Those of us who spend our days in an office can appreciate the pleasures of cultivating a desk plant. Office plants serve the purpose of breaking up a muted grey space and providing a connection, however tenuous, to the “outdoors.”
But what does our desk plant say about us? Polly Brown, a London-based photographer, has spent the past year documenting the plants that bloom in the headquarters of Louis Vuitton, A.T. & T., Nike, Vogue, and even The New Yorker. (My own slightly neglected jade plant makes an appearance.)
Brown’s idea was to present the office plant as a representation our “biophilic desires.” The photographs in her survey, which now appear in a monograph published by Pau Wau Publications, are both humorous and revealing; an ode to the humble office plant and its owner.
Polly Brown will sign copies of her book this Thursday, July 17th, at Green Fingers NYC….read more
Paul Graham discovered photography as an English college student in the nineteen-seventies, while studying microbiology at the University of Bristol. One afternoon, at the library, he came upon a bookshelf with American photography books by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander. A couple years later, he walked into a bookshop and found a catalogue for Garry Winogrand’s “Public Relations.” Graham was impressed by Winogrand’s portraits of Manhattan in the late nineteen-sixties and early seventies, but he also thought, “Maybe I could do this.”
“I’m not a Winogrand expert,” Graham said the other day, outside the Winogrand retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A slightly built man, with unspringy black curls and a youthful mien, Graham was wearing a plaid shirt, gray-blue sneakers, and a pair of Clark Kent glasses. “I don’t know how many wives he had. I’m just a fan. But I’m not a blind fan.” Graham, who won the prestigious Hasselblad Award in 2012, said that he took inspiration for “A Shimmer of Possibility,” his own study of American life, from Winogrand’s koan-like belief that “there is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.”…read more
This past week, on the New Yorker photo department’s Instagram feed, the photographer Katie Orlinsky posted from Eureka, Alaska, where she has been visiting sled-dog kennels. Orlinsky documented summer life at the kennels, as new puppy litters and young dogs are trained for future sled races, including the Iditarod. Orlinsky told me that the long summer days in Eureka mean a relentless life style for a musher and his dogs. “Taking care of sixty dogs and puppies … dog handlers can work any time of day, all day long,” she said.
Max Pam was twenty years old when he left Australia, in 1969, to work as a photography assistant. His interest in Islamic culture and history eventually led him to Yemen, where, in 1993, he spent the month of Ramadan travelling throughout the country. While visiting Shibam, Taiz, Al Mukallah, and Sanaa, he shot sixty rolls of black-and-white film with his medium-format camera, and kept a journal to document his journey. Pam’s photographic diary was published, in 2011, as “Ramadan in Yemen,” a limited-edition, ninety-two-page book. Its images will be exhibited at the East Wing Gallery, in Doha, this month, coinciding with Ramadan.
All photographs courtesy of Max Pam/East Wing Gallery.
On Saturday, sea creatures of all sorts, including Bill de Blasio and his family, gathered in Coney Island for the thirty-second annual Mermaid Parade, a celebration of the beginning of summer. We sent Jonno Rattman to photograph the action surrounding the event, which now attracts nearly a million spectators. “There can’t be many places with a larger stretch of skin than Coney Island, let alone when the mermaids come in throngs,” he told me. Rattman said that he met “a variety of kind, carnivalesque eccentrics,” many of whom had been coming for years to what he described as a “fleshy free-for-all ritual of endurance, carnality, and fabulous regalia.”
Today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released its annual Global Trends report. By the end of 2013, according to the agency, more than fifty million people worldwide had been displaced by “persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations.” Some nine million of these were forced from their homes by the war in Syria, including more than two million refugees, who fled the country. The latter contingent, in the words of the report, represents “the largest annual exodus by a single refugee group since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.”
