Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984) was an American photographer and environmentalist. His black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West, especially Yosemite National Park, have been widely reproduced on calendars, posters, and in books.
Adams first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916 with his family. During that stay, his father gave him his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box camera, and he took his first photographs with his "usual hyperactive enthusiasm".
Robert Capa (1913 – 1954) was a Hungarian war photographer and photojournalist who covered five different 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.
The most widely known camera used by Robert Capa was his Leica 35mm. He had used a chromed Leica III with non coated Leitz Summar 5cm f/2 designed by Max Berek during the Spanish Civil War until late May 1937 and a Contax II with Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5cm f/2 designed by Ludwig Bertele from that date, but there was very scarce information about the cameras that he had used before 1935. On the day he died, Robert Capa was carrying a Contax and a Nikon S with a 50mm lens, one loaded with color film, the other with black-and-white.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) was a French photographer considered to be the father of photojournalism. He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography. As a young boy, Cartier-Bresson owned a Box Brownie, using it for taking holiday snapshots; he later experimented with a 3×4 inch view camera.
As a photographer of today's hottest celebrities—and who herself has become a celebrity—Annie Leibovitz (born c. 1949) has chronicled popular culture for more than 25 years. She is "a photographer of celebrities who has herself become a celebrity." For the past 25 years, no photographer has delivered more photographs of the people we most want to see than has Annie Leibovitz. Annie bought her first camera, a Minolta SR-T 101, during her freshmen year of college while visiting Japan. The first thing she did with it was take it on a climb up Mt. Fuji. "It’s a glorious moment. Spiritually significant. When I got to the top I realized that the only film I had was the roll in the camera. I hadn’t thought much about the film situation. I photographed the sunrise with the two or three frames I had left."
Brassaï (1899 – 1984) was a Hungarian photographer, sculptor, and filmmaker who rose to international fame in France in the 20th century. He was one of the numerous Hungarian artists who flourished in Paris beginning between the World Wars. He studied technique, and used an eccentric collection of plate cameras, even after the 35mm Leica became the chosen camera of photographers with similar interests. Brassai's first camera was Voigtlander Bergheil and later a Rolleiflex.
Helmut Newton (1920 – 2004) was a German-Australian photographer. He is most famous for his work as a fashion photographer, frequently creating work for Vogue magazine, and for his provocative, studied photographs of nudes. Newton bought the camera himself in 1932 at age 12, an Agfa Tengor Box. Out of the eight shots on his first roll of film, seven were blanks.
Irving Penn (1917 – 2009) was an American photographer known for his fashion photography, portraits, and still lifes. In 1938, Irving Penn used money he had earned working for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper's Bazaar to purchase his first camera, a Rolleiflex. In his free time, he used the Rolleiflex to explore the streets of New York City, taking "camera notes"1 of the street scenes and peculiar window displays. Penn also brought the Rolleiflex on his travels through the Southern United States to Mexico, where he went to paint in 1942. Irving Penn began using a 35mm Leica camera in 1950 during his travel assignments for Vogue.
Elliott Erwitt (b. 1928) is an advertising and documentary photographer known for his black and white candid shots of ironic. His first camera was an antique glass plate camera that he "bought for five bucks" when he was 14. He started supporting himself at 15, printing movie stars' photographs. Later, Elliott upgraded to a $200 Rolleiflex, his first "real" camera.
Walker Evans (1903 – 1975) was an American photographer best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression. Much of Evans's work from the FSA period uses the large-format, 8x10-inch camera. He said that his goal as a photographer was to make pictures that are "literate, authoritative, transcendent". Around the age of 14, "like every other child," Evans first became interested in photography: "I did have a box camera, and I developed film in the bathroom."
In 1938, Evans also took his first photographs in the New York subway with a camera hidden in his coat. These would be collected in book form in 1966 under the title Many are Called.
Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898 – 1995) was a German photographer and photojournalist. He is best known for his photograph of the V-J Day celebration and for his candid photographs, frequently made using a 35mm Leica camera. Eisenstaedt was given his first camera at the age of 14, an Eastman Kodak Folding Camera with roll film, and sold his first photograph in 1927 to the newspaper Der Weltspiegel at a time when photojournalism was at its very infancy.
Joel Meyerowitz (b. 1938) is a street photographer, and portrait and landscape photographer. He began photographing in color in 1962 and was an early advocate of the use of color during a time when there was significant resistance to the idea of color photography as serious art.
Inspired by seeing Robert Frank at work, Meyerowitz quit his job as an art director at an advertising agency and took to the streets of New York City with an old Pentax camera that he borrowed from his boss, Harry Gordon, and black-and-white film. "But within the first six months I realized that it was a limiting my way of seeing and responding. My best friend at the time was Garry Winogrand and Garry only used Leicas, so I borrowed a Leica one afternoon and that was it. I saw how if you want to be a street photographer and you want to be invisible that’s the camera you have to have," he says.
Gordon Parks (1912 – 2006) was an American photographer, musician, writer and film director. He is best remembered for his photographic essays for Life magazine and as the director of the 1971 film, Shaft. At the age of twenty-five, Parks was struck by photographs of migrant workers in a magazine and bought his first camera, a Voigtländer Brillant, for $12.50 at a Seattle, Washington, pawnshop. "I bought what was to become my weapon against poverty and racism," he says.
Alfred Stieglitz (1864 – 1946) was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an accepted art form. Sometime in late 1892 Stieglitz bought his first hand-held camera, a Folmer and Schwing 4x5 plate film camera. Prior to this he had been using an 8x10 plate film camera that always required a tripod and was difficult to carry around. "I bought it and carried it to my room and began to fool around with it. It fascinated me, first as a passion, then as an obsession. The camera was waiting for me by predestination and I took to it as a musician takes to a piano or a painter to canvas." He wrote of his first camera.
Mary Ellen Mark (b. 1940) is an American photographer known for her photojournalism, portraiture, and advertising photography. She began photographing with a Box Brownie camera at age 9. A fine art major, she was lost about what direction to take in life — and then she encountered photography again: "From the moment I picked up a camera for my first school assignment, there was no turning back. I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be for the rest of my life."
Nan Goldin (b. 1953) is an American photographer. She was introduced to photography at the age of fifteen by a teacher who passed out Polaroid cameras to students at the progressive Satya Community School in Boston. She began taking black-and-white photographs of her friends in the transvestite community of Boston in the early 1970s and had her first solo show at Project, Inc. in Boston in 1973. She received a B.F.A. from Tufts University in 1977 and an additional Fifth Year Certificate in 1978. As she progressed through school, she began using bright Cibachrome prints.
So to all you: what was your first camera? We just want to know what camera ignited your passion to start your journey as a photographer. Feel free to leave your answers in the comments!