Author Archives: Alissa Ambrose

The Bechers on Display at Paris Photo

The work of the photographic duo Bernd and Hilla Becher is indisputably some of the most important in modern photography. This week, a two-part exhibit at Paris Photo highlights the historical significance of the Bechers, most well known for their “typologies”—uniform, photographic studies of industrial structures such as water towers and blast furnaces.

The first part of the show, Bernd and Hilla Becher—Printed materials 1964-2012, features an extensive collection of rare ephemera related to the Bechers’ work. These objects, including posters, invitations and museum catalogues, were amassed by curator and book dealer Antoine de Beaupré for more than ten years.

“You get an historical overview,” said Beaupré. “and also an evolution of how their work developed over the years, especially in the beginning.”

One highlight of the collection is the magazine Anonyme Skulpturen which was printed in 1969 to accompany an exhibition of the Bechers’ work in Düsseldorf. This work would become a monograph of the same name, published in 1970, which is also featured in the Paris show.

The printed objects collected by Beupré represent the Bechers’ work from 1964 to 1977, while a presentation of their monographs, mounted under plexiglass and affixed to the gallery walls, span from 1970 to the present day.

The second section of the Paris show features a selection of 117 photographs chosen by Hilla Becher (Bernd Becher passed away in 2007) from the 1977 book Zeche Zollern II – Photographs of Bernd & Hilla Becher. Together, these prints, objects and publications are a comprehensive tribute to the Bechers’ long and prolific photographic career.


Antoine de Beaupré is a curator and the founder of the Librairie 213 in Paris.

Bernd and Hilla Becher—Printed materials 1964-2012 is on display at Paris Photo from Nov. 15 to 18.

Last Days on the Road with Obama by Brooks Kraft

After months of nearly non-stop campaigning, President Obama and his team have spent the last two weeks crisscrossing the country to make their final appeals to voters. Veteran political photographer Brooks Kraft has been there to document the campaign’s final days.

This was the eighth presidential campaign that Kraft has photographed, and his sixth for TIME. Over the years, he has honed his approach to shooting some of the most photographed men and women in the United States. seo marketing . Kraft rarely takes his pictures from the press platforms, preferring to move around, searching out unique angles and small details.

“I attempt to work around all the messaging and clutter surrounding the candidate, to take photographs that reflect the character of the campaign,” he told TIME.

These photographs, many shot in so-called ‘battleground’ states, capture the energy and exhaustion of a campaign winding down.Kraft captures both the quiet detailsfrom Secret Service agents on a distant roof to a close-up of a pink breast cancer awareness bracelet on the President’s wrist and the dramatic moments ecstatic crowds pressing toward the stage and the President silhouetted against spotlights as he speaks.

Shooting politics for so many years has allowed Kraft to make iconic pictures that transcend the obvious. “Shooting campaigns requires patience and persistence,” he said. “It can take many days of long travel to find images that can last beyond the daily news cycle.”

Brooks Kraft is a Washington D.C.-based photographer.

Behind the Cover: Photographing Super Mario

Like many famous athletes, Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli has developed a reputation for outlandish behavior. But photographer Levon Biss was not worried during his recent TIME International cover shoot with the star, who is currently playing for the British football club Manchester City.

(Read More: Mario Balotelli: The Infamously Mercurial Brilliance of the Soccer Star)

“His personality is very shy, actually,” said Biss. “He wears outrageous clothes and sometimes on the football pitch he does outrageous things, but as a person he is not outrageous, he is very, very shy.”

The shoot did get off to a slightly rocky start when Balotelli arrived at the studio Biss had set up at Manchester City’s training grounds. “He walked in and there were 12 or 13 people in there,” Biss explained. “I think he got quite nervous and walked straight back out again. We had to wait another half-hour for him to come back.”

