Nineteen Women and Non-Binary Photographers Who Inspired Photography's Past and Future

Nineteen Women and Non-Binary Photographers Who Inspired Photography's Past and Future

Nineteen Women and Non-Binary Photographers Who Inspired Photography's Past and Future

by The Luupe

For World Photography Day, we celebrate nineteen women and non-binary photographers' remarkable impact.

It’s often a story of firsts – from Anna Atkins, the first person to publish a photography book and make magic with cyanotypes in the 19th century, to Dana Scruggs, one of today's most prolific commercial photographers and the first Black woman to EVER shoot the cover for Rolling Stone Magazine.
We also look at photographers like Jill Greenberg who explore new technologies and help us reimagine our world.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg ("where's Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus?" you say – stay tuned!).
Be sure to check out our links for further reading at the end of this feature and keep an eye out for more conversations on women + non-binary visionaries transforming creative culture.
Enjoy, and happy World Photography Day
Left: Sappho, 1865. Right: The Mountain Nymph, 1866. © Julia Margaret Cameron

19th-century British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, who began her career at the age of 48 when her daughter gifted her a camera, is widely considered one of the most important (and first!) portraitists in photo history.
She is most recognized for her sensitive soft-focus studio portraits of Victorian men, women, and children, which often reference or recreate characters from mythology. She photographed many celebrities and influential figures at the time like Charles Darwin, Sappho, and Sir John Herschel.
While her career was relatively brief and critics at the time belittled her soft focus as “amateurish” (remind anyone of today’s comments-section bro photographers?), her work has been praised for its power and influence on nearly all portrait photography going forward.

▲ © Sarah Anne Bright

Not much is known about Sarah Anne Bright, whose work was not attributed to her until 2015 when her initials were discovered on a 19th-century Photogram in a Sotheby’s auction.
It turns out that the photo - originally attributed to Henry Fox Talbot, was made by Bright in 1839, and is now known as the first photo made by a woman.
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In the early 1970s, after studying photography in Miami, Florida, Ruby Washington moved to NYC and got a job as a technician in The New York Times photo lab. Soon she was photographing for the paper and eventually landed a permanent position as staff photographer – the first Black woman in history to have that title – and had an impressive career until retiring in 2014.
Washington covered a wide range of subjects with a direct, yet sensitive lens – from everyday pictures like a woman hailing a cab in the rain to art openings at the Brooklyn Museum, local tragedies, and political figures like Colin Powell reading a note during speeches at the United Nations.
▲ Self-portrait, 1928 © Claude Cahun

The French artist, photographer, writer, and sculptor is known to be the first transgender photographer to receive major recognition in the history of photography – 40 years after their death.
Born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, the artist adopted the name Claude Cahun in 1914, referring to themself as “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”
Much of their work, especially their famous 1928 self-portrait (pictured above) takes a surrealist and performative approach to gender, a discussion that was decades ahead of their time.
▲ Left: Untitled (Playing harmonica), 1990. © Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San
Francisco. Right: The cover of Weem's monograph "Kitchen Table Series" published by Damiani/Matsumoto Editions
Carrie Mae Weems is considered one of the most influential contemporary photographers. She is most widely known for her 1990s “The Kitchen Table Series,” which uses the kitchen table as a stage to play out power, gender, political, cultural, and family dynamics.
Weems' work has been widely written about, collected, and included in major exhibitions at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMa, The Guggenheim, and more. “I’m trying to construct a new prism for looking at certain aspects of African-American culture and gender relationships,” writes Weems, “— as James Baldwin said, ‘searching for the evidence of things unseen.”
In September 2021, Weems' work was the subject of a major retrospective at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery spanning her vast and multidimensional career.

▲ Lia Clay Miller's portrait of Janet Mock on the cover of OUT magazine

In 2019, early in her quickly ascending career, Lia Clay Miller received known for being the first transgender photographer to shoot the cover of OUT Magazine. Her confident yet delicate portrait of Janet Mock is well worth the praise, but it’s only one piece of why we should celebrate her vision.
Miller's strength lies in the intimate bond she builds with her subjects and her attention to how subtle gestures can be expressions of identity.
Early in her career, Clay photographed public figures like Hillary Clinton and Fran Lebowitz, and has gone on to see her images grace the cover of magazines like The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard Magazine, Elle UK, and more.
We look forward to following her.
▲ An early Cyanotype by Anna Atkins