Earlier this year, as part of a project for the U.N.H.C.R., the photographer Andrew McConnell spent three months photographing centenarian refugees in Lebanon, the most popular destination for Syrians fleeing the conflict. Some of McConnell’s subjects had lived in Lebanon for decades, while others had been in exile for a few months. Nearly all of them said that they did not want to be buried in a foreign land. The refugees, McConnell said, “would make their sons or daughters or grandchildren promise them that if they died in Lebanon their families would return their bodies to Syria.” Mofleh, a one-hundred-and-three-year-old refugee who lives in an apartment in southern Beirut, still keeps his old I.D. card, issued seventy years ago, in his shirt pocket. “I am going back to Syria, so I must not lose it,” he told McConnell. “I feel like I have been here for five hundred years. It’s too long.”
All photographs by Andrew McConnell.
View “Syria’s Lost Generation,” Elena Dorfman’s photographs of Syrian youth in the Za’atari refuge camp in Jordan, which were taken for the U.N.H.C.R….read more
Bush House, the Central London building that served, for some seventy years, as the home of the BBC World Service, was originally a trade center. Built in the early nineteen-twenties, it was commissioned and financed by the American industrialist Irving T. Bush, designed by the American architect Harvey Wiley Corbett, and dedicated “to the friendship of English-speaking peoples.” The BBC European Service moved into Bush House in 1940, and was joined, in 1958, by the other departments of the Overseas Service. For the next half century, the building was home to the BBC’s shortwave news services, which broadcast around the world in as many as forty-five languages. In 2012, the World Service moved to Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC.
To commemorate its time in Bush House, the BBC commissioned the Colombian photographer Manuel Vazquez to photograph the building during its last year as the home of the World Service. Vazquez told me that he was initially attracted to the assignment because of his interest in places where information is created and disseminated. While photographing Bush House, he was drawn to the abundance of obsolete technology, an interest that has inspired him, more recently, to photograph other abandoned broadcasting facilities across Europe.
The photographer Anthony Friedkin began work on “The Gay Essay,” a four-year-long series documenting gay communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco, in 1969, at the age of nineteen. Friedkin, the son of a Broadway dancer and a Hollywood screenwriter, had already worked as a freelancer for the Magnum Agency when he began spending time at the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center. There he met Morris Kight and Don Kilhefner, the founders of the Gay Liberation Front of Los Angeles, who introduced him to L.A.’s gay and lesbian scene; later, Friedkin travelled to San Francisco to photograph an experimental-theatre company. ”The Gay Essay,” a selection of which was first exhibited in 1973, will be published as a book next month. A new and comprehensive exhibition of Friedkin’s photographs opens at the de Young Museum, in San Francisco, on Saturday….read more
Dambe is a type of boxing that is popular among the Hausa, in West Africa. The sport originated with the Hausa butchers guild, as a means of military training; today it can be seen in market squares across the region. Each Dambe match consists of three rounds, in which boxers fight with their hands, feet, and head. (The dominant hand, wrapped in cloth or rope, is called a spear, while the other hand, used for defense, is called a shield.) A match ends when a boxer’s hand or knee touches the ground. …read more
In 2010, while visiting Russia for an exhibition of his work, the photographer Sasha Maslov took the first portrait for what became his current project, “Veterans.” The portrait is of Piotr Dmitrievych Koshkin, a Red Army plane mechanic who served in the Second World War. Inspired, Maslov began a four-year project photographing and interviewing people who lived through the war. His subjects include not only soldiers but also medics, engineers, partisans, members of various resistance movements, prisoners of war, Holocaust survivors, and civilians who suffered as a result of the conflict. All of these people, Maslov told me, were those “who experienced the war in a dramatic way, in their own skin.” …read more
Wafaa Bilal began collecting photographs for his “Ashes Series” shortly after the American invasion of Iraq, in 2003. Bilal lost his brother in 2005, in a U.S. missile strike near their home in Najaf, Iraq. He told me that he wanted to help people to establish an emotional connection with the flood of images produced by the war. Toward that end, he built miniature reconstructions of the scenes depicted in the press photographs he found. Before photographing his models, he dusted them with human ashes—an effort, he says, to establish a human presence in the otherwise unpeopled scenes. Bilal, who is a former professor of mine, told me that he hopes to provoke a sense of unease, and to trigger “the viewer’s search for an answer from among the ashes and ruins.” His intention, he says, “was to bring people to these lost places and engage them to look closer, instead of turning away at the sight of destruction.”