Despite the delay, the shoot eventually went off without a hitch. To compensate for Balotelli’s discomfort, Biss focused on stylized portraits, rather than action shots. “He looks quite interesting, so you don’t need to do much with him,” said Biss. “He’s got quite a brooding character, so we tried to enhance that with a bit of red lighting and keep the images quite graphic.”

This is not an unusual approach when photographing athletes, who unlike actors and other celebrities, said Biss, are not used to performing for the camera. “These are sports people,” he said. “You have to hinge on what you can do photographically instead of relying on them to come through with a shining personality.”

Biss makes sure to work fast and use a straightforward, no nonsense approach, similar to what his subjects would encounter on the field. Most importantly, Biss, said is keeping the sessions short and sweet.

“They want to be out of there,” said Biss. “If you can get on their side by saying ‘look we’ve got an hour but we can do this in half an hour,’ you are automatically their friend and they will give you what you want straight away.”

Levon Biss is a London-based photographer and regular contributor to TIME.

Violentology: Stephen Ferry Documents the Colombian Conflict

Photographer Stephen Ferry has spent ten years documenting the ongoing internal armed conflict in Colombia — a situation that, he says, is often overlooked or miscast as a ‘drug war’ outside of the country. In his recently-published book, Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict, Ferry presents a comprehensive look at this incredibly complicated and brutal conflict with the use of his own photographs, historical imagery and text.

Printed on heavy newsprint and produced on the rotary press of the Bogota daily newspaper El Espectador, Violentology’s physicality references the tradition of print journalism  an industry which has played a central role in shedding light on many of the atrocities committed in Colombia.

“The point here is not just to present photographs but also that they be accompanied by an investigation that is very serious,” said Ferry. “And all of that really detailed and important and dramatic information is information that came from the Colombian press. So, I wanted the design to reflect my respect for their practice.”

The book’s outsize pages are the width of magazine spreads, another nod to print journalism, but also, Ferry said, a way to get readers to spend time with the tome.

“The topic is a very serious one and its not necessarily a topic that is in the headlines, so I wanted to use whatever visual and design strategies I could in order to slow the readers’ down and keep people’s attention on the subject,” he explains.

Ferry’s Violentology project was awarded the inaugural Tim Hetherington Grant in 2011 by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch. Additional support from the Open Society Institute has helped to make the book available in both Spanish and English versions. Selected chapters are also available as downloadable PDFs.

Stephen Ferry is a photojournalist whose work has received numerous honors from World Press and Magnum Foundation among others. See more of his work here.

Violentology was recently published by Umbrage Editions. See more about the book here

Sailboats and Swans: The Prisons of Russia and Ukraine

What does prison look like?

In her latest body of work,  Sailboats and Swans, Israeli photographer Michal Chelbin challenges viewers to re-imagine the answer to this question. Working with her husband and co-producer, Oded Plotnizki, Chelbin spent three years photographing prisons in Ukraine and Russia from 2008 to 2010.

The pair used a network of connections, built over the 10 years they have worked in the region, to gain incredibly rare access to these facilities. What they found inside surprised them. Instead of grey concrete and steel, there were tropical wallpapers, lace-covered tables and furniture painted in glossy blues and greens. The prisoners in Chelbin’s photographs are not dressed in orange jumpsuits, but the floral housedresses, cloth jackets and rubber sandals common to village life in the region. Religious icons seem as ubiquitous as tattoos.

With only one day to work in each location, Chelbin and Plotnizki carefully explored these strange environments, quietly combing halls and common areas to find subjects for their portraits.

“It’s something I look for in their faces, their gaze,” Chelbin said, adding that it was intuition, rather than any specific characteristics, that guided their choices. “It’s not a formula. Some people have this quality that you can’t take them out of your head,” Plotnizki added.

The mood in each location varied widely. Chelbin and Plotnizki described the tense atmosphere of a young boys’ facility as a “living hell, ” while the residents of a men’s prison “were like zombies.”

