The Photo Blog

April 18 2016 11:06 AM

Remembering Photographer Malick Sidibé, Who Captured the Spirit and Style of Mali

With the death of Malick Sidibé last week, the world is mourning the loss of a towering figure in the African art world.

The 80-year-old photographer was best known for his black-and-white images of the stylish residents of his native Bamako, Mali, as the country transitioned from colonial rule to independence in the 1960s and beyond. Shot in his studio as well as at nightclubs and in the streets, these photos, as the Guardian’s Priya Elan notes, “changed the idea of black beauty in fashion.”

April 17 2016 10:07 AM

These Photographers Use Geotagged Tweets to Make Intriguing and Uncanny Images

The internet may seem abstract and placeless, but Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman know better than most that every digital communication has an origin in the real world. 

In 2009, the photographers came across a post showing the location of a geotagged tweet written by someone who’d just been laid off in downtown Chicago. They decided to go there and make a photo of whatever they found. Seeing the mostly empty street scene paired with the tweet was a revelatory moment.

“We both were kind of dumbfounded and were like, ‘This is really powerful.’ It was kind of an Oprah ‘Aha!’ moment,” Shindelman said. 

Ever since, they’ve been making excursions like that one, sometimes separately and sometimes together, for their series “Geolocation.” Using publicly available embedded GPS information, they’ve tracked tweets across the country and beyond, recording the often uncanny ways the virtual realm interacts with the physical one.

April 15 2016 10:06 AM

What a Historically Black College Looks Like After Bankruptcy

Morris Brown College, founded in 1881 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is a rare historically black college and university established by blacks. For more than 100 years, its Atlanta campus proudly produced writers, civil rights leaders, and business leaders, among other notable alumni. Things took a bad turn in 2002, however, when financial mismanagement caused the school to lose accreditation and federal funding. Hundreds of students left, and faculty and staff lost their jobs. As part of its 2012 bankruptcy filing, the school sold many of its buildings in order to avoid closing altogether.


Photographer Andrew Feiler, a fifth-generation Georgian, knew a number of alumni and faculty at the college and was already familiar with the institution’s HBCU legacy when he learned of the school’s bankruptcy filing. Right away, he knew he wanted to photograph the campus. 

“It felt like an important story along multiple dimensions: race, class, social justice, economic opportunity, religion, history. I wasn’t sure where it would lead, but it was a story I wanted to explore,” Feiler said.

With support from Sonny Walker, the Morris Brown board’s vice chair, and Stanley Pritchett Sr., the college’s president, Feiler spent a year photographing the campus. His images are collected in Without Regard to Sex, Race, or Color: The Past, Present, and Future of One Historically Black College, which University of Georgia Press published in October. 

April 14 2016 9:38 AM

Feathers Are Even More Beautiful Up Close

Robert Clark would know. In 2011, he made the photos accompanying Carl Zimmer’s National Geographic article, “Feather Evolution: The Long, Curious, and Extravagant History of Feathers,” which took him all over the world to study the ubiquitous appendage’s long history, all the way back to fossilized feathers that appeared on birds’ predecessors. Driven to continue exploring on his own, Clark has since seen thousands of varieties of feathers and photographed hundreds, including those designed for warmth, camouflage, and sexual competitiveness. 

April 13 2016 10:55 AM

Intimate Portraits of Mothers Breast-Feeding Their Babies

Francesca Cesari said she had never aesthetically appreciated the breast-feeding bond until a friend of hers took a break from their portrait session to breast-feed her baby.

“I was not living that situation anymore,” Cesari, who breast-fed her son until he was 9 months old, wrote via email. “So I had the chance to observe the scene with new eyes, keeping a huge amount of empathy and knowledge but also being free of the emotional involvement I had experienced in the past.”

The next day, she picked up her camera to begin an intimate, ongoing project of mothers breast-feeding their babies she titled “In the Room.”

Cesari said using her camera to record the experience gave her the “chance to isolate the gestures and the subjects from their daily context and to highlight that intimate, symbiotic atmosphere I encountered the first time.”

She found the mothers in the series through friends and then friends of friends and word of mouth in Bologna, Italy, where she lives, as well as in nearby cities. Although many women were comfortable posing for her, some were shy and asked her not to photograph their nude bodies.

“One of the great things about this work and in general about dealing with people is to experience how in front of the same situation you can have a multitude of different reactions,” she wrote. “The fact of me being a woman helped a lot because even with strangers there always was a silent understanding and solidarity.”

April 12 2016 10:22 AM

Documenting a Chinese Family’s Life in a Tiny NYC Tenement 

Thomas Holton, born to a Chinese mother and an American father, began his photographic look at a family living in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood as a way to feel more connected to his Chinese heritage. Holton met the Lam family in 2003, and much like the 350-square-foot apartment in which they lived, he envisioned creating a small-scale documentary about their lives in a tenement building on Ludlow Street. Thirteen years later, Holton’s work has become a book, The Lams of Ludlow Street, published this month by Kehrer Verlag.

When he began working on the series, Holton said he was thrilled to simply get behind “the proverbial closed door and meet a neighborhood family who welcomed me into their lives.”

