The Photo Blog

Aug. 2 2016 11:49 AM

Gorgeous Portraits of the Luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance

How did Carl Van Vechten—a white man from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a latecomer to photography—become the premier portraitist of the Harlem Renaissance’s black luminaries?

It took a slightly confounding combination of social climbing, strategic spending, and a passion for the subject matter. Van Vechten arrived in New York in 1906 and soon started working as a music and dance critic for the New York Times. During the 1920s, he found booming Harlem enthralling and quickly went about befriending and championing some of the movement’s most famous figures. While his patronage and enthusiasm earned the trust and allegiance of many of them, more than a few were wary of him, in no small part because of his controversial 1926 novel, Nigger Heaven, designed as a tribute to contemporary Harlem.

It might not be exactly clear if his involvement with black artists constituted, as the New York Times’ Luc Sante put it, “nothing more than a kind of cultural tourism,” or whether, as the New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh speculated, “he was far more loyal and earnest than he sometimes pretended to be.” But by the time he started making portraits in 1932, there was no question about the ferocity of his desire to be a part of their world. He considered photography “probably the most fascinating of the arts,” and he was determined to use it to capture the most fascinating people he knew.

Aug. 1 2016 10:11 AM

These Still Lifes Feature Food That Was Headed for the Dumpster

The food gorgeously displayed in Aliza Eliazarov’s series “Waste Not” looks good enough for a feast. But before she and food rescue organizations in New York City salvaged it, grocery stores and markets thought the stuff looked ready for the trash.

She got the idea for the series in 2011, while on assignment for a local newspaper, AM NewYork, to photograph a freegan—an anti-consumerist who strives to salvage rather than spend—on Earth Day. As she watched the man save food from dumpsters outside markets in Harlem, Eliazarov, an environmentally concerned photographer whose documentary work has focused on sustainable farming and the backyard poultry movement, knew she wanted to explore the issue of food waste in a deeper way.

“It was just a one-day little assignment, but the idea of food waste is one of those things that stays with you and nags at you. I realized it was something I wanted to make a project out of,” she said.

July 28 2016 10:17 AM

This Photographer Made It His Mission to Capture the “Forgotten” Lives of the Working Class

“The rich have their own photographers,” said the late Milton Rogovin, who devoted his entire career as a documentarian to highlighting the other half—the poor and working classes—with the respect they deserved. He will soon be celebrated at the San Jose Museum of Art in the exhibition “Life and Labor: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin” from Aug. 18 until March 19.

July 27 2016 10:09 AM

Rarely Seen Color Images of America Emerging From the Great Depression

The Great Depression is perhaps best remembered through the photographs that came out of the Farm Security Administration. A vast majority of the images in the agency’s archive are black and white, cementing an often bleak vision of rural America that reflected the stark economics of the time. But a small portion, taken as the Depression was ending, are in color, and though they aren’t as well-known as their black-and-white counterparts, they constitute a distinct and striking record of the country while it was emerging from a decadelong trauma. A selection are collected in Peter Walther’s new book, New Deal Photography: USA 1935-1943, which Taschen published in July.

July 26 2016 11:14 AM

Prize-Winning Rabbits and Their Quirky Owners

How does a woman from St. Petersburg, Russia, end up in Portland, Oregon, photographing the American Rabbit Breeders Association convention? For Katya Rezvaya, it began when she watched Rabbit Fever, a documentary about ARBA’s 2005 national convention. The film was striking to Rezvaya, who said such a thing doesn’t really exist in Russia.

“I was laughing at first, and then I started thinking I should go there and take some portraits,” she said.

Rezvaya began reaching out to organizers but said correspondence was slow, so she decided to book her ticket to travel to attend the 2015 convention in Portland. Once there, things weren’t much easier. She found a place to stay that was far away from the convention, and she had to get up at 4:30 a.m. and walk along the highway in order to reach the convention center. During the days, she scouted out some of the rabbits and owners—a daunting task considering roughly 20,000 rabbits were on site.

July 25 2016 10:18 AM

A European Photographer Steps Into American Greek Life

The first thing that hit Philip Holt when he visited his son’s fraternity, Delta Upsilon, at Clarkson University in 2006 was the mess. Then it was the smell.

“I think most fraternities have a basement where they have their parties, but it was like a brewery down there. It just smelled so bad, and the floors were all sticky,” he said.

Holt grew up in Milan and lived in London and Paris before moving to Chappaqua, New York, in the 1990s with his wife and two young sons. He’d never been to a frat house before, and his only idea of what one would be like came from the 1978 film Animal House. His oldest son, Seif, a freshman at the time, knew that his father liked investigating the quirkier side of human behavior, so he’d invited him to the fraternity’s Potsdam, New York, house to make photographs.