But it was a prison for women and children in Ukraine that made the greatest emotional impact on Chelbin, who herself had two young children at the time of the shoot. In one frame from that facility, a nursery attendant dressed in white is pictured leaning on the corner of an oversized crib. Inside, toddlers play with rubber balls that mirror the bright, primary colors of a mural painted on wall behind them (slide #7).

The tired, distant expression of the attendant, whose name is Vika, is the only clue that this isn’t a happy scene. The children, we learn from Chelbin, were born in prison and have never known the outside world. Vika herself is a prisoner–charged with murder. She is also a mother, but cannot visit her own child who has been placed in an orphanage.

Chelbin chose not to ask each prisoner about their crimes until after their portrait sessions. Likewise, in the soon-to-be-released book of this work, captions containing the names and criminal charges of each prisoner are left to the last pages. In this way, viewers do not immediately know that a pair of sisters in matching dresses are in custody for violence and theft, or that a young man, reclining on a green iron bed, has been charged with murder.

There are a huge variety of faces in these portraits. There are young girls with pale, delicate skin and older women whose features are made severe with heavy makeup. There are boys so small they look more suited to grade school than prison and men whose scars indicate years of hard living. In all of them, though, there is a sense of dignity.

“I want people to look at the book and see themselves,” said Chelbin. “The circumstances of life could have brought anyone to this place.”

Michal Chelbin is an Israel-based photographer. See more of her work here

Chelbin’s latest body of work, Sailboats and Swans, will be released on Nov. 1 by Twin Palms Publishers. An exhibition of the work will be on display at the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York City from Oct. 18 to Dec. 22

History in Color: Rare Photographs of Czarist Russia

A bright orange orb hangs just above the horizon under an expanse of blue and yellow sky. It’s hard to take an interesting picture of a sunset, and at first glance, there is nothing remarkable about this one. What is remarkable, however, is that this vivid image was taken a century ago—a time usually seen only in black and white.

The sunset is just one of thousands of color photographs that Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii made between 1905 and 1915. With funding from Czar Nicholas II, he set out to document the diverse people and landscapes of the vast Russian Empire. Prokudin-Gorskii planned to produce images that would be used in classrooms, but the widespread exposure he envisioned for his pictures was not to be.

Without an affordable method for mass reproduction and with the upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution, the photographs languished until the entire collection, including nearly 2,000 glass negatives, was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948. But they too were unable to find a suitable way to present Prokudin-Gorskii’s work until nearly 100 years after they were taken—when digital equipment allowed the library to scan all 1,902 negatives and restore Prokudin-Gorskii’s pictures to their original color.

“His cutting-edge technology met our internet and digitizing cutting-edge technology in just an almost perfect cycle,” said Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the LOC.

Made public through the LOC’s website beginning in 2001, Prokudin-Gorskii’s digitally restored photographs were shared over the web and featured in a number of small exhibitions around the world. People were drawn, Zinkham believes, as much by the format of the pictures as the content.

“It is as rare as hen’s teeth to have color photography from that era,” said Zinkham. “So it just knocks peoples’ socks off, even if you have no direct connection to Russia.”

Among those who discovered Prokudin-Gorskii’s pictures online was Robert Klanten, the publisher of German publishing company Gestalten. “I saw a couple of these photographs and I was immediately in love with them,” said Klanten. This October, Gestalten will release Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II Captured in Color Photographs, which will feature 283 of Prokudin-Gorskii’s works.

Combing through the entire Prokudin-Gorskii collection, Gestalten’s editorial team was particularly drawn to the portraits and scenes from daily life—many of which were shot in a ‘snapshot’ style despite the three-second exposures necessary to create them.

The pictures themselves cover a remarkable range—both geographically and in subject matter. Portraits were taken against backdrops that range from lush Siberian forests to neatly planted fields to a dank and crumbling prison yard in Turkestan. Even simple scenes—a train track cutting through a rock-strewn landscape or mine workers filling horse-drawn carts—are striking when you realize they portray a land on the verge of revolution, both industrial and political. It is even more appropriate, then, that Prokudin-Gorskii captured these scenes with a groundbreaking photographic method.