The earliest images focus on the family and their physical surroundings. But as he got to know them and understand their routines, picking the kids up from school and sharing meals, he became more observant and deliberate about what he photographed.  

“Once this more intimate and personal aspect of our relationship developed, I became less and less interested in their small apartment and became much more curious about their family life, the relationships with one another and what was happening in their lives,” he wrote via email. “As a result, my images changed too; I feel they became much more nuanced and subtle.”

How Holton interacted with the Lams changed as well. He said part of that happened when he took “creative pauses” that would last a year or more. He continued to see the Lams but felt the pause was important to allow the Lams’ story to evolve. It also informed the editing process of what became The Lams of Ludlow Street.

April 11 2016 10:55 AM

Reimagining an Uncle’s Secret Transgender Life in the 1950s 

When Sara Davidmann’s mother, Audrey, moved into a nursing home in 2011, Davidmann discovered a trio of folders that contained an epistolary family history, centered around Audrey; Audrey’s sister, Hazel; and Hazel’s husband, Ken. Written across one of the three folders that held the letters was written, “Ken. To be destroyed.”

Inside, Davidmann and her brother read letters about Hazel and Ken’s life together, which began as pen pals and evolved into a marriage that, in the 1950s, was rooted in a secret that Ken had come out as transgender.

Audrey had shared this secret with Davidmann in 2005, a couple of years after Hazel had died (Ken died in 1979), and she had asked her daughter to keep the information private. As a coincidence, Davidmann was finishing a Ph.D. in collaborative photography at London College of Communication, and the bulk of her work had focused on the queer and transgender communities in London.

“It’s actually very lucky I had been working in the trans communities in the United Kingdom,” Davidmann said. “If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been interested in the material, I think. It made me realize how important the material was and how interesting it was and how important it was for me to be open about the fact there was a transgender man in my family in the 1950s.”

When Hazel died, Davidmann’s mother inherited the letters, which she then carefully edited. “There are very specific things she kept,” Davidmann said. “But there’s always a question with archives about what’s missing.” The letters between the sisters and Ken address Ken’s coming out as transgender, the dual life he lived (publicly as a man but at home as a woman) and the difficulties and feeling of isolation this presented for everyone.

April 8 2016 10:27 AM

These Photos Show Why Protecting Ancient Stone Structures Is So Important  

Elaine Ling considers herself an old soul, which may explain why she’s long been drawn to some of the oldest human creations on the planet: ancient stones. 

The Canadian photographer has been discovering and documenting stones, both natural and man-made, since 1995, when she traveled to China’s “spirit road,” an avenue lined with pairs of stone structures leading to the ancient burial mounds of emperors and nobles. Her next expedition took her to Namibia, where she drove nearly 400 miles photographing animal pictograms. In the following decades, she’s traveled through Asia, Africa, and the Americas in search of more mysterious monoliths, which she’s photographed with Polaroid 55 PN film. More than 100 photos from these journeys are collected in Talking Stones: A Photographic Sojourn, which Kehrer Verlag published in March.

April 7 2016 10:18 AM

This Is What Hunger Looks Like in New York City

Why does hunger, a widespread and growing problem in New York City, often go unnoticed? The answer, Brooklyn-based photojournalist Joey O’Loughlin says, is because it doesn’t look the way people expect. 

“Our Depression-era images are outdated. Just because somebody is having a hard time doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about how she presents herself or her family to the world,” O’Loughlin said via email.

Since 2012, when Food Bank for New York City first commissioned her to photograph some of the food pantries it operates, O’Loughlin has been working to set the record straight by making a contemporary and humanizing portrait of hungry New Yorkers and the places they rely upon to survive. In the past three years, she’s visited 40 pantries in all five boroughs, including large, computerized, supermarket-style pantries run by sophisticated charities and tiny church basements distributing prepackaged bags of food staples.

April 6 2016 11:24 AM

A Pittsburgh Photographer Captured Four Decades of Black Artists’ Lives Backstage

When Lena Horne performed at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh in 1944, Charles “Teenie” Harris was backstage to take her portrait. Horne, surrounded by bouquets of flowers, appears relaxed, almost as if the photograph were taken in her own home.

Although Harris and Horne had a connection through their parents, the ease that Harris made his subjects feel wasn’t unique to Horne or any of the famous people he photographed.  

“He had the ability to connect with people because he was so involved with the community,” said Lulu Lippincott, curator of fine arts for Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art. Throughout his prolific career, Harris worked for a number of publications and ran his own photography studio, but the majority of his work was seen in the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s oldest black newspapers, where he worked for more than four decades.

In 2001, Carnegie Museum of Art purchased the Harris archive of 80,000 negatives and has since asked guest curators to edit specific shows related to their areas of expertise. The most recent partnership with the August Wilson Center, “Teenie Harris Photographs: Great Performances Offstage,” was curated by Bill Nunn, a Pittsburgh native who wanted to create a collection that spoke to the depth of culture and performance that Harris captured. (It has since closed, but 25 of its images are on view at Carnegie Museum of Art.)