July 24 2016 10:03 AM

The Unbelievably Cute Baby Animals Raised at Animal Rehab Centers

About five years ago, Traer Scott went to a wedding, the first time she had been out since giving birth to her daughter. Toward the end of the night, a friend’s daughter showed Scott a baby squirrel that had probably fallen out of a nest. Scott took the squirrel home with her but was quickly overwhelmed: Her newborn daughter needed to be fed once every three hours and the squirrel once every two hours. Panicked, she started looking up wildlife rehabilitators and found a woman nearby who would take care of the orphaned squirrel.

“I was amazed by this woman who was caring for a colony of squirrels, and she was taking in another baby, and this wild creature was going to survive because this one woman devotes her life to rehabilitating these animals,” Scott said. “That was very inspiring to me, very moving.”

Although Scott had thought about working on a project about exotic baby animals, the logistics and travel involved proved to be too complicated and too expensive. Finding the squirrel inspired a new direction for the series, one that focused on indigenous American wildlife. For three years Scott worked with rehabilitation centers on both coasts of the United States plus local zoos to create the book Wild Babies: Photographs of Baby Animals From Giraffes to Hummingbirds, published next month by Chronicle Books.

“I wanted to focus on [indigenous species],” she said. “I was hoping that by showing them at a young and frankly cute age, it might inspire people to have a little more compassion and patience for them as they find them going through their garbage as adults.”

“People see baby possums and they say, ‘They’re so cute, but the adults freak me out,’ so I’m hoping people learn a little about them; they’re all fascinating animals,” she added.

July 22 2016 10:35 AM

This Tibetan Mountain Is Sacred to Adherents of Four Different Religions

Why is Tibet’s roughly 22,000-foot Mount Kailash sacred? Depends who you ask.

Jains believe it’s where a saint achieved enlightenment. Bonpos believe it’s where their founder descended to Earth. Hindus believe it is where the god Shiva lives. Both Buddhists and Hindus believe it’s the spiritual center of the universe.

July 21 2016 11:36 AM

Gorgeous Photos That Show How Primates Express Emotions

During a work trip to Berlin, Pawel Bogumil decided to visit the German capital’s zoo. It was there he noticed Ivo, a curious male gorilla who seemed to have little interest in the female gorillas with whom he shares a home. Instead, Ivo appeared more interested in the human visitors, especially blonds. Bogumil was struck by Ivo’s reactions.

“What was unexpected was I saw emotion of happiness or triumph,” Bogumil said. “I wasn’t expecting to see emotions.”

It inspired him to work on a three-year project that focused on primates, mostly gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees that were housed in zoos around Europe (Bogumil’s travels were predicated on his work trips).

“From my perspective I can say they have distinct personalities just like people,” he added.

The black-and-white photographs are all taken from behind glass. Through production work, Bogumil creates black or white backgrounds to create a consistent look that removes the zoo environments. He said he isn’t trying to dupe anyone by removing clues about where the images are being photographed, but the point of the work is about the emotions of the animals, not the zoos. He calls the work “InHuman,” which he said plays with the relationship between the primates and human beings.

July 20 2016 10:52 AM

The Magic of Old Italy Comes Alive in These Fantastical Photos of Small Shops

Francesco Pergolesi lived in the charming, ancient city of Spoleto, Italy, until he was 18, when he started college two hours away, in Rome. Initially, he came back to Spoleto nearly every weekend, but after he graduated, he began traveling for work, and his visits became less frequent. As the decades passed, and he occasionally returned to the streets of his youth, the landscape he once knew gradually grew foreign.

“One of the most important changes I noticed was that the small shops that I knew from my childhood started closing. The commercial area moved from the center to follow the opening of the new big shopping centers in the suburbs. This new reality started to make me feel immediately sad,” Pergolesi said via email.

In 2012, he was traveling in Italy’s Marche region when he came across a bookstore in the small town of Macerata that reminded him of the small businesses he missed in Spoleto.

“I was attracted by the smell of the yellow papers, the light through the abat-jour, the surreal atmosphere. It was like I was inside a [René] Magritte painting,” he said.

He became friends with the owner, and a year later, he made a photo of the man in his shop from the street. The image was the first of many in his series, “Heroes,” which was recently on display at Chicago’s Catherine Edelman Gallery. Since then, he’s roamed Spoleto, Rome, and other cities and towns in Italy looking for scenes that spark memories of his childhood and speak to a time when people were more intimately connected to their work and to one another.