The Photo Blog

July 17 2016 10:07 AM

The Dwindling Facial Tattoo Tradition of Myanmar’s Lai Tu Chin Tribe

When the military gained control of Myanmar, also known as Burma, in the 1960s, it was the beginning of decades of abuse for the ethnic Chin people, a minority of more than a million people spread across dozens of tribes in the western part of the country. According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report, the Chin suffered “forced labor, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, religious repression and other restrictions on fundamental freedoms” at the hands of the junta.

The military’s grip on the country had already begun to weaken by 2010, but its reign was long enough to significantly suppress Chin culture and all but erase the old Chin tradition of facial tattooing for women. The exact origin and original meaning of the tradition is unknown, but it’s clear that by the time the practice was banned, the tattoos were considered coming-of-age symbols and marks of beauty. While the practice continued to a much lesser extent after it was outlawed, young Chin women today no longer receive the tattoos. The women who carry them now are likely the last of their kind.

Seoul-based family photographer Dylan Goldby was on vacation in the town of Mrauk U in Rakhine state in June 2015 when he decided to take a boat trip to some nearby villages. That’s where he first encountered members of the Lai Tu Chin tribe, whose remaining tattooed women, the Hmäe Sün Näe Ti Cengkhü Nu, bear a distinctive spider-web pattern of ink on their faces.

Like many foreign visitors before him, Goldby found the women intriguing and began photographing them over the next couple days as he and his guide traveled along the Lay Mro River, beyond the villages the local government designated for tours. Goldby returned to the area in February, this time with videographer Wesley Chang, and visited around 20 villages, photographing more than 100 tattooed women along the way. He also photographed Lai Tu Chin people with cultural artifacts and clothing they’d managed to hide from the military.

“There wasn’t any question of whether I should do it. It was just, ‘You kind of have to do this.’ Compulsion is probably a good word for it,” he said.

July 15 2016 10:58 AM

A Black Photographer Changes Her Race in These Portraits to Challenge Ideas About Identity

Stacey Tyrell believes that a good start when talking about race relations would be to acknowledge that whichever race we are, we are all human beings entitled to basic human rights. “Then we can discuss issues that need to be dealt with, regardless of how messy or ugly they might be,” she wrote via email.

Unfortunately, the ways in which we deal with and define race is often simply by looking at people and placing them into specific boxes.

Five years ago, Tyrell began working on a series that sought to challenge our ideas of race through a performative photography project titled “Backra Bluid.” Although Tyrell identifies as black, her background also includes English, Irish, and Scottish heritages. As a child growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, Tyrell felt alienated when her classmates would acknowledge a heritage in which she shared but was never included. It created a sense of confusion, both for her and for her classmates, a trend that she says has continued into adulthood.

“The weariness and discomfort that I perceive from a lot of people has a few parts to it,” she wrote. “I think part of it stems from not really having the basic vocabulary in which to speak on racial issues. When I say this I specifically mean if someone has never been on the receiving end of negative racial bias or stereotypes and therefore has no life experience with which to speak from, there is only so much they can perceive things as being problematic.”

July 13 2016 10:39 AM

These Photos Ask: What Does It Mean to Be an American?

Ruben Natal-San Miguel became disenchanted with the often heated and insensitive conversations about what it means to be an American that flood his social media feeds.

“Witnessing how friendships were destroyed due to difference in politics, religion, sexual orientation, race, gun culture and social/economic class differences, everything exploded and the true colors of some came out,” he wrote via email. “Then all of these questions came to mind. What is it to be an American and who is an American? Who has the rights and true values to be considered an American? Does one’s skin color, social strata, wealth, power, religious or political views make one more American or not?”

Natal-San Miguel, a photographer and curator, wanted to find a way to explore what was happening online and curate an event that would turn the negative, confrontational climate into something positive. He wanted to “provide a platform of hope, togetherness, something that will mirror the current times that we are living and that by showing the wonderful range and kaleidoscope of people, places and situation the artists and the public could see themselves in a unifying manner.”

He approached Leah Oates, owner of Station Independent Projects in New York’s Lower East Side, about co-jurying an exhibition they titled “WE:AMEricans.” The “Me/We” part of the title is a reference to a Glenn Ligon installation based on a Muhammad Ali speech; separating out “Ricans” is a nod toward Natal-San Miguel’s Puerto Rican heritage whose “status and acceptance is yet to be resolved,” he notes.

July 12 2016 9:58 AM

Cruising Low and Slow in New Mexico, Where Cars Are Works of Art

Some car enthusiasts look for speed or power in their ideal rides. But in northern New Mexico, where lowriding thrives, it’s all about height—or the lack thereof.

Hispanic Americans have been dropping their cars to mere inches off the ground since at least the mid-20th century, when lowriding developed as a laid-back alternative to a high-octane hot rod culture largely dominated by whites. Drivers in Los Angeles and El Paso, who weighed their cars down with sandbags, were early innovators. Today, drivers around the world use hydraulic systems to not only drop their vehicles but bounce or “hop” them several feet in the air.

For many in northern New Mexico, lowriding is a way of life and an essential outlet of local artistic and cultural expression. In the exhibit “Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico,” which is on display at the New Mexico History Museum until March 5, curator Daniel Kosharek presents more than 120 images from 31 photographers of spectacular vehicles and their owners and mechanics, as well as car show attendees.