“The Ashes Series” is on view at the Driscoll Babcock Galleries through June 14th. All photos courtesy of Wafaa Bilal/Driscoll Babcock Galleries….read more
In 2009, the Irish photographer Paul Gaffney walked nearly five hundred miles through northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago. Inspired, in part, by his interest in Buddhist meditation, he set off, three years later, on a series of walking trips through rural Spain, Portugal, and France. He walked two thousand miles over the course of several months, and, that same year, self-published “We Make the Path by Walking,” a collection of quiet yet commanding landscapes. “I hoped to hint at an internal progress, of things being dug up and dealt with, of moving on as well as moving through,” he told me. The book was shortlisted for the European Publishers Award for Photography, in 2013, and will be exhibited at Dublin’s Oliver Sears Gallery, from July 3rd through July 31st.
In 2012, the photographer Naomi Harris rescued an abandoned shih tzu named Maggie from an Indian reservation in Canada. “On the res, she was covered in mud and ticks,” Harris told me. “I was going to drop her off at the Humane Society, and, on my way there, I put her in this bucket in the front seat and she stared at me while we drove for hours.” After Harris decided to apply for American citizenship, last year, she brought Maggie with her on a road trip around the United States, which she undertook in preparation for her citizenship exam. Since July, the pair have logged more than twenty-nine thousand miles. Harris documented her travels in a visual diary on Instagram and hopes to compile her portraits of Maggie into a book called “Dog Bless America.” “I didn’t just rescue Maggie,” she says. “She rescued me, too.”
In 2006, while he was backpacking in Australia, the French photographer Antoine Bruy signed up with an international exchange program for volunteers who want to work on organic farms. The experience prompted a fascination with self-sufficient life styles, and, in particular, with people who have adopted them after having spent years in cities. From 2010 to 2013, Bruy travelled across a number of European mountain ranges, including the Carpathians and the Pyrenees, to document people who are trying to gain, in his words, “greater energy, food, economic, or social autonomy.” Next year, Bruy plans to continue his project, which he calls “Scrublands,” in the United States.
The Domino Sugar Factory, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, once the largest sugar refinery in the world, has been one of the most recognizable buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront for more than a century. Ten years after the plant ceased operation, in 2004, its forty-foot-tall yellow sign is still legible, even from Manhattan. In April, the City Council approved a one-and-a-half-billion dollar redevelopment plan for the site. Much of the factory complex will be torn town to make room for condominiums, and parks. The central refinery, whose exterior received landmark status in 2007, will be converted to offices. The space is currently home to an exhibition of Kara Walker’s monumental installation “A Subtlety,” a thirty-five-foot tall, seventy-five-foot-long sculpture that Hilton Als described as “a mammy-as-sphinx made out of bleached sugar.”
In 2012, the photographer David Allee was given access to the ninety-thousand-square-foot Domino complex. Built in 1882, on the site of an earlier refinery that had burned down, the factory processed sugar cane from all over the world, and at one time it produced half of the sugar consumed in the United States. (In 2000, Domino faced a twenty-month-long labor strike, one of the longest in New York’s history.) Allee, photographed complex for amore than year. He said that while his pictures could not convey the smell of the factory—”cr
Recently, I visited the Carriage Trade gallery, in New York’s Chinatown, whose latest exhibition, “Cutting Through the Suburbs,” looks back at art that emerged from the suburban sprawl of the early nineteen-seventies. The show—a mixed-media collection that includes models, photographs, video, and drawings—features work by four artists: Gordon Matta-Clark, Bill Owens, James Wines/SITE Architects, and Howard Silver. Peter Scott, the show’s curator, joined me in the gallery’s screening room to watch Matta-Clark’s film “Splitting,” from 1974, which shows the artist cutting a house in two. Matta-Clark, shirtless and sweating, swings a hammer while the house comes apart; bricks and mortar quiver until we can see through the new gap to the trees in the back yard.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, Owens’s black-and-white images of middle-class families give a sense of the political climate of the time. A TV set flickers with Nixon’s image; in a kitchen, a woman with curlers in her hair holds a baby; the caption under the photograph reads, “How can I worry about the damned dishes when there are children dying in Vietnam.” “Best Showrooms,” a James Wines/SITE Architects project, takes up most of the gallery. Wines, who is an architect and an artist, remodelled the fa
When Paul Martineau, an associate curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, was collecting photographs for a new retrospective of Minor White’s photography, he discovered an album called “The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors.” Only two copies of the volume were produced, each containing thirty-two images of Tom Murphy, Minor’s student and model. “It’s a visual love letter: he only created two, one given to Tom and one for him,” Martineau told me.
