kottke.org posts about photography
In the early 1970s, Camilo José Vergara trained his camera on scenes of everyday street life in New York City. His photographs captured kids playing on the street, subway cars before graffiti, sections of the Bronx that look bombed out, and the construction of the World Trade Center in progress.
See also his Tracking Time project, specific locations around the US photographed repeatedly over periods of up to 40 years. Vergara was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2002 for this work.
In Focus is featuring some of the winning shots from the 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year awards. The top one is Dancing Octopus taken by Gabriel Barathieu and the bottom one is by Qing Lin, who took the photo near Lembeh, Indonesia, which is home to some of the strangest marine life in the world.
If you look at Lin’s photo of the clownfish for more than a second or two — pay attention…this is the nightmarish side to living on the reef that Pixar kept from you in Finding Nemo — you will notice not just three pairs of eyes but six pairs of eyes. In the mouth of each clownfish is a parasitic isopod looking right at the camera. The isopod enters the fish through the gills, attaches itself to the fish’s tongue, feeds on the blood in the tongue until it falls off, and then attaches itself to the tongue stump. And the fish uses the isopod as a replacement tongue! Cool! And gross!
For his new book, Evolution: A Visual Record, photographer Robert Clark has collected dozens of images that show the varying ways in which plants and animals have adapted to their changing surroundings.
Evidence of evolution is everywhere. Through 200 revelatory images, award-winning photographer Robert Clark makes one of the most important foundations of science clear and exciting to everyone. Evolution: A Visual Record transports readers from the near-mystical (human ancestors) to the historic (the famous ‘finches’ Darwin collected on the Galapagos Islands that spurred his theory); the recently understood (the link between dinosaurs and modern birds) to the simply astonishing.
The photo above is of a southern cassowary, a flightless bird that is particularly dinosaur-esque in stature and appearance.
Philippe Halsman was a renowned portrait photographer who was particularly active in the 40s, 50s, and 60s and most famous for his iconic photos of Salvador Dali and Albert Einstein. For a period in the 1950s, Halsman ended his portrait shoots by asking his famous subjects to jump. The results were disarming.
When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.
Halsman got all sorts of people to jump for his camera: Richard Nixon (above), Robert Oppenheimer, Marilyn Monroe (above), Aldous Huxley, Audrey Hepburn (above), Brigitte Bardot, and the Duke & Duchess of Windsor (above). He collected all his jump photos into the recently re-released Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book.
I’ve featured the work of photographer Michael Wolf here before, particularly his series of photos taken in Hong Kong called Architecture of Density, photographs which capture the immense scale of the city’s apartment buildings and the smallness of the apartment they contain. Another of his projects is 100x100, interior photographs of 100 Hong Kong dwellings that measure 100 square feet or less in size. (See also Hong Kong Cage Homes.)
In this pair of videos, Wolf discusses these projects and a couple of other ones I hadn’t seen before.
In Tokyo Compression, Wolf captures the boredom and despair of Japanese train commuters, smushed into cars dampened by the heat of humanity. For Back Door, he ventured into the alleys of Hong Kong and witnessed people using the infrastructure of the city for storing, sorting, and drying all sorts of things, from after-work clothes to mops to lettuce. (via craig mod)
From Timeline, a collection of photos of video arcades in the 80s.
The years between 1978 and 1983 are generally considered the golden age of video games. Most recognize Space Invaders as the original, arcade game to reach mass audiences, quickly followed by Asteroids (1979), Centipede (1980), and Pac-Man (1980). Space Invaders was such a hit it was rumored that Japan suffered a shortage of ¥100 coins in its wake. But Pac-Man was the real game changer. Stateside, reception of the ground breaking character-driven game was ravenous, and by the end of the 20th century it was estimated that Pac-Man’s total gross consumer revenue had hit $2.5 billion (or 10 billion quarters).
I have an odd nostalgia for video arcades. They were very present in the media when I was a kid, but growing up in a small town, I never had the opportunity to actually visit a proper arcade in their heyday, aside from the one tucked into a corner of roller skating rink in a slightly larger nearby town. The best we had was a single Ms. Pac-Man machine in the entrance way of our local grocery store and the occasional Donkey Kong or Mr. Do machine we stumbled across in pizza places when we travelled later in the 80s. I was an arcade-era kid who had to wait for the Nintendo and Game Boy.
