American Photo May 1998


When we did our first listing of photography's 100 most important people in 1994, we heard from plenty of readers, some of whom disagreed with our choices and others who told us that we'd put together a valuable guide to the photo business. One thing is certain: The business has changed. In putting together our new list, we noted several trends - for instance, the rising tide of celebrity photography at the expense of traditional news and documentary photography. We have in fact replaced more than half the names from the 1994 list (see page 92).

It's important to understand our criteria in making these decisions. We are not assessing the career-long impact of a particular photographer, and we are not passing judgment on the lasting artistic merit of anyone's work. Rather, our list gauges the influence of photographers (and reps, dealers, retouchers, book publishers, etc.) right now. It measures stylistic impact, as well as financial and cultural clout. We take into account industry buzz, but we also look to real accomplishments. Is it subjective? Of course. Photography is a business, but it's also an art. You can't rate influence simply by figuring who has had the most exhibitions or who bought the most pictures at the last auction. But if you ask enough people, you can make educated guesses about who the decisive players are. In coming up with this list we relied on a panel of outside experts and our own hunches.

We made the job easier by setting up rules. First, we decided to exclude anyone who wasn't living or working primarily in the United States. Why? Because there would simply be too many important people to choose from in too many realms of activity. (Our number 1 choice does stretch the rules-but with good reason.) To avoid a conflict of interest with advertisers, we did not include any photographic manufacturers or technical experts. Likewise, we did not include anyone from American Photo or our parent company, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. (To be fair, we do mention those people on page 87.)
You will note that one of our regular departments, Inside Photography, has been left out of this issue. That's because the entire special section that begins on the following pages is an insider's view of the workings of the photography industry. As you will see, it is a wondrous and powerful business.

By David Schonauer, editor in chief.


In 1992, frustrated after an album-cover shoot with Keith Richards, David LaChapelle decided to transform celebrity portraiture into a personal crusade. In the process, he turned his career around and changed the look of commercial photography.

"I like to see outrageousness and sexiness and things that are out of control," he says. His high-concept pop-cultural references (the Beastie Boys as sloppy workers at a fast-food Joint) and lusciously candy-colored sexuality (Drew Barrymore as a nipple-flashing waitress) struck a chord with a modern audience looking for visual pizazz. Today they're instantly recognizable.

To insure that his over-the-top ideas will not be blunted by timid art directors, LaChapelle, 35, provides magazines with only the precise number of images they require for a layout." Nothing leaves this studio until it is exactly how I want it-retouched, manipulated, whatever," he says. He's done ad campaigns for Jean Paul Gaultier fragrances, Camel cigarettes, Airwalk sneakers, Armani jeans, and other clients who are looking for images that get noticed. He's had an exhibition at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York and the Photology Gallery in Milan, Italy; his first book, LaChapelle Land (Simon & Schuster/Callaway Editions, 1996), cracked the Los Angeles Times bestseller list; and he has shot music videos for the Dandy Warhols and Space Monkeys. "I like to make people larger than life and perfect." says LaChapelle. "I want to make my subjects into superstars."

Text By Michael Kapla

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