Martineau’s show, “Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit,” is the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1989. White was born in Minneapolis, in 1908, took photographs for the Works Progress Administration during the nineteen-thirties, and served in the Army during the Second World War. He kept company with Ansel Adams, Alfred Steiglitz, and Edward Steichen, and, in 1952, he helped found the influential photography magazine Aperture. Martineau said that, while the Getty retrospective “comes at a time when life is rife with visual imagery, most of it designed to capture our attention momentarily and communicate a simple message,” White aimed to more durably express “our relationships with one another, with the natural world, with the infinite.” White believed that all of his photographs were self-portraits; as Martineau put it, “he pushed himself to live what he called a life in photography.”
“Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit” will be on view from July 8th through October 19th.
“Urbes Mutantes: Latin American Photography 1944-2013,” a new exhibition at the International Center for Photography, focusses on the ways in which political and social turmoil have sculpted urban identity in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and elsewhere in the region. The photographs in the exhibition are on loan from Leticia and Stanislas Poniatowski, who have, with the help of their curator, Alexis Fabry, assembled one of the foremost private collections of Latin American photography in the world. It includes work from acknowledged masters such as Graciela Iturbide, as well as from lesser-known talents such as Fernell Franco and Jes
For the past twenty-five years, Italian audiences have heard Julia Roberts speak with the voice of Cristina Boraschi. When they watched Leonardo DiCaprio on “Growing Pains,” in the late eighties and early nineties, they heard Francesco Pezzulli. And they heard Pezzulli again in “Titanic,” which reached Italy in 1998, and last year, in “The Great Gatsby” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The character Jules Winnfield’s recitation of Ezekiel 25:17, in “Pulp Fiction,” is no less famous in Italy than it is in America, but there the distinctive voice belongs to Luca Ward, who has dubbed for Samuel L. Jackson in more than twenty films.
The practice of dubbing films began during the regime of Benito Mussolini, who, in 1930, banned the use of foreign languages in movies. This edict was rescinded after the Second World War, but not before it had shaped a lasting cultural preference: in Italy today, most foreign movies are dubbed rather than subtitled.
In 2008, shortly after moving to Italy, the American photographer Reed Young saw the dubbed version of “Into the Wild,” and, in the following years, he developed an interest in the world of the Italian doppiatori (voice actor). He recently began work on a series of photographs that recreated scenes from iconic American movies, with Italian voice actors standing in for their American counterparts. Young, who worked on the project with Chiara Barzini, an Italian screenwriter who wrote about the dubbing industry for Harper’s, in 2012, said that some of the doppiatori were initially hesitant to participate in the shoot. “Some worried about being too old, and others were nervous posing for a film they hadn’t done in twenty years,” Young told me. Most of the voice actors, however, embodied their roles as soon as they stepped onto Young’s improvised sets, perhaps relishing the opportunity to be visible at last.
Charlie Engman started photographing his mother, Kathleen McCain Engman, in 2010. He was visiting his parents during a break from college. “I was taking pictures of anything and everything around me and, naturally, that included my parents,” he told me over the phone. When he developed the film from the trip, he noticed something in the photographs of his mother: “Sometimes people transform for the camera,” he said. “I couldn’t recognize the person in the picture.”