Brexit, climate change, Trump, Syria, white nationalism, Turkey, racism and police violence, the Flint water crisis, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, drowned migrants. I was tempted to just post a photo of a burning dumpster or the this is fine dog and leave it at that. But professional photographers and the agencies & publications that employ them are essential in bearing witness to the atrocities and injustices and triumphs and breakthroughs of the world and helping us understand what’s happening out there. It’s worth seeking out what they saw this year.
Several sites, publications, and agencies have published lists of the best and most newsworthy photos of the year. Among them are In Focus’ Top 25 News Photos of 2016 as well as their three-part 2016: The Year in Photos (part 1, part 2, part 3), National Geographic’s The 52 Best Photographs of 2016, Time’s Top 100 Photos of the Year 2016, AFP’s Pictures of the Year (part 1, part 2, part 3), 2016: The Year in Photos from CNN, Pictures of the Year 2016 from Reuters, the AP’s Top Photos of 2016, some of the top images from the World Press Photo exhibition, which “highlights the best photojournalism of the year”, The Top Photos of 2016 from Maclean’s, and The Best Weird and Wonderful Photos of 2016 from totallycoolpix.com.
I’ve selected five of my favorite photos from these lists and included them above. From top to bottom, the photographers are Jonathan Bachman, Brent Stirton, Kai Pfaffenbach, Anuar Patjane Floriuk, and Mahmoud Raslan. The top photo, by Bachman, pictures the arrest of Ieshia Evans while protesting the death of Alton Sterling by the Baton Rouge police and is just flat-out amazing. In a piece for The Guardian, Evans wrote:
When the armored officers rushed at me, I had no fear. I wasn’t afraid. I was just wondering: “How do these people sleep at night?” Then they put me in a van and drove me away. Only hours later did someone explain that I was arrested for obstructing a highway.
There’s so much fear in that photo — institutional fear, racial fear, societal fear — but none of it is coming from Evans. Total hero.
Update: Buzzfeed shares The 46 Most Powerful Photos of 2016 and the BBC has the 15 finalists in the 2016 Art of Building architectural photography competition.
Update: The NY Times offers up The Year in Pictures 2016.
Update: From Artsy, The Most Powerful Moments of Photojournalism in 2016.
Update: World Press Photo announced the winners of their 2017 Photo Contest (of photos taken in 2016).
As part of Time magazine’s recent selection of the 100 most influential photos of all time, art historian Christine Roussel talks about the story behind the iconic Lunch Atop a Skyscraper photograph of a group of construction workers on their lunch break. Interestingly, no one knows for sure who the workers were and who actually took the photograph.
For a photo project called Women’s Work, Chris Crisman made portraits of women who have jobs not typically done by women in the US. In an interview at aPhotoEditor, Crisman explained the why he did the project:
I am a father of two — a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. I was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to when I grew up. I want pass down a similar message to my children and without caveats. I want to raise my children knowing that their dreams have no limits and that they have parents supporting them to dive into anything they feel passionate about.
Crisman shot a short film of Sadie Samuels, the Maine lobster fisherman1 pictured in the photograph above.
Over a number of recent summers, well-known portrait photographer Mark Seliger has been documenting the transgender community that gathers on Christopher St in the West Village. Since Seliger’s website is slow and bloated, I’d recommend checking out coverage of the photos on The Advocate, The New Yorker, American Photo, and PDN. I lived on Christopher Street for several years1 and definitely recognize a couple of people in Seliger’s photos.
It was in the Village, on Christopher Street and the nearby piers, where many trans and queer people first shared space with others like them. For generations, these places provided mirrors for those who rarely saw reflections of themselves. On Christopher Street, there were multitudes of potential selves: transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer, femme, butch, cross-dresser, drag king or queen, and other gender identities and sexual orientations that challenge social norms.
Seliger has collected the photos into a book, On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories and the photos will be on display at 231 Projects in Chelsea until early January.