The English botanist and photographer is often acknowledged as the first person to ever produce a photography book, and, until the discovery of Sarah Bright’s work in 2015, she was often believed to be the first woman photographer.
But she’s most widely recognized for making deliciously blue cyanotype photograms (now, often referred to as “sun prints”) of algae, just a year after the process was invented, and later flowers, ferns, and other botany.
Any parent, hobbyist, or serious artist who has enjoyed making "sun prints" can thank Atkins for the inspiration.
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The Indian photographer spent much of her early adulthood begging on trains before saving enough money to buy her first camera. It was here, in 2020, that she got her first break as a photojournalist.
One day when she was traveling, she saw hundreds of migrant laborers protesting outside Bandra Station. She quickly ran home, got her camera, and photographed them, and soon after, her photos were picked in major publications.
Lobo is recognized as India’s first transgender photojournalist. Since she first began photographing less than a decade ago, she has covered the pandemic, vaccination drives, and other current events for various publications, and was recently featured in HSBC’s "Add a Seat” campaign, honoring LGBTQ+ individuals who are building successful careers.
Early 20th-century photographer Clara Sipprell was known for her pictorial landscapes and for portraits of famous actors, artists, writers, and scientists, applying a soft, beautiful sensibility to all she photographed.
Some of her most notable portraits included Alfred Stieglitz, W. E. B. Du Bois, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Throughout her career, Sipprell pushed through sexist obstacles.
Early on, she was excluded from membership to a male-only camera club, yet pushed through, being the first woman to show her work there, and participate in member exhibitions, despite being denied membership.
In 1932, Sipprell became the first woman to have a photo acquired by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Her photograph "New York City, Old And New" was acquired for the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, paving the way for a gradual shift of inclusion.
▲ Wendy Red Star's monograph Delegation, published by Aperture

Wendy Red Star uses humor and a range of media within her photography to confront stereotypical representations of Native Americans in photo history.
In one of her early well-known series "Four Seasons,” for example, she juxtaposes references to Pocahontas and other stereotypes, superficial props, plastic toys, and fake backdrops against traditional symbols of power. These are often in-jokes to those who have grown up on a representation.
Within photography’s history of harmful depictions of indigenous people, Red Star’s images are nuanced and empowering.

Red Star has exhibited her work widely and recently published two books - Crow Country, with Kris Graves Projects, and Delegation, her first monograph, with Aperture and Documentary Arts.
▲ Dorothea Lange's famous "Migrant Mother" portrait, 1936. © Dorothea Lange

Documentary photographer and photojournalist Dorothea Lange is most known for her work documenting the great depression for the Farm Security Administration.
In the early 1930s, Lange began photographing bread lines and families migrating west in search of employment and better life. It was this work that caught the eyes of the FSA, who hired her to help document efforts to improve the economy, focusing on rural poverty and sharecroppers, making her most famous portrait “Migrant Mother,” in 1936.
In the 1940s, Lange documented the Japanese internment camps in the United States.
Beyond her own work, she was also the co-founder of Aperture Magazine.
Lange left a major legacy in American photo history, and just a few months after her death became the first woman to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
▲ The cover of Ming Smith's monograph, published by Aperture

Despite The Musem of Modern Art’s inclusion of Clara Siprell in 1932, and Dorothea Lange's solo exhibition in 1966, it was not until 1978, that the institution acquired a photograph by a Black woman. At the time, Smith had dropped her portfolio off at the Moma and was mistaken as a messenger, only to be invited back by curator Susan Kismeric, offering to acquire one of her photographs.
Smith is known for her style of quick shooting, often under or overexposed, which she perfected in the darkroom and post-printing techniques like hand-tinting and even application of oil paint, bringing out abstract and surreal qualities in generally documentary images.
Smith’s work has been included in over 60 major exhibitions, with highlights including the Shomberg Center, The Cathedral of St. John The Divine, in NYC, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Brooklyn Museum, and more. And in 2020 Aperture published her first monograph.
▲ The cover of An-My Le's first book Small Wars, published by Aperture

An-My Le is an award-winning photographer whose work has been exhibited in major institutions like The Whitney Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Smithsonian. She is the recipient of prestigious honors and awards like the Guggenheim Grant and the McArthur Genius Award.
Le began getting notoriety for her work in the early 1990s as she was finishing her MFA in photography at Yale University. She is most known for her insightful and innovative approach to War photography, specifically her series of Vietnam War reenactors in the American South.
Instead of taking a photojournalistic approach, Le focuses on the landscape, showing how conflict can occur amidst a picturesque setting. Le has also published two books with Aperture: Events Ashore (2014) and Small Wars (2005).
▲Dana Scruggs' Rolling Stone and TIME Magazine covers

