In Memoriam: Remembering the Photographers We Lost in 2015

As 2015 rolls to a close, TIME LightBox pauses to remember the great photographers we lost this year...

Each year, as TIME LightBox commemorates the photographers we lost over the last 12 months, we pay tribute not only to their contribution to shaping the past, present and future of photography but also, as this year’s list shows, to their unwavering devotion to emerging image makers.

Some were pioneers in their field, while others were legends in the making whose deaths came too suddenly. Whether they led workshops, nurtured singularly, or initiated a new school of thought, their absence was deeply felt by those they championed. All offered guidance, wisdom, accessibility and support to those still finding their own visual fingerprint. “It is something when you have a champion and a mentor and they’re gone,” says Aperture’s Denise Wolff.

The photographers we lost this year leave behind a legacy that far outlives them. Even in death, their mentorship immortalizes their contribution to the archives of visual history.

Charlie in a Cafe

Charlie in a Cafe.

Charles Harbutt (1935-2015)

In the late 1960s and 70s, a slough of photographers joined Magnum Photos, including Mary Ellen Mark, Abby Heyman, Jeff Jacobson, Alex Webb and Jean Richards. All were championed by Charles Harbutt. A couple of times a president of Magnum, he was arguably one of the most influential American photographers of his time. “He was the person a whole generation of photographers looked to,” says Jeff Jacobson, who worked with Harbutt at Magnum. “For those straddling that line between art and photojournalism, who were involved in documentary photography but not in a strict narrative storytelling sense, Charlie was it.”

In 1981, Harbutt left Magnum to form Archive Pictures with his wife, Joan Liftin, as well as Mary Ellen Mark, Abigail Heyman, Mark Godfrey and later, Jacobson. Having become disillusioned by traditional photography, he left the narrative, classical form behind and forged a new photographic language. His work became mysterious and metaphorical. “Maybe I had a sell-by time, an expiration date for being a witness,” Harbutt writes in the afterword of his 1974 book, Travelog. “I started questioning this reportage for myself. A host of manipulators had so corrupted and warped public events, I could no longer trust the authenticity of what I was seeing. Gradually my pictures became more about what I experienced in my day-to-day wanderings.” Harbutt died at the age of 79 on June 29. He had emphysema.

Cotton Coulson (1952-2015)

Legendary photographer and filmmaker Cotton Coulson died May 27 losing consciousness while diving off of the coast of Norway. He was 60. Coulson shot more than 40 stories for National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler, shooting across Europe, from the Arctic and Scandinavia to Italy and France. He immersed himself completely into the different stories that he was sent to do and was wholly dedicated to whatever the situation needed. “If he was in Scotland he’d come back with a kilt. If he was in Rome he’d come back with an all-leather, Italian race car driving outfit,” says Maura Mulvihill, a National Geographic Society Senior Vice President. “While shooting incognito at a nude beach, he even agreed to go naked, except for his photography vest.”

But when it came to photography, he was very serious, even critical. He had grown up in New York, where early on he became fascinated with the arts. His mother introduced him to paintings and he went on to study art in high-school and then later at the New York University Film School. Coulson served as associate director of photography at U.S. News & World Report, where TIME International Photo Editor Alice Gabriner was a young photo editor. “Cotton brought to the magazine a burst of creative energy and out-of-the-box thinking,” she says. “He had natural confidence in his own way of seeing, and directed the magazine’s coverage of major stories, including the Tiananmen uprising in 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the first Gulf War. His artful sensibility was unique in the realm of news photography. He appreciated subtlety and the unexpected.”

Coulson went on to become director of photography at the Baltimore Sunand vice president of CNET Networks, in addition to the National Geographic. He worked as a duo with his wife and photography partner, creating their own studio called Keenpress. They were an unusual, talented, loving couple, who grew into each other with a sort of romantic sense of place. “We are very much like Siamese twins, with one another day and night, 24/7. Very seldom we were away from each other these last ten years,” his wife, Sisse Brimberg, tells TIME. “We would try to push harder and try to do something more, and survive the other person.”

“Over the course of a career, mentors are crucial, and often you don’t realize the influence of one person until many years later,” says Gabriner. “I’ve worked with so many photo editors over the years, but Cotton’s impact stands out – not only as a personal mentor, an independent thinker who followed his instincts and forged his own path, but also for the sophisticated visual legacy that he has left the larger photo world.”