Time Magazine has selected the 100 most influential photos of all time, from the first permanent photograph taken (in 1826) to the heartbreaking photo of the body of a 3-year-old refugee washed up on a beach from last year. As you might expect, many of the images are tough to view, but history and our good conscience compels us not to look away.
I was pleased to see Josef Koudelka’s photo Invasion of Prague included (it’s the one above with the wristwatch); it’s one of my favorites.
Josef Koudelka, a young Moravian-born engineer who had been taking wistful and gritty photos of Czech life, was in the capital when the soldiers arrived. He took pictures of the swirling turmoil and created a groundbreaking record of the invasion that would change the course of his nation. The most seminal piece includes a man’s arm in the foreground, showing on his wristwatch a moment of the Soviet invasion with a deserted street in the distance. It beautifully encapsulates time, loss and emptiness — and the strangling of a society.
The photos are also available in book form.
Photographer Chris Porsz has been taking candid photos of people on the streets of the English city of Peterborough since the 1970s. Recently, he tracked down a bunch of his subjects — many of them strangers — to recreate photos taken decades before, often in the same location. See also The Up Series, I should think.
You can order a book of the photographs directly from Porsz’s website.
Alan Taylor has compiled a bunch of satellite photography showing how humans have altered the landscape of the American Southwest.
Humans have lived in what we now call the American Southwest for centuries, making a wide impact on the land, much of it visible from aerial and satellite photography. Nuclear detonations, housing subdivisions, oil exploration, hydroelectric facilities, solar power facilities, roads, mines, farms, ranches, cities, and towns have altered much of the land over the years.
The photos, from top to bottom: a road cuts through White Sands, NM, a former nuclear testing site in NV (those are craters left from nuclear explosions), and a housing development south of Denver.
In the wake of the election, Matthew Chavez, who goes by “Levee” and is the instigator of Subway Therapy, encouraged New Yorkers to share their post-election grief on Post-it Notes stuck to the wall of the tunnel between the 6th and 7th Ave subway stations on 14th St. Joe Holmes visited the tunnel and took photos of people interacting with the wall. (All photos above by Joe Holmes.)
The tire tracks in this parking lot make a tree pattern in the snow, a self-producing infographic of the cars’ collective pathway to their parking spaces. It’s fun to trace individual tracks — I’m fascinated by the one that comes in, starts right, turns back to the left, then heads back down before turning toward the left again into a space.
The photo was taken in a Shell Centre parking lot near Waterloo Station in 1963. Photographer unknown. (via @robnitm)
Update: Nicholas Felton shared an annotated single-car version of a car’s tracks in the snow.
Update: A reader randomly picked up a copy of a book recently called The World From Above, “a pretty brilliant collection of aerial photographs, mostly black and white, published in the mid 60’s” and the parking lot photo was in it. No photographer listed, but the photo is credited to dpa, the German Press Agency. (thx, david)
Photographer Helena Price, who you may recall from the Techies project earlier this year, has created a project called The Pussy Project about “women’s perspectives on the significance of this election and its ramifications on society.”. Photos of women are paired with each person’s thoughts on the election. Price explains how the project came about on Medium:
The name is a trigger for all of us. For many it represents the moment in the Trump campaign that incited so many women to finally get angry, get involved and speak out. That shift — the sudden activation of women across America to vocalize their feelings about this election — is what I set out to explore with this project.
Happy to see several women I know and admire interviewed for this…plus Jessica Hische did the logo and Maggie Mason edited the interviews.
Mike Kelley has travelled to airports all over the world, photographing planes taking off and landing and then stitching them together into photos showing each airport’s traffic. (via @feltron whose book features an Airportrait on the cover)
Note: if you’re browsing at work, there are photos below that are probably NSFW even though they are artistic and making a political point. The project itself suggests that the idea of NSFW is dumb, which makes me uncomfortable about calling it out like this, but you know, pragmatism…not everyone can afford to have a conversation with their boss about why viewing art during the workday is a good idea.
Posting photos of full frontal nudity on Instagram is against their terms of service.1 No nipples, no pubic hair and certainly no vaginas or penises. Butts are ok though because…I dunno, everyone has one? For a project entitled Busts, model and photographer Sasha Frolova took inspiration from Instagram removing one of her photos and took portraits of women and seamlessly erased their nipples.