July 11 2016 10:14 AM

These Images Show How Young Syrian Refugees See War

Brian McCarty makes a living photographing toys for high-profile clients such as Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. But in his own time, he makes photographs of toys that serve a vastly different and entirely noncommercial purpose.

Since 2011, he’s been traveling to the Middle East to make photos that represent children’s views of war and displacement for his project War-Toys. He partners with NGOs to find adolescent participants and works with art therapist Myra Saad, who helps the kids make drawings about their memories and talk about them. Then, using local toys in nearby environments, McCarty recreates the scenes and turns them into photographs.

The scenes are often devastating. Missiles drop from the sky, people bleed on the ground, and tanks menace homes. But McCarty doesn’t intend for his work to weigh in on specific conflicts. Instead, he hopes his images help focus attention on the ways violence impacts the world’s most innocent and vulnerable.

“It’s hard not to get outraged at the things you experience and the things you see and want to affect change the way you can,” McCarty said.

July 10 2016 10:24 AM

How a Painter Fell in Love With Photography

Elizabeth Huey first started taking photographs as source material for her paintings. She was painting scenes from the early 1900s and realized that the Hasidic community, a quick walk from where she lived in Brooklyn, were perfect subjects for what she wanted to paint. The more she took photos, the more she became attracted to the medium.

“What happened there was this progression for me,” she said. “Sometimes the painting would drive the photographic image, and sometimes I would find an image and that would drive elements to the painting. I had a discourse between painting and photography.”

Huey said that although painting was her first love, she enjoyed getting out into the streets to take photographs. She felt a bit like a hermit, holed up in her studio.

“I do see something in the world, and I think, ‘Oh, I should get a photo of that because I want to remember that for a future painting,’ ” she said. “But then there are other times when I think I better take a photo of that because that could never be a painting.”

As a teenager, Huey got in trouble a lot and was placed in the controversial treatment facility Straight, Incorporated, where she said she had to sit in chairs from 8 a.m. until midnight with nothing to do. It was particularly brutal for a kid who wanted nothing more than to express herself through her art.

July 8 2016 11:02 AM

Ansel Adams Took Gorgeous Landscape Photos—and Made a Mean Eggs Poached in Beer

If you only think of Ansel Adams as a master of black-and-white landscapes, you probably never ate his eggs poached in beer. Why limit William Eggleston to color photography? His cheese grits casserole is equally as impressive. Add “key lime pie supreme” to the list of great works of Stephen Shore, or Robert Heinecken’s “serious martini,” which is never made with Beefeater gin and always includes a “California” lemon.

July 7 2016 10:12 AM

The People Who Craft World-Class Steinway Pianos

Christopher Payne first toured the Astoria, Queens, factory where Steinway & Sons pianos are made in 2002 during a weekend open house. His father and grandmother were both pianists, and years later, after they died,his memories of the factory took on a spiritual significance.

“I felt an obligation to return to take pictures of the instrument so deeply connected to my family,” he said via email.

Between 2011 and 2015, Payne visited the factory more than 50 times to do just that. His photos are now collected in a book, Making Steinway, which was released in June through Steinway and New York’s Benrubi Gallery.

July 6 2016 11:24 AM

Are These Images of People Resting in New York Dreamy or Voyeuristic?

Michael Massaia’s dreamy black-and-white photographs of Central Park speak to his aesthetic of isolation and detachment. Landscapes like these can look hauntingly beautiful, but it’s tricky to create the same feeling using human subjects. For the past decade, Massaia has worked on a series with a focus on people, also taken in Central Park (although some are from Bryant Park) that he titles “Deep in a Dream.”

“I’m not a portrait guy,” he said. “I don’t like it when people know there’s a camera in the vicinity, even if a photographer uses the more ‘candid’ shots taken in between. People just act differently when they know there’s a camera around; when they understand that in some way, everything is different. They become an exaggerated version of themselves.”

When Massaia first began photographing his often-sleeping subjects, he did it from a distance, using a large-format camera with a long lens. But he didn’t like the results: The photographs, he said, were too “flat,” and it was obvious he was shooting from a distance. To mix things up, Massaia kept his bulkier camera but put on a much shorter lens and stood around a foot away from his subjects.

Massaia said often spends a week at a time walking from Bryant Park up about 70 blocks to Central Park’s Great Lawn. He said he looks for sculptural poses and might get one usable image during that period. Grass, he said, is important, because it allows him the chance to produce deeper blacks in the darkroom. (By contrast, he said, he would never be able to pull off the work if his subjects were on sand.) He also uses a flash to create even richer tones.

July 5 2016 10:12 AM

These People Were Likely Victims of a Swedish Eugenics Institution

In 2005, Norwegian artist Anne-Karin Furunes was browsing in the library at Sweden’s Uppsala University when she happened upon a curious collection of photographs. They were photos of unidentified people categorized according to groups such as “criminals,” “Gypsies,” and “Jews.”


The photos, she learned, were from the archive of the State Institute for Racial Biology, a eugenics institution established in 1922. Its first director, the physician Herman Bernhard Lundborg, believed that unsavory genes needed to be rooted out of the Swedish population to ensure the dominance of a superior race. The institute’s research was ultimately used to justify a shameful government program that led to the forced sterilizations of nearly 63,000 people—a vast majority of whom were women—between 1935 and 1975. Many European nations created similar programs in the years leading up to World War II.


“I believe the photos were made as part of a process of mapping their so-called ‘research.’ Lundborg was systematically mapping the Swedish people,” Furunes said via email.