Originally from the Southside of Chicago, Dana Scruggs has been living and working in New York as a photographer and director for the past 7 years.
Scruggs got her start self-publishing Scruggs Magazine, a collection of her own writing and photographs of the male form – printed in limited editions which are now all sold out. It was her way of getting her work published when magazines wouldn’t consider her.
After almost quitting photographs entirely, six years after self-publishing, she caught the eye of ESPN Magazine, who assigned her to photograph for their 2018 Body issue - to which she was the first Black photographer ever to photograph an athlete. Soon after, with her portrait of Travis Scott, she became the first Black person to photograph a cover for Rolling Stone.
Beyond breaking barriers, Scruggs continues to blow minds with her unique vision – her portraits of celebrities and public figures frequently grace the covers of national magazines. Megan Thee Stallion for TIME, Stacey Abrams for The Washington Post, and countless others show her unique vision and her sophisticated attention to movement, energy, light, color, and power.
Watch on YouTube
Born in Vienna in 1863, Madame D’Ora e Arthur built a career for herself as a fashion and portrait photographer. She photographed many well-known figures of the time including Pablo Picasso, Josephine Baker Collette, Gustav Klimt as well as countless politicians and members of the aristocracy.
She was the first woman to be admitted to theory courses at Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (Graphic Training Institute), which, in 1908, granted women access to other courses in photography.
And in 1906, she was the first woman in Vienna to open her own photo studio and register as a commercial photographer, and later moved to Paris where she became well known, shooting for major fashion designers and magazines.
Tragically, in 1940, when the Nazis took control of Paris, she was forced to close her studio and flee for years until the war ended.
However, after the war, the photographer returned to Paris and was commissioned by the United Nations to photograph a series documenting WWII refugees.
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On August 14, 1942, Jewish photographer Faye Schulmann survived a German massacre of a Shtetl in Poland - her life was spared because, like shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, and a barber, her skills as a photographer were considered essential. The Nazis enlisted her to “commemorate” their activities and brutality.
Schulman soon joined a Russian anti-fascist militia group, documenting Jewish resistance as proof that Jews fought back. She also captured moments of beauty, partisans reuniting with family members a further testament to her work's power as a document of life and perseverance.
▲ ©Jill Greenberg. From her series "Monkey Portraits" and "End Times"

Luupe member Jill Greenberg has made a name for herself by pushing the conceptual and technical boundaries of photography. When she started in 1990, she was one of few photographers doing conceptual composition and became the go-to advertising photographer for many art directors at brands.
Her style of portraiture, which straddles fine art and commercial worlds, is often credited with influencing other celebrity photographers through her magical, even angelic backlighting.
From psychological portraits of primates, horses, polar bears, and other animals to heartwrenching yet wildly stylized studio photos of toddlers in distress, Greenberg’s work pulls you in for its deep visual, and emotional punch. Oh, and celebrities too.
With a background in drawing and illustration, Greenberg was never a purist and it shows in her photography and embracing of new technologies and techniques. She’s credited as an early adopter of Photoshop, which, in contrast to hesitation from other photographers in the industry at the time, she began using to perfect her work.
▲ Transmissions of Light - Passages In Space 01 - one of Florez's popular and sold-out NFTs from her Transmissions of Light collection on Known Origin
Throughout her career, Gisel Florez has worked in photography, video, and conceptual art, with over eighteen years as a still-life photographer for brands and media outlets like L’Oreal, Revlon, ESPN, NY Times, ESPN, and countless others.
When many photographers and brands were first figuring out how to embrace digital, Florez developed a name for herself, helped to get them on track and adapt – and was approached by Barneys New York to equip, establish & run their first in-house digital photo studio
Then, in 2019, when, inspired by her son who loved trading game assets; she began editioning and selling art on the blockchain. Around the same time, she co-founded WOCA (Women of CryptoArt), has participated in countless exhibitions related to NFT art, and was recently included in Fortune Magazine's list of Top50 NFT influencers.
▲ Carte Viste portraits of Sojourner Truth © Sojourner Truth

While Sojourner Truth wasn’t technically a photographer, like Frederick Douglas, the abolitionist used photography – a new technology at the time – to help end slavery.
When she freed herself in 1826, she started selling Carte Viste portraits of herself at lectures and by mail to help fund her speaking tours.
Although Truth did not click the shutter, she inscribed “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance”—on the front of the cards, a radical move asserting ownership over her image and herself.
This list is just a tiny snapshot of so many women and non-binary photographers’ contributions to visual culture. Stay tuned for more features coming soon, and for now, check out some of our recommended reading below.

Resources and Further Reading

The Luupe
The Luupe is a one-stop production company that is raising the bar for professional brand imagery on a global scale. With a highly curated and diverse network of professional women and non-binary photo and video creators across 80+ countries around the world, we are reinventing how brands produce original, local, and authentic visual stories that connect with a global audience. Our mission is to champion and amplify diverse perspectives from around the world — in front of and behind the lens.
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