The photo taken down from Instagram was the catalyst for this series. It was a black and white self-portrait I took exhausted in the bath after a panic attack at age 16. Releasing it was a coming to terms with the fact that I no longer feel so unstable. Because of that, having it removed was particularly violating. But more than anything though I was offended that all it takes is a pizza emoji over my discreetly revealed nipples to make the image appropriate. Is the implication then that a woman, simply in her own existence, and anatomy is inappropriate, vulgar?
If the goal of Instagram’s policy is to “protect” people from images of sexuality, Frolova’s project shows that they haven’t quite succeeded.2
Wired took an exclusive tour of NASA’s rockets and robots with photographer Benedict Redgrove and the photographic results are — sorry! — out of this world. Best viewed on Redgrove’s site, who must be — still sorry!! — over the moon about how they turned out. But seriously, that DARPA centaur-on-wheels robot…how cool is that?
Also, you may remember Redgrove from his short film on how tennis balls are made. How that for service? (Stop. Just stop it. (You love it. (STOP!)))
Isabelle Mège does not call herself an artist, but she has nonetheless been working on an interesting project for the last 30 years. Mège contacts photographers she likes and asks them to incorporate her into their work, keeping a copy of each photograph afterwards. She has over 300 photographs and has curated 135 of them into what she calls “the collection”.
After each shoot, Mège would follow up and ask the artist for a print, signed and sometimes numbered by its edition. The print would go into her archive, along with any artifacts related to its making; Elkoury’s letter, for instance, is accompanied in the archive by Mège’s notes about their encounter (he was late to their first meeting, and arrived with his shoelaces untied). Also in her archive are the heels that Witkin attached to her feet during the 1990 shoot, and a news item about Japanese customs having seized incoming copies of the magazine ARTnews to prohibit their circulation; the photograph, in which Mège’s pubic hair is visible, was considered obscene. Her diarizing and collection of correspondence, clippings, image reproductions, and relevant items reveal that the planning around certain images often lasted years. Several times, having worked with an artist to make an image, she was unhappy with the results and excluded it from her collection. When approached by artists who wanted to work with her but for whose work she had no feeling, she refused.
Mège felt strongly that no money should be exchanged in these interactions. (“As soon as there’s a question of payment, it’s dead, you fall asleep,” she told me.) She also asked each artist to sign a contract printed on a three-inch slip of paper, stating that she would have the right to exhibit or publish the image for noncommercial reasons only.
Mège’s project fits neatly into contemporary selfie culture. Her collection reminds me of other creative people who have incorporated themselves into their media of behalf of someone or something else. Call them “selfie auteurs”. Adam Lisagor has starred in many of the videos his company makes for tech clients. Casey Neistat films himself going on adventures for clients like J. Crew and Nike. Noah Kalina was commissioned by VH1 to take photos of himself posing with celebrities in his Everyday stance. I’m sure there are many more examples1 but few have done it as cleanly and purely as Mège.
Episcopal Community Services runs a program called CHEFS that provides food industry training for homeless and low-income people in San Francisco. Photographer Wesley Verhoeve visited the program to take portraits of the students and staff. The photos accompany a San Francisco Magazine article that has more information on the program.
The seven-month program culminates in a 240-hour internship at participating eateries like Nopa and Kokkari; Hanks completed her internship at Lotta’s Bakery in Nob Hill, where she was struck by the universal power of food. “We cook when somebody dies, we cook when a child is born,” she says. “I’ve realized cooking is related to everything: to family, to religion, to happiness, to sadness.”
Photographer Nicky Bay has been documenting an arachnid he calls the mirror spider for past few years. He’s noticed that when the spider feels threatened, it can shift the mirrored plates on its abdomen to reveal itself and make itself look bigger, like a cloaked Klingon ship uncloaking for battle.
For several years, I have been observing the odd behavior of the Mirror Spider (Thwaitesia sp.) where the “silver-plates” on the abdomen seem to shrink when the spider is agitated (or perhaps threatened), revealing the actual abdomen. At rest, the silver plates expand and the spaces between the plates close up to become an almost uniform reflective surface.
