The Photo Blog

May 27 2015 10:30 AM

What It’s Like to be a Woman in an Afghan Prison

Women in Afghanistan can be incarcerated for some shocking reasons: Running away from a forced marriage, being the victims of rape, or being sold into prostitution, for example. In the four years she spent visiting women’s prisons across the country, Gabriela Maj heard stories of women who’d suffered more than anyone she’d ever met. In her book, Almond Garden, Maj presents the stories of 50 of those women, alongside portraits she took after getting unprecedented access to the facilities where they live.

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May 26 2015 11:21 AM

The Amazing Colors of China’s Buddhist Temples

When Colin Miller flew to Chengdu, China, this November, it wasn’t with the intent of making a series of photographs of Buddhist temples and monasteries. But when he started traveling Sichuan province with friends who lived in the region, he was immediately drawn to the bastions of color standing out from the brown hills and snowy mountains. 

May 24 2015 9:23 AM

Turning GIFs Into Fine Art 

When Sam Cannon began studying at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, she was torn between photography and video, although neither genre really appealed to her.

“I’ve never been super interested in shooting still photography,” she said. “The only reason I choose it was to have full control over the final image because that’s hard in the film industry but I also wasn’t super interested in long form narratives. During my junior year I was shooting video for my projects and I liked the space between still and moving images and trying to explore that space which is why I got into GIFs.”

For those who aren’t exactly certain what or how or even why GIFs—for the record, she used to pronounce it like the peanut butter brand, but today uses a hard G—are made, Cannon said the most basic ones that simply play back a short sequence of images are easy to create in Photoshop. If you want something with a bit more bite, however, you need to be patient and have a lot of time on your hands.

May 22 2015 11:00 AM

Real-Life Tarot Cards That Celebrate the Power of Creativity in Haiti

Foreigners walking through Port-au-Prince might associate Haiti’s capital city with misery and desperation. But in the eyes of Alice Smeets and the Haitian artists known as Atis Rezistans (Resistant Artists), inspiration is just right around the corner from chaos.

“Ghetto in Haiti means a life in the slums. Ghetto means living in poverty. But Ghetto also means community, family, solidarity, strength and a richness of creativity,” she said via email.

May 21 2015 10:51 AM

Traveling Across China to Tell the Story of a Generation of Women With Bound Feet

A decade ago, Jo Farrell was having a hard time finding women in China with bound feet to photograph. Her driver overheard her frustrations and mentioned that he could arrange a meeting. Farrell traveled to a remote village in Shandong Province where she met and interviewed the woman who, after consulting with her own son and daughter-in-law, decided to show Farrell her feet.

“Looking back on it, I am not sure what I was expecting,” Farrell wrote via email. “Such cruel and ugly words are used to describe bound feet. I held her naked foot in my hands and was surprised how soft to the touch her feet were. I was also taken aback because in some ways the form of her foot was quite beautiful. I think this also stems from a feeling of empathy that she had gone to such extreme lengths to be considered beautiful, desirable, marriage potential. It really resonated with me and I became even more excited about the project and eager to find more women to tell their stories.”

Since then, Farrell has traveled around China, meeting, interviewing, and photographing women whose feet were bound, often finding her subjects through word of mouth. At first, Farrell wrote that the series was about finding the women; after working for so long with them, she now says she has become much more emotional about what they’ve been through.

May 20 2015 11:14 AM

Beautiful Blades and the People Who Live off Them

Vanessa Ahlsborn originally started collecting knives as simple keepsakes—but found them slightly scary. So, while she was traveling around Colombia in 2010, she decided to start photographing the people who she bought them from. The more she traveled and learned about how different cultures used them, her perception of them changed.

“When I first started, I was intimidated by knives and machetes through movies and documentaries and the news,” she said. “When many people—myself included—think of machetes you also think of violence. But I realized there were people using large knives simply for as tools.”

She decided to name the series “The Machete Project” partly in response to this shift.

May 19 2015 11:01 AM

Looking Down at the Decks of Massive Cruise Ships

From water level, cruise ships can look like confounding, imposing towers—but in Jeffrey Milstein’s series of aerial photographs, “Cruise Ships,” the amazing designs of the floating behemoths seem clear and even beautiful. “Most of them have pools. They almost all have a putting green, a running track, a basketball court. The whole top deck becomes this kind of floating amusement park three football fields long. It's an amazing construction,” he said. 

May 18 2015 9:45 AM

Fast-Food Workers Photograph What Life Is Like When You Make Less Than $15 an Hour 

Some days, Mona Lee, 20, starts work at McDonald’s in Kansas City, Missouri, at 6 a.m., ends her shift at 1 p.m., and then immediately starts another shift at Sonic, which ends at 8 p.m. But since both jobs pay just $7.25 an hour, she still often doesn’t earn enough money to pay for basic expenses.

“I don't understand how I can work at two jobs and not have enough money to put food in the house,” she said. “We need to be able to live.”


Lee is one of the thousands of workers around the world who’ve joined Fight for $15, a movement calling for higher pay for fast-food workers and their right to unionize. She is also one of 16 workers affiliated with the local labor organization Stand Up KC who’ve photographed their daily lives to help promote the cause. An exhibit of those photographs, “I, Too, Am America,” is on display at Kansas City’s Talk Shop Gallery through May 31.

May 17 2015 1:36 PM

Powerful Photos Helped Desegregate a Prom in Georgia, but Racial Tensions Endure

Gillian Laub first visited Mt. Vernon, Georgia in 2002 to photograph the community’s segregated homecoming celebrations. Seven years later, after multiple visits to the area, the New York Times Magazine ran a photo essay, “A Prom Divided,” that documented Georgia’s Montgomery County High School’s racially segregated prom. Not surprisingly, the series generated national outrage that lead to the integration of the proms.

“I always knew I wanted to return to this town,” Laub said in a preview for her upcoming HBO documentary, Southern Rites, which was initially conceived as a way to document the changes in the town. “So I thought I was making a story about a town coming together to have their first integrated prom and then a tragedy happened.”

May 15 2015 12:36 PM

Stark Photos That  Grapple With the “Absurdity of Human Existence”

When Phaidon published Roger Ballen’s Outland in 2001, questions immediately arose about the stark black-and-white images of people living in marginalized communities in South Africa. Was Ballen exploiting these people? Were the images done as a political statement about whites living in post-apartheid South Africa? Many viewers and critics were shocked.

“People couldn’t separate themselves from that,” Ballen said about the controversies surrounding the initial publication that sold out two print runs. “Most writers are able to find it easier to talk about political and social issues rather than aesthetic ones. … It’s all about projection, all about defense mechanisms coming out. [Critics] have zero idea of what I’m about or what those people are about; [the subjects] could be my best friends or my children. The pictures challenge their identity in one way or another and people don’t want to contemplate that so when they get unstable they blame the circumstance and try to call is exploitive or cruel.”

This spring, 14 years after the initial publication of Outland, Phaidon published an updated version with more than 30 never-before-seen works, partially because Ballen felt he had left out a lot of great images the first time around.

“When I look back on it, my purpose was to try to deal with the absurdity of human existence,” he said. “I think that’s what the book was about. It took a while to appreciate what I was doing, what I was trying to define.”