“Most people think of the past as something that happened in black and white,” said Klanten. The use of color, combined with Prokudin-Gorskii’s less-formal style was revolutionary in photography, according to Klanten. “The way he approached the whole thing is kind of a precursor to modern photography…it is almost a democratic approach to photography.”

Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II Captured in Color Photographs will be released in the U.S. by Gestalten in October. 

You can explore the entire Prokudin-Gorskii collection at the Library of Congress

John Stezaker Awarded the 2012 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

For more than 30 years, artist John Stezaker has used found images as his primary medium. In his compositions, black-and-white studio portraits become surreal two-faced beings; elsewhere, a woman’s face is replaced by the crashing white waves of an illustrated postcard. These collages, which use classic movie stills, vintage postcards and book illustrations, are sliced and re-arranged into entirely new forms—they’re simple constructions, but Stezaker’s eye for the uncanny makes them powerful.

On Sept. 3, Stezaker was awarded the 2012 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, which recognizes a significant contribution to the medium of photography through exhibition or publication, for his presentation of photographic collages last year at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

The £30,000 prize (about $48,000) is organized by The Photographers’ Gallery in London. “Stezaker’s work has been influential on a new generation of image-makers,” said Brett Rogers, the Director of The Photographers’ Gallery, in a statement. “Within the vastness of today’s image flow, Stezaker has managed to resurrect the power and uncanny mystery inherent in the still image using traditional photographic strategies, most especially collage.”

Stezaker’s exhibition at Whitechapel showcased work from the 1970s until today.

“I am dedicated to fascination—to image fascination, a fascination for the point at which the image becomes self-enclosed and autonomous. It does so through a series of processes of disjunction,” Stezaker said in a statement from Whitechapel.

John Stezaker is a London-based artist. See more of his work here.

An exhibition of the artists shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012 is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery, London until Sept. 9.

The Gold Standard: James Nachtwey Photographs China’s Female Weight Lifters

When Chinese scouts set out to recruit athletes for their national women’s weight-lifting team in the late 1990s, they had specific criteria in mind. Calculated research had given them the perfect profile: stoic, quick, powerful and, of course, strong. By 2000, China had one of the most powerful teams in the world, and today, China’s female weight lifters are expected to dominate their competition in London.

(For daily coverage of the 2012 Games, visit TIME’s Olympics blog.)

In May, TIME sent contract photographer James Nachtwey to Beijing to photograph the national women’s weight-lifting team as it prepared for London. The photographs document the making of elite athletes in a country that has quickly become an Olympic powerhouse, earning the most gold medals of any nation in 2008’s Beijing Games.

Nachtwey’s images put faces to China’s supercharged athletic program. Photographed from behind, the arms, legs and shoulders of one team member look as solid as the massive weights she holds, with seemingly little effort, in her calloused hands. In another, Wang Mingjuan, a tiny woman at just 48 kg (106 lb.), lifts a burden that looks as if it would easily stump amateur weight lifters twice her size.

To explain China’s success in the sport, the national team’s coach Xu Jingfa offers a simple explanation: “We do everything together, and we work harder than everyone else.”

That hard work includes six-day weeks of all-day training. The 30 members of the national team wake together at 6:30 a.m. and begin a marathon schedule of exercise, physical therapy and classes that range from weight-lifting techniques to “ideological education.” Weight lifting has consumed their lives since they began training at age 10 or 11. In London, it will become clear just how much this dedication will pay off for China’s strongest women.

Read more about China’s Olympic athletes at TIME.com.

James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer who has covered Sept. 11 and the 2011 Japanese tsunami, among other topics, for the magazine. He was awarded the 2012 Dresden Peace Prize.