Hilla Becher (1931-2015)

Hilla Becher, part of another famed photographic duo, died on Oct. 10 at 81 years of age. Known for their typologic series on industrial structures that typified the western landscape, the German photographer and her husband Bernd were a prolific force in the photography world. “Hilla Becher was a remarkably incorruptible person,” Thomas Struth told TIME earlier this year. “I loved her uncompromising but open-minded and gentle attitude, always curious, not sentimental but loving.”

Becher first met Bernd while attending the same art school in 1957. Two years later, they began photographing together. Over 50 years, the duo captured water towers, silos, coal bunkers, blast furnaces and gas tanks. Their book, a scarce and early major monograph called Anonyme Skupturen, was released in the early 1970s, displaying in black-and-white in grids of these structures. The ideology behind their characteristic spreads, often called the Becher School, influenced artists such as Thomas Ruff, Struth and Andreas Gursky.

Mary Ellen Mark, NYC, 1987 photograph by Martin Bell

Mary Ellen Mark, NYC, 1987 photograph by Martin Bell

Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015)

In over 50 years as a celebrated humanist photographer, Mary Ellen Markbecame one of the greatest photojournalists of her time: she produced 22 books and her work appeared in the pages of magazines such as LIFE, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair.Mark was also one of the few female photographers at Magnum Photos when she joined in 1977. Her images reveal a stunning intimacy with the people in her photographs, whether it was a celebrity or a great artist or a prostitute or low-income circus performer. She remained in touch with many of her subjects right up until she died. Her final project was focused on Tiny, a young prostitute from Seattle whom she had photographed for LIFE in the 1980s in her book, Streetwise. “She collected people like that,” says Denise Wolff, who worked with her on her last Aperture book. “She was fierce when she supported someone. There was never any doubt where you stood with her.”

Mark was not always easy to work with, Wolff says. “She had a powerful intensity, almost like a restless presence. You could feel the ground move when she walked in and she knew what she wanted, whether it was rational or not.” But as tough as she was, she was just as generous. She taught a workshop, pushing and challenging her students beyond what they were comfortable with. In her last weeks, she worked tirelessly to publish what she wanted to pass on to young photographers in her final Aperture book.

“I was thinking about how fleeting and how precious life is and the choices that you make in life, the luck of being born in the right bed, to parents who support and help you, and who love you,” said Mark in the afterword to Tiny: Streetwise Revisited. “That doesn’t always happen—and then, what happens when that doesn’t happen?” She died on May 25 at age 75.

Saleh Mahmoud Laila (1988-2015)

Anadolu Agency journalist Saleh Mahmoud Laila was killed in a suicide car bomb attack near Aleppo, Syria on Oct. 8. Laila, 27, had returned to Aleppo to cover the conflict last July after having recovered from burns from an airstrike in Turkey. Laila’s photographs document the civil war in Syria, which is considered one of the deadliest countries for journalists, with at least 84 reporters killed since the conflict began in 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

He talked about his country and the Syrian tragedy with humor and hoped to be alive when Syria would became a peaceful land, says Ahmet Sel, the head of the Visual Director of the Turkish Anadolou Agency. Laila’s humor belied his stoic sense of gravitas. He lived and died for Syria. “He wasn’t a fighter and the idea of taking up arms wasn’t an option for him because of his personality,” says freelance journalist Emma Beals. “But he was committed to the revolution. For him, it was a matter of what he wanted for his people and for himself and for his country by telling those stories and informing people about what was happening.”

Khaled al-Hariri (1961-2015)

Syrian photographer Khaled al-Hariri photographed at Tishreen, a local Syrian newspaper, before joining Reuters in 1991 in Damascus. He would work at Reuters for more than 20 years. He mentored many young photographers in Syria. Hariri, died at age 54 following a long illness.

Sergiy Nikolayev (1972-2015)

Serhiy Nikolayev was killed Feb. 28 in crossfire in the village of Peski, northeast of the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk. Since 2014, at least six journalists and two media workers have been killed in Ukraine, according to CPJ research. That year, the organization documented frequent press freedom violations including abduction, attacks and the blocking of broadcasts.

Since 2008, Nikolayev had worked for the Kiev-based daily Segodnya,covering war in Iran, Somalia and Libya. In 2013, he put on an exhibition that documented the impact of war on children titled, A childhood not for children. “He would go with his camera into the fire so that he could show life as it happened,” Segodnya editor-in-chief Olga Guk told CPJ. “He did not spare himself. He was the bravest of professionals.”

