6 Most Iconic American War Photographers

Source: https://imgur.com

Many male and female photographers place their lives on the line each day around the globe. These war photographers go out to report conflicts, battles and skirmishes. They also bring news to the public.

Without these brave photographers, many issues may never have come to light.

Here are 15 of the best war photographers whose work you should know.

Roger Fenton

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Roger Fenton, (28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869) was a British photographer. He is considered as one of the first war photographers. After graduating with an arts degree he started to be interested in painting and photography.

Between 1851/52, he began photographing and exhibiting his own images. From there, he became a leading British photographer. He was a founding member of the Royal Photographic Society.

In 1854, London print publisher Thomas Agnew & Sons commissioned him to document events occurring in Crimea. He became one of a handful of photographers to cover the Crimean war.

The equipment at the time was large and cumbersome. For him to photograph anything, he needed a horse-drawn cart and an assistant capturing via long exposure.

He shot with a large-format camera like every other war photographer at the time. That is why almost every image of soldiers were posed photographs. There weren’t many captures of motions at the time because of the limitation of the negatives and the size of the large-format cameras.

He captured the landscapes as he wanted to avoid photographing dead or mutilated bodies.

The above image is of ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’, named so after the Charge of the Light Brigade and the poem by Tennyson.

After returning to Britain, he travelled across the country, recording landscapes.

A Japanese freighter in Truk Atoll is hit by a torpedo dropped by a U.S. aeroplane in 1944. By Smith.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

W. Eugene Smith

William Eugene Smith was a photojournalist from the US. He was described as ”perhaps the single most important American photographer in the development of the editorial photo essay.” One of his major photo essays includes WWII photographs.

Smith was a correspondent for Life and Ziff-Davis Publishing and photographed the Pacific frontline. While photographing the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, he was seriously injured and spent two years undergoing surgery.

This quote by Smith is very descriptive about his photography:

“A photo is a small voice, at best, but sometimes – just sometimes – one photograph or a group of them can lure our senses into awareness. Much depends upon the viewer; in some, photographs can summon enough emotion to be a catalyst to thought”

“Kentucky Flood”, February 1937
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White (14 June 1904 – 27 August 1971) was the first female war correspondent. She was also the first woman allowed to work in combat zones during World War II.

In 1941 Germany broke its non-aggression pact, and that’s when Margaret travelled to the Soviet Union. Margaret was the only foreign photographer in Moscow when German forces invaded. She found refuge in the U.S. Embassy. She was able to capture the firestorms on camera.

During the war, she left for North Africa alongside the U.S. Army Air Force. After that, she joined the U.S. Army in Italy and later, Germany. She came under fire many times in Italy.

Her interest in photography started as a hobby. Her father supported her as he had an interest in old cameras. After her father’s death, she left her Herpetology studies. She bounced around a few different colleges before graduating from Cornell.

It was only in 1928 that she turned to photography full time. She opened her commercial photography studio in New York. A year later, she became the staff photographer for Fortune magazine until 1935.

“Chinese Soldier” by Robert Capa
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Robert Capa

Robert Capa (Endre Friedmann; 22 October 1913 – 25 May 1954) was a Hungarian war photographer and photojournalist. He worked alongside his companion and professional partner, photographer Gerda Taro.

Many consider Capa to be the most famous war photographer in history. This is partly down to controversy, extensive combat photography and the way he died.

Born in Budapest, he felt the political oppression of the time, forcing him to flee to Berlin. Here, he saw the rise of Hitler, which led him to move to Paris. It was in Paris that he met and began to work with Gerta Pohorylle.

She changed her name to Gerda Taro. He changed his name to Robert Capa, a name he picked up from his ‘shark’ tactics in street photography. ‘Cápa’ means shark in Hungarian.

Robert Capa covered five wars. The Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and the First Indochina War. His images found themselves across the globe, published in magazine and newspapers.

He was the co-founder of Magnum Photos fellows like Henry-Cartier Bresson. He also got commissions by LIFE, and he was working for them almost all these years.

Two rebel soldiers in Syria guard their position in the Karmel Jabl neighborhood of Aleppo as light streams through more than a dozen holes made by bullets and shrapnel in the tin wall behind them. The dust from more than one hundred days of shelling, bombing and firefights hung in the air. Karmel Jabl is strategically important because of its proximity to the main road that separates several of the main battlegrounds in the city. (Photo taken October 18, 2012)
Source: https://pinterest.com

Javier Manzano is a photographer from Mexico who became famous for covering the war in Afghanistan, the Syrian civil war and Mexico’s drug wars.

He moved to the US as a teenager and worked for advertising agencies and the Rocky Mountain News until 2009. Afterwards, he became a freelance photographer working for Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Foreign Policy and other news agencies.

He received the World Press Photo Award twice and was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.

Brooks on the Western Front, 1917
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/

Ernest Brooks

Ernest Brooks was a British photographer who became famous for his images capturing the First World War. He was the first official photographer who was appointed by the British military.

Before and after the war, he was the official photographer of the Royal Family. However, he was dismissed in 1925 and the reasons were never made public.

Brooks photographed thousands of war photos during WWI and many of his images were outstanding because of the use of silhouettes.


War photographers put their life at risk to show insights civilians would never see. Their work has historical importance and triggers tough thoughts and emotions.

We should all learn from their documentary photographs and try to make the world a better place together.

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