, like children, roam free. Once, she said her photographs were like memories—except they were recollections of experiences and a life she’d never had.
This self-taught Austrian-Nigerian photographer started taking self-portraits at thirteen; by the age of sixteen, he had already gone pro. By turns surreal and vulnerable, powerful and delicate, his portraits soon caught the attention of people far and wide, and he found himself photographing everyone from friends to celebrities.
The human body has been a recurring motif throughout David’s work, allowing him to visualize joy and pain, isolation and belonging. Over the course of 2018 alone, he traveled to Croatia, Berlin, Venice, Chile, Brussels, and beyond, exploring ethereal landscapes, attending shows, and even hand-feeding a fragile kitten he discovered in a parking lot. His self-portraits continue to be a source of inspiration and catharsis; after all, he’s always available and willing to brave the elements for a session.
Throughout the years, David’s vision has remained steadfast, courageous, and tender, exposing the beauty of the body and the depths of the psyche in tandem. His portraits have continued to evolve; sometimes, he says people don’t immediately recognize him in his own images, but he’s always there—exploring, discovering, and digging deeper.
Like many featured in this roundup, this Belarusian-based photographer and writer specializes in self-portraits, using whatever resources she has on hand and proving that you can create art virtually anywhere, including from the comfort of your own home. Taya’s imagination is limitless; in the past, she’s gotten creative with CDs to create rainbows, made DIY headdresses, costumes, and backgrounds, and experimented with double exposures.
Sometimes, she even includes her camera in the frame, recalling the work of legendary photographers before her, including Man Ray and Vivian Maier. Earlier this year, we interviewed her, along with two prominent New York City gallerists, to get her tips for emerging fine art photographers; you can read her advice here.