In 2012, the Hungarian magazine The Room commissioned Engman to photograph a fashion spread, and he decided to use Kathleen as his model. “That was the first time I sat down and studied my mother,” he said. “My real mother and the mother in my photographs—there is very little resemblance, but we’re really pushing the boundaries of the relationship. There’s a funny give-and-take: in many ways, I treat her as a material that I can manipulate and play with, but she also has her own ideas and brings a lot to the process. We kind of know what each other is comfortable with, and what we are trying to achieve together and separately.” Engman has continued to use his mother as a muse, both for commissioned shoots and in his personal work.
Kathleen, who worked in the Peace Corps in Guatemala before Engman was born, was visiting his apartment, in Brooklyn, when I called. She said, of her experience on the other side of the camera, “Some of my girlfriends take one look at this work, and say, ‘Why does he see you like that?’ I don’t think he’s seeing me. I don’t think he’s telling a story about his mom. Even someone you think you see, like your mother, is actually material for looking at the world in a new way.”
See more Mother’s Day posts from The New Yorker. …read more
In March, a mudslide levelled one square mile in and around the rural community of Oso, Washington. The disaster killed forty-one people and left two missing; it was one of the deadliest landslides in America’s history. David Kasnic, a twenty-four-year-old photographer who lives in Brooklyn, grew up three hours east of Oso, in Wenatchee, Washington. After a month of watching news coverage of the event from afar, Kasnic travelled back to his home state to photograph the aftermath. “What I’m curious about is how a community attempts to return to normalcy, whatever that may be,” he told me. “What happens to the debris area, where the mudslide occurred? Does it become a memorial site?” Kasnic says that, by the time he arrived in Oso, many people wanted a break from the media coverage: “Places had cameras crossed out in circles on their doors.” Still, he says, people tended to open up to him when they learned that he was from Wenatchee. “It reminds me so much of the town I grew up in,” Kasnic said. He’s already thinking about a return trip. “One month from now, one year from now, I’d like to follow this work through so that I can leave something behind.”
Late last year, Nina Berman and three other photographers from the NOOR agency travelled to Jordan to set up a photo booth in the middle of the Za’atari refugee camp. They converted a large tent into a temporary photo studio, invited refugees to sit for portraits, and distributed more than five hundred prints. “Some women came with all their children,” Berman told me. “Schoolgirls ran there after school. Men wrapped arms around each other. A shopkeeper brought food. A boy wanted to be photographed with his bicycle. One day, it was so mobbed we had to shut it down. It was lovely.”…read more
By the time Davide Monteleone and I arrived in Kiev last month, the Maidan had become a kind of living museum, an open-air theatre of dramatic but unfinished political and social change. Behind the barricades—made of paving stones, or chairs, or the carcasses of cars—people had built makeshift altars, with votive candles, incense, and framed pictures, to commemorate killed protesters where they had fallen. There was fresh-cut firewood stacked up to fend off the lingering winter; there were self-organized encampments, complete with night patrols, stoves, and tents; there were soup kitchens open to anyone who was hungry.
Each day, Monteleone spent hours documenting the everyday iconography of the revolution. For me, it was all new, but he had been there before, during the murderous days in February, when government snipers had killed a hundred protesters in the square. That outrage had helped lead to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. But, for the protesters, the moment of freedom that followed had been swiftly eclipsed by Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea, the creeping destabilization of eastern Ukraine, and the buildup of Russian troops on the border. Invigorated by their accomplishment but frozen by uncertainty, the protesters had stayed where they were—and so the Maidan was a place in limbo, the embodiment of a country that may or may not have an independent future….read more
Last week, we asked the photographer Daniel Arnold to ride several New York subway lines to the last stop, and to document these journeys for The New Yorker’s Instagram feed. Arnold, who is thirty-four, began taking pictures ten years ago, after moving to New York from Milwaukee, but he is best known for his work on Instagram, which he began using in 2011. “Even a year into Instagram, a year into getting all this positive feedback, I still wasn’t thinking of these images as photos. It was just this comic-strip language,” Arnold told me. “I definitely do now. I think that these photos are much more immediate than anything else I’ve done.”
