The Photo Blog

July 30 2015 11:01 AM

Sometimes the Best Photos Are the Ones That Don’t Make It Into Print

During the almost two decades that Nathan Benn was a staff photographer at National Geographic, he estimates he shot around 1,000 rolls of 35mm film a year. Yet, he probably saw just about 10 percent of these photos.  

Benn would ship his film to Washington, D.C. where National Geographic would have Kodak process it. Picture editors would sort through them, pick the ones worth a second look, place those in a workbox, and go over them with Benn when he was back in the office.

“My professional and diligent colleagues with good work habits would go through both the workbook and the outtakes,” Benn recalled. “To look at them and study and learn from them and to find images that may have been missed by the editor. I was not in that club.”

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July 29 2015 11:45 AM

How People in New York City Stay Cool in the Summer 

Although it’s not always legal, for many, during a New York City summer there’s no purer joy than dancing in the street with the spray from an open fire hydrant.

Ruben Natal-San Miguel photographed this iconic symbol in his Harlem neighborhood in 2003. The simple pleasure of the hydrants stuck with him, and he has been photographing them, along with almost every other aspect of street life, ever since.

“Fire hydrant culture is one of the most endearing and beautiful ones remaining from the rich street life of New York City,” he said. “There is so much innocence, joy, fun, carelessness, and humanity in them.” 

San Miguel was part of a wave of gentrification when he moved to Harlem in 2003, but the neighborhood spoke to him and he felt an immediate kinship toward his fellow residents whom he embraced. But he fears that sense of community is being rapidly diminished as luxury buildings push away long-standing traditions found all over New York.

July 28 2015 11:41 AM

It Used to Be Impossible to Find Black Dolls in Stores, So People Made Them at Home

Before the 20th century, manufactured black dolls were virtually non-existent. In the 1930s, they were still tough to find in major cities. For decades, if black American parents wanted their children to have black dolls, the only way was to make them. Today, these dolls are treasured examples of American folk art.


Deborah Neff has been buying these dolls from flea markets, auctions, high-end antique shows, and dealers for decades. Her collection is the best in the world. The book, Black Dolls, which was co-published in April by Radius Books and the Mingei International Museum, features Ellen McDermott’s photographs of more than 100 dolls from the collection.

July 27 2015 12:20 PM

Is the 1 Percent That Different From the Rest of Us? 

Last year, Harvard Business School asked 55,000 people what they thought CEOs were earning compared to blue-collar workers. The median American guessed 30-to-1, a far cry from the actual estimate of 354-to-1.

Myles Little, an associate photo editor at Time, sees a lot of photography related to wealth inequality. A couple of years ago, after a conversation with the curator Daniel Brena in Mexico, Little began working on curating an exhibition that sought to highlight, through contemporary documentary photography, a glimpse into “the ecosystem of privilege, from work to education to leisure.”

July 26 2015 12:27 PM

One of NASCAR’s Most Storied Speedways Is Now a Decaying Wreck

For nearly 50 years, the North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina was a landmark destination for racing fans. In 1947, it became the first NASCAR-sanctioned track, and, over the years the 0.625-miles of asphalt saw amazing victories from the sport’s legends, including Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty. In 1996, however, the speedway closed, and, besides a brief re-opening in 2010, it has since been left to decay.

July 24 2015 10:58 AM

This Is Where Your Coffee Comes From

A cup of coffee prepared quickly and consumed on the go may seem like one of life’s simplest pleasures. But the journey from bean to barista is not an easy one; it involves hundreds of people and thousands of miles. Over the past three decades, Steve McCurry met some of the small coffee farmers around the world who help make it happen and photographed them for his book, From These Hands, which Phaidon Press published in May.

July 23 2015 10:24 AM

How the Dutch Celebrate Their Birthdays: From 1 to 100 

Ilvy Njiokiktjien isn’t interested in celebrating her birthday. It’s not just the planning, opening of gifts, and making certain to thank everyone—for her, being the center of attention is an overwhelming and unwelcome experience.  

It’s not exactly the background one would expect from a photographer who, over the course of a couple of years, photographed 140 birthday celebrations, from a first to a 100th, in the Netherlands. The project, which became the book Cream Cake and Paper Chains, The Netherlands in 100 Birthdays that was published by Schilt, began when Njiokiktjien was named the national photographer of the Netherlands in 2013. The responsibilities that went with the honor were twofold: to create a body of work that represented Dutch culture and to act as a type of ambassador of Dutch photography.

For the photography project, Njiokiktjien decided to focus on the theme of family and from there narrowed it down to birthdays. She announced on national television that she was looking to find people to document and received thousands of emails, many of which she quickly realized wouldn’t work.

“Dutch people like it when something is free,” Njiokiktjien said. “They would get free pictures and some of them also wanted free advertising for their companies, so that was definitely one of the reasons they contacted me. I had to look hard to find the ones who wanted to do it to show Dutch culture.”

July 22 2015 11:24 AM

The Neurotic, Sexy, and Gross World of Food-Eating Competitions

In one photograph, neon orange hands dig into a vat of greasy looking chicken wings. In another, chunks of chili cascade out of overflowing mouths. A third features blueberry stains covering a woman’s face.

They’re all part of Nina Berman’s ongoing project “Eat to Win,” a look at some of the food-eating contests that take place around the United States.

Berman began working on the series when Noor, the photo collective of which she is a member, decided to focus on food for their annual group project. “At first I resisted participating in this project,” she said. “I didn’t want to just shoot garbage cans of wasted food; I wanted to come in with something strong.”

July 21 2015 11:13 AM

Magnum Photographers Show How Covering Civil War Has Changed

Since the beginning of the Magnum Photos cooperative agency, its elite photographers have been covering conflicts, including civil wars, around the world. But in the decades since its founding in 1947, the nature of warfare has changed, as has the nature of photojournalism. The exhibition, “Failing Leviathan: Magnum Photographers and Civil War,” which is on display at the National Civil War Centre in the U.K. until Nov. 5, shows those dual evolutions through the work of 11 photographers in 11 conflicts.

July 20 2015 10:49 AM

Meet the Scientists Who Helped Make Those Groundbreaking Pluto Photos Possible

When Kyle Cassidy got a call Friday afternoon from his longtime collaborator Kate McKinnon to see if he wanted to photograph the scientists behind NASA’s New Horizons space probe, he didn’t think twice before he agreed. He threw a bunch of equipment in a suitcase, got in his car, and drove from Philadelphia to Laurel, Maryland. By the evening, he’d set up a small studio in the lobby of mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

McKinnon is married to William B. McKinnon, one of the mission scientists, and so she already knew all the people who worked on the craft, whose flyby past Pluto last week captivated people around the world. As more than 40 of the scientists came in and out of briefings that night and the next day, she wrangled them for Cassidy to photograph for a minute or two. Some of the scientists came in to the lab during their first day off in months just for the photograph. Others were still on the same hectic work schedule they’d been operating under for years.

“New Horizons is bringing back incredible amounts of information. No one thought Pluto would be as interesting as it’s turned out to be,” Cassidy said. “They were elated and overjoyed that there was all this stuff coming back, very relieved and excited. This was something they'd been waiting for 10 years—some for 14 years—to see.”