Ruben Espinosa (1984-2015)

The execution-style murder of 31-year-old Mexican freelance photojournalist Rubén’s Espinosa on July 31, which exposed a failure to provide protection to journalists in one of the country’s most dangerous states, was met by an international outcry against government repression in Mexico. Since 2010, more than 80 reporters have been murdered in the country, according to advocacy group Article 19. Espinosa, however, was the first journalist-in-exile to be killed in the federal district.

Espinosa had been working in Veracruz for an investigative newsmagazine called Proceso, before moving to Mexico City after reportedly receiving death threats. He was known as a critic of Javier Duarte, the governor of Veracruz, and a champion of freedom of expression. He shared his knowledge with the next generation of photographers, teaching teens about framing, the decisive moment and photographic technique, but also ethics, solidarity and commitment to society. ”He knew that his camera was the best weapon to highlight the injustices,” says friend and colleague Félix Marquez. “He was a brave young man who gave his life reporting in a country where telling the truth can be a crime.”

Harold Feinstein (1931-2015)

Harold Feinstein loved Coney Island. While many others have photographed the famed boardwalk and amusement park, no one did so with such an eye for its storied charm. “It was a lifelong obsession,” National Portrait Gallery Head of Photographs Phillip Prodger tells TIME. “He saw it as full of people like him—ordinary people, not materially privileged, but genuine and unspoiled, limitless in possibilities.”

Feinstein began his career in photography at the age of 15 in 1946 and within four years, his work had been purchased for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). He joined the Photo League, a cooperative of photographers in New York. He was one of the legendary “Jazz Loft,” and a prominent figure in the New York City street photography scene. He taught too. Former New York Times photocritic A.D. Coleman calls him “one of a small handful of master teachers whose legendary private workshops proved instrumental in shaping the vision of hundreds of aspiring photographers.”

Determined not to sell out or do anything remotely commercial, Feinstein had spurned all the usual sponsorships from Kodak and others camera makers. Feinstein died July 20 at 84.

Matthew Franjola (1942-2015)

Reporter and photographer for the Associated Press, Matthew Franjola was among the last Americans in Saigon as it fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. During his distinguished career, he reported in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, South Africa and Rhodesia, where he worked on some of the most dangerous stories. “He lived a black-and-white existence in a colorful world,” former UPI colleague, David Hume Kennerly, tells TIME. “He was like Indiana Jones before that character was even conceived. He was a bigger than life character. When he came back to the States after so many years in Asia and Africa, his ex wife said it was like bringing King Kong out of the jungle.”

Franjola was born in the Bronx and studied at the state university in Cortland, N.Y. He trained for the Peace Corps in 1964 and went on to work for a war supplies company in South Vietnam, before becoming a stringer for the AP. Using a pseudonym to protect his identity, he captured the famous image of the body of Steve Bikko, an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Franjola died Jan. 1, he was 72.

Christopher Dadey (1974-2015)

London-based fashion photographer Christopher Dadey was known as one of the best catwalk photographers in the industry, boasting clients like Sibling, Bora Aksu and Vivienne Westwood. That he shot some of the greatest catwalk designers of our time in the UK and worked with many designers form just one pasrt of his reputation. He was also known as being a fair photographer, setting some of the most affordable rates in the industry so he could service designers that ranged from newly emerging to well-established.

His kindness in a gritty, competitive fashion world made him stand out, as did his deep cognizance of branding, coupled with a technical bravado. But the greatest testament to his talent were his images. “He nearly always got that perfect shot, with the girl at exactly the right position on the runway with her hands and feet well placed,” says FARBLACK Ltd. director Courtney Blackman. “There was a real harmonious synergy with all of his images.” Dadey died on Sept. 3. He was 50.

Marc Hispard (1938-2015)

French fashion photographer Marc Hispard passed away on April 25 in Belgium at 77. At 15, he began his career at the professional photographic lab Pictorial Service in Paris, while studying at Ecole du Louvre. Three years later, he worked for Le Jardin des Modes, a French women’s fashion magazine. He went on to collaborate with the magazine ELLE, as well as Italian Vogue, American Mademoiselle and Sports Illustrated. In 1986, he started ELLE USA with three other photographers.

“He was a real gentleman,” says Coolife Studios photographer Pauline Rochas. “He belonged to the masters. He had exquisite taste, a chic presence, and a kind of elegance about him that suggested that he was from another time. But also, he was a real authentic talent, photographically. He never shot digital and was a real purist.”

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