Many animals have evolved the ability to camouflage themselves and I’d speculate that is what’s happened to the mirror spider. The mirrored surface reflects the spider’s surroundings and turns it somewhat invisible to potential predators. The mirror system is more complex than an abdomen matching the green of a particular plant, but is also more adaptive — the mirror works equally well on green leaves, brown branches, and black soil. (via colossal)
Update: I misread Bay’s explanation of the spider’s response to threats and have corrected it above. I previously stated “that when the spider feels threatened, it can shift the mirrored plates on its abdomen to make itself appear more reflective”, which is exactly wrong. (via @RLHeppner/status/780921795335581696)
The Daily Overview has been serving up gorgeous satellite imagery of Earth for a few years now and they’ve taken some of their greatest hits and packaged it up into a book called Overview: A New Perspective of Earth.
Inspired by the “Overview Effect” — a sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole — the breathtaking, high definition satellite photographs in OVERVIEW offer a new way to look at the landscape that we have shaped. More than 200 images of industry, agriculture, architecture, and nature highlight incredible patterns while also revealing a deeper story about human impact.
I got my hands on an early copy and it’s a beautiful book.
From photographer Brea Souders, an assortment of food photographed using a thermal camera.
As an object’s temperature increases, so does the amount of radiation it emits. This special camera uses state-of-the-art technology to detect infrared radiation, thereby displaying differing levels of heat in various colors and creating images reminiscent of pop art.
Mitch Dobrowner takes wonderfully dramatic black & white photos of clouds and storms from across the plains of the central United States. Dobrowner, who lives in California, became “addicted” to photography as a teen after discovering Ansel Adams and Minor White but then gave it up to spend energy on his career and family. A few years ago, he picked his old obsession back up and these storm photos are the result. (via colossal)
The Museum of Modern Art has started the process of putting online a massive trove of photographs of what the museum’s exhibitions looked like, extending back to their earliest big exhibition in 1929 of works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and van Gogh. The NY Times has the story.
The digital archive project will include almost 33,000 exhibition installation photographs, most never previously available online, along with the pages of 800 out-of-print catalogs and more than 1,000 exhibition checklists, documents related to more than 3,500 exhibitions from 1929 through 1989.
Shown above are some notable works of art pictured among the first times they were displayed at the museum…the top one is from that first show in 1929. I happily spent an hour browsing through these exhibitions1 and I haven’t been gripped with this powerful of a desire to travel through time in quite some time. To be able to see that first exhibition…what a thing that would be. In part, I love going to museums for this very reason: standing in the very spot where the artist stood in making their drawing or painting is a very cheap form of time travel.
Craig Mod and Dan Rubin recently walked the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path in Japan, taking thousands of photos along the way. They made a book of the photographs and have launched a Kickstarter project to make more copies of the book and do some other fun stuff.
The book, of course, is beautiful — Rubin and Mod are great photographers and designers - but direct your attention to the economy of their project description:
In March of this year, Dan Rubin and I went on a walk. The walk was along Japan’s 1,000+ year old Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path.
From that walk, we made one copy of a book of photographs called Koya Bound.
Together, with your help, we’d like to make/do a whole lot more…
This is what we did, here’s what we made, and we’d like your help to do more. That’s how you do Kickstarter, folks.
Update: The website Rubin and Mod made for the project is live. It’s super simple but extensive…I especially like how the journey progresses as you scroll down and the photos “spotlight” out from the path. Strong web design work.
Carl Van Vechten moved to New York in the early 20th century and became “violently interested in Negroes”. As part of that interest, Van Vechten got to know many of the leading black figures in the city and photographed them, first in black & white but later in vibrant Kodachrome. Almost 2000 of his color photos are available at Yale’s Beinecke Library (direct search). Pictured above are Van Vechten’s photos of Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, W.E.B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, and a young James Earl Jones. (via the new yorker)
John Francis Peters photographed San Diego cliff jumpers for a series he calls Falling. My favorites are the shots where he catches the jumpers in mid-air, before they hit the water. On the cusp, just like that Nirvana video from yesterday. A book of the photographs, published in a limited edition of 300, is available.