Arnold’s proximity to his subjects, many of whom aren’t aware that they’re being photographed, allows him to capture some beautiful, funny, and disturbing moments. But his work also raises questions about privacy in public spaces. Arnold, who sees himself working in the tradition of New York street photographers, maintains that he is doing nothing wrong. “I’ve posted some pretty risky things,” he said. “I never hold back posting something because I’m afraid of someone’s response. There are photos I don’t take, but I don’t shy away from sharing what I have taken.” When he’s caught taking someone’s picture, he often explains that he intends the work as a compliment. “I’ll be like, ‘I’m sorry to bother you. You make New York look how I always wanted it to look.’
In 1958, at the age of eighteen, the photographer Larry Fink left his childhood home on Long Island and moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village. Fink was immediately drawn to New York’s counterculture, and he soon met a group of artists, writers, and musicians affiliated with a late stage of the Beat Movement. This group of what Fink calls “delusionary revolutionaries” included the painter and writer Lawrence “Turk” Le Clair and the poets Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Gerald Stern. Though he shared the hedonistic propensities of these artists, Fink never felt welcome among them, a distance he attributes, in large part, to his Marxism. He has written, however, that the group “desperately needed a photographer to be with them, to give them gravity, to live within them, record and encode their wary but benighted existence.” Fink readily assumed the role. Not long after he arrived in New York, he travelled with the group on a cross-country trip to Houston and Mexico. “Marxism notwithstanding, I was called to service, to be on the road.”
“The Beats,” a collection of Fink’s previously unpublished photographs, is out today from powerHouse Books. Below is a selection of work from the book, as well as photographs of jazz and blues musicians from the time.
In 2010, Jost Franko began photographing herders in Slovenia’s Velika Planina, a traditional community in the foothills of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. At seventeen, Franko was not old enough to legally drive, so he rode with a friend from his home in Ljubljana to the settlement, which has existed for more than five hundred years and is considered one of the most well preserved herding communities in Europe. Each June, herdsmen lead their cattle on a seven-hour journey to the highland pastures from the valleys of the Kamnik region. They travel overnight, to keep the animals from overheating, and graze the livestock in Velika Planina until the early fall.
Franko visited the highland plateau each summer for four years. While his initial interest was purely artistic, he told me that he soon recognized the ways in which modernization was affecting even the most rural parts of Slovenia. In previous decades, as many as sixty families took their herds to Velika Planina, but by the time Franko finished the project, last year, only twenty-one families made the trip. “I knew this place had to be documented before it completely disappears,” he said….read more
Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer, a husband-and-wife team based in San Lorenzo, New Mexico, are the co-curators of “Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography,” which opens at the New Mexico History Museum this Sunday, on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Earlier this week, I talked with Renner about the history of pinhole photography, and about his own interest in pinhole cameras, which can be made from just about anything that can be converted into a light-tight box. He told me that when the form first became popular, in the eighteen-nineties, it was somewhat controversial; pinhole-camera photographs had a soft, dreamlike quality that many people thought contrasted unfavorably with the clear, sharp pictures that expensive cameras and lenses could make. By the nineteen-twenties, the use of pinhole cameras had declined, largely because of the advent of cheap Kodak cameras, and the technique didn’t come back into style until the nineteen-eighties.
In 1984, Renner and Spencer started Pinhole Resource, a nonprofit dedicated to gathering pinhole photographs. In time, they’d received enough submissions to fill a magazine, and they launched Pinhole Journal, which they published for twenty-two years. When the couple had amassed some six thousand photographs, their library was put in the care of the New Mexico History Museum. The democratic nature of the collection, which is made up of submissions and gifts rather than carefully selected pieces—“Nothing was thrown out,” Renner told me—fits with the democratic nature of the medium. Anyone can make a pinhole camera….read more