The year was 1902. It was early March, and Alfred Stieglitz had just formed the Photo-Secession, an art movement for photographers. It was snowing in New York City, and Stieglitz and his colleagues were getting ready to open their first exhibition. They were a daring bunch, employing tools like darkroom manipulation and special lenses and filters to bring their visions to life. Their goal was simple: establish photography as a fine art in its own right—just like painting, drawing, or etching.
It’s been more than a century since that fateful night, and photography has since taken its rightful place in the history of fine art. But photographers today continue to push the limits of the craft, creating work that doesn’t reflect the “real world” so much as it envisions a new world, limited only by the contours of the artist’s imagination. Some use unconventional lenses, as the early pioneers did, while others have used photo-manipulation software to bring otherwise impossible scenes to life.
Whatever the technique, these artists remind us of the value of experimentation and creative risk-taking. With the rich and ever-expanding history of conceptual and fine art photography in mind, let’s explore just a few standouts from the 500px community, spanning genres such as portraiture, landscape, and even digital art.
With a background in silk-screen printing and graphic design, Emilie Möri’s eye for color and composition was nurtured from a young age. Her process begins to take shape through notes and drawings before evolving into photographs that evoke a sense of calm, serenity, and timelessness. Like the surrealists before her, she invites us into a daydream; in her imagination, all is peaceful and anything is possible. The natural world plays an essential role, with elements like air and water recurring throughout her oeuvre.
Michal Zahornacky uses light, reflections, and texture to create abstract studies of the human body and the places where we live. His creative photography project, CURVES, uses water to distort elements of the face and body, finding magic in the unexpected and challenging ideas of contemporary beauty in the process. These pictures are created in-camera, using an aquarium filled with water, rather than relying on post-production tools.
At the height of the pandemic, Michal also turned his attention to architectural forms, with his series CLOSE using layered geometrical and tonal elements to evoke the atmosphere of isolation in urban environments during lockdowns. Another recent series captures cities from an aerial perspective; the artist used old fabric to make circular shapes, which he then placed on the ground to create abstract scenes that seem to be both 2-D and 3-D at the same time.
Also included in our roundup of surrealist photographers to follow, Felicia Simion often steps into the role of model as well as artist, merging concept-driven photography and performance art. This year, she journeyed to Iceland, where she’d create the series REWIRED, motivated by her experiences with Postpartum Depression and a longing to return to nature.
In some pictures, she used wool threads to physically tie herself to pieces of the landscape, including blocks of ice and stone. “I stood before craters, waterfalls, and the ocean, and never was I afraid,” she writes. “I felt life pouring through my veins, into my brains, as if someone—or something—was plugging me back to my spirit.”
Kaiwan Shaban refined his 3D art skills amid the pandemic; today, he combines photography, cinematography, and digital art to create a parallel universe that’s entirely his own. Made with tools like Photoshop, Lightroom, Blender 3D, and most recently, some AI elements, his work exists at the boundary line between fact and fiction. His style is one that’s instantly recognizable, defined by atmospheric fog, reflective surfaces, and melancholy shades of blue and orange.
As in the work of photographers like Gregory Crewdson—who brings imaginary scenes to life by creating elaborate stage sets in the physical world—Kaiwan’s pictures capture moments of suspense and intrigue, feeling as though they were captured just before or after a mysterious incident or event. Donning old-fashioned hats or with their backs facing us, the figures who inhabit his fantasy world always seem to hold more secrets than they’re willing to reveal, leaving us guessing long after we’ve turned away.
Inspired by the natural wonders of Finland, Mikko Lagerstedt is a self-taught fine art photographer. He’s not afraid to brave harsh conditions, exploring for hours in wind and snow in search of magical light, whether it’s the last kiss of daylight during the blue hour or the twinkling of stars deep into the night. Sometimes, a lone figure appears in the distance (the artist himself), lost in solitude and contemplation.
A fine art portrait photographer with a background in psychology, Cristina Venedict has always been fascinated by people and their stories. Today, she’s recognized for her dreamy, ethereal aesthetic, citing her love for fashion as well as Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec among her inspirations. Her work, at times, reminds us of the Pictorialist photographers, such as Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Käsebier, who used soft-focus lenses or evocative lighting to create painterly, stand-out images. Cristina uses Lensbaby lenses, which are known for their creative effects.
Inspired by fairytales, Irina Dzhul is a Ukrainian artist whose captivating photos take us back in time. Drawing her ideas from places as well as people, Irina captures mythical characters in harmony with the wild landscapes that surround them. When not in nature, she sometimes sets her pictures in places of historical significance, telling stories of global importance and touching on atrocities such as the Holocaust and the Holodomor so that they might never happen again. Irina regularly handcrafts clothing and wardrobe items herself, giving a personal touch to photographs that speak to universal themes.
Anonymous figures, sometimes alone and occasionally in pairs, populate the enigmatic, monochrome world of the Iranian photographer Mohammad Fotouhi. While captured in the hustle and bustle of ordinary life, often throughout the streets of the ancient city of Yazd, many of the artist’s scenes transcend the everyday, with characters who seem to exist in the past, present, and future all at once.
In photographs made in the golden-hued desert of Caracal, known for its famed wild cats, mankind appears dwarfed by the landscape, perhaps lost but also free within the sandy expanse. That Mohammad created these pictures during the pandemic years, when many of us felt isolated and longed for escape, makes them all the more resonant.
Natascia Mercurio, aka Naty
Naty is a photographer and filmmaker who uses her instantly identifiable teal and orange color palette to tell stories and spark emotions. Inspired, in part, by video games, anime, and Asian cinema, her work has roots in masterworks like those created by the Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, whose use of bold, saturated colors captures feelings of longing and romance. Naty’s rich nighttime scenes are at once subtle and bold; evocative of long-forgotten memories and endless walks through the city in the rain, they inspire us to lose track of time.
Ruby Hyde describes her creations as “dark fairytales.” In one series, Building Humans, she drew inspiration from the creative narratives of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Across these multifaceted self-portraits, the artist plays several roles, each representing different facets of ourselves.
Ruby’s pictures often feature women as their protagonists—explorers in an unknown world. For the single image Tell it to the Ghosts, below, she created magic on a shoestring budget, using a “sheer second-hand dress/skirt, the headlights of [her] car at dusk, and a pair of old nude tights stretched over the lens to catch the light in a beautiful haze.”
“I really love unique faces—and that’s exactly where I see beauty,” the photographer Zamira Sozieva once wrote [translated by the author to English]. Her studio portrait sessions feature people who inspire her, ranging from a young actor to a professor of social sciences. Movement plays a pivotal role in many of Zamira’s sessions, with some of her pictures reminding us of the now-famous collaboration between the photographer Barbara Morgan and the dancer Martha Graham in the 1930s. It’s no surprise she’s worked with dancers and choreographers in the past.
Based in Teplice in the Czech Republic, Lukáš Vandlis can sometimes be found exploring the breathtaking landscape of the Eastern Ore Mountains, chasing foggy mornings, icy waters, and endless snowy vistas. With a dash of surrealism and a touch of humor, his work inspires us to consider our connection with the landscape and the natural world, especially at a time when that bond feels so precarious. In Lukáš’s 500px photos, the forest and mountains emerge as a place of rebirth and refuge—a timely reminder of our role in safeguarding them for generations to come.
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