Steven Meisel is one of the world's most iconic (and controversial) fashion photographers, and one of the least likely to be photographed. The glossy haired man of mystery has spent decades behind the camera launching the careers of supermodels, make-up artists, and hair dressers alike.

Born in 1953, Meisel spent his upbringing poring over Vogue and Bazaar, and idolizing the likes of Gloria Guinness, Babe Paley (and dutifully, his mother and sister). In the early days, Meisel took pictures of models on the street in his native NYC, and would wait outside studios to see greats like Twiggy. He studied at the High School of Art and Design, and graduated from Parson's where he ultimately majored in fashion illustration.

He started his career at Halston as a fashion illustrator in the 1970's—where he disliked Halston the the man— and left to continue illustration at Women's Wear Daily. Meisel was also taking pictures of models from Elite Model Management in his Grammercy Apartment, and one of the models, Phoebe Cates, took her photographs to Seventeen. Impressed by his work, Seventeen called and asked Meisel to work with them. His photos got him noticed again, this time by Conde Naste's Self Magazine, where Meisel was hired to shoot the cover. Solidifying his presence in the business, Meisel was hired by Vogue Italia and US Vogue, and he's shot the cover of every Vogue Italia for over 25 years since his debut. On top of magazines, Meisel has also shot campaigns for Versace, Valentino, Calvin Klein, and Prada, Anna Sui (a close friend), as well as photography for Madonna's controversial book, Sex.

Meisel is known for spotting models who are the next big thing. Over the years he has launched the careers of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Amber Valletta, Lara Stone, Coco Rocha, Liya Kebede, Karen Elson, Doutzen Kroes, and Raquel Zimmerman. He's also worked and helped launch some of the biggest behind-the-scenes names in fashion including hairdressers—Oribe Canales, Garren, Orlando Pita, Guido Palau, and make up artists—Francois Nars, Laura Mercier, Pat McGrath and the late Kevyn Aucoin. He is a protege of Franca Sozzani and Anna Wintour, the editors-in-chief of Italian and American Vogue, respectively.

Meisel is well known for his controversial layouts juxtaposing social issues: post-911 America, racism, the cult of celebrity, and plastic surgery with high fashion. He is extremely private, and reticent with the press. While openly gay, he refuses to discuss his boyfriend or aspects of his personal life.

[Image via Getty]