Author Archives: Nicholas Hegel McClelland

Senior Love Triangle: Photographs by Isadora Kosofsky

Three people—Jeanie, 82, Will, 84, and Adina, 90—are bound together in a relationship, a love triangle of sorts, a three-way connection that they rely on to shield them from the pains of loneliness and the fear of aging. Every day the trio meets near their senior-care facilities (each lives at a different location) to spend their remaining days together. Will picks up Jeanie at her care center, greeting her with a long kiss, and the two head hand-in-hand to collect Adina for whatever the day may bring.

Recently, that includes Isadora Kosofsky, who, after the death of the maternal grandmother who raised her, began to search for catharsis through photography. “Grief following my grandmother’s death unconsciously led me to photograph the lives and relationships of the elderly,” Kosofsky says.

The trio’s relationship clearly challenges cultural norms. Will, describing the trio’s bond to Kosofsky, said, “We live above the law. Not outside the law, but above the law. We are not outlaws.” Will, Jeanie and Adina are connected by more than time and space. “There are many different kinds of love,” Adina told Kosofsky. Their relationship, like all relationships, can be frustrating for all three. Jeanie once confided in Kosofsky that “to share Will is a thorn in your side…A relationship between a man and a woman is private. It’s a couple, not a trio.” But despite Jeanie’s misgivings, she must share Will with Adina and Adina must share Will with her.

Kosofsky met Jeanie, Will and Adina three short years after picking up a camera. “I befriended the group because I recognize a part of me in both Jeanie and Adina. Will, too, is familiar to me… a reflection of men I have known,” she says. “When I share in their lives, I am reminded of my adolescence.”

Kosofsky herself is not that far removed from adolescence. She is 18 years old and is now a documentary photographer based in Los Angeles—finding inspiration from photographers like Jane Evelyn Atwood, who spent years documenting one subject. Kosofsky believes long-term projects offer the opportunity of deeper and more poignant storytelling. In her own projects, it is her goal to “devote myself to living amongst my subjects as an occupant, rather than a visitor.”

“The aged are becoming increasingly hidden and disenfranchised. I noticed that even towards the end of my grandmother’s life, she appeared distant from society,” Kosofsky says. The photographer is currently engaged in photographing a three-part series on aging—a subject about which she is passionate. “I feel that age is a perceived barrier and that we too have once, either literally or figuratively, shared their fear of isolation and their wish for acknowledgement,” she explains. “Even when Jeanie and Adina are not present, Will walks with his right hand straight and open at his side, as if he were waiting for someone to hold on.”

Isadora Kosofsky is a Los Angeles-based documentary photographer. More of her work can be seen here.

City on Fire: A Look Inside Changsha in China

Rather than see the city of Changsha fall into Japanese hands during World War II, Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek decided to burn the entire city to the ground in 1938. Out of the destruction, Changsha, now a metropolis of six million, has risen from the ashes.

Photographer Rian Dundon spent the last six years creating a gritty black-and-white exploration of people living and making their way in Changsha, as well as Hunan, in a geometrically evolving civilization. A dizzying place, where “bit-players in the unfolding epic of China’s development” deal with forces beyond their control, he says.

Dundon describes Changsha as “Blade Runner meets Brooklyn: a sprawling warren of ad-hoc concrete, grand boulevards and neon dreams laced with an energy that made me dizzy.” After six years living and working in China, the photographer has begun composing a book dummy and is selling advance copies via emphas.is to help fund its publication.

The photographer originally moved to China thinking it was only a yearlong commitment, tagging along with his then-girlfriend who had landed a position teaching English for Princeton University. Living in China subverted Dundon’s imagination, and he found himself surprised by the disparity between what he had envisioned and what he actually found. “I had expected something more exotic, more foreign,” he says. “My notions of China were of a place removed from the rest of the world.”

Dundon began to learn Mandarin in the city’s pool halls, counting balls in Chinese, and practicing his language skills with local billiards sharks and spectators. He befriended a liquor salesman and a bar owner who introduced him to a grittier side of the city’s nightlife. By day, he explored Changsha, soaking in the rhythm and the texture of the place. “I did my best to absorb everything, every bit of local language or news or culinary offering. And I photographed, always photographed. Only now I wasn’t just a visitor or a journalist,” he says. “Without a story to cover or a deadline to meet, I consigned myself to the sensuality of living, engaging with the people I met and staying open to different modes of experience,” Dundon wrote in his project outline.

“After one year I knew I had only scratched the surface. There were so many layers to dig through. And there’s no way to rush this kind of thing,” Dundon says. Despite the fact that his girlfriend left after a year, Dundon ended up staying in China for six.

Rather than take a traditional journalistic approach, Dundon photographed in a more experiential way. In his work, Dundon found himself “trying to maintain a continuous sense of personal narrative in my work—a unifying perspective. In China I was more interested in atmosphere and attitude than a strictly defined subject or story,” Dundon says. “And I had to accept the fact that I knew nothing. That only by staying open to different tracks of experience would I be able to produce something honest. I needed to give up control. Allow myself to be led.”

In Changsha, Dundon befriended a crew of funeral planners, cemetery consultants and speculators. “The death business is booming in China. Most of them were young kids fresh out of college who kept a canny sense of humor despite the somber surroundings,” he says. Despite the growth opportunities in the industry, these ambitious youths were stuck in an odd interstitial area, between the cultures of both ancient and modern China. The power and presence of sprits and ghosts is still respected by many Chinese, and for this group, that meant keeping their work secret—save for a small cadre of family members and friends. “Most people don’t want to get close to someone who spends their days with the dead. And that shared experience of exclusion was the glue that bound their tightly knit group together.”

Dundon took a trip home to rural Liling County with one of his Changsha confederates. “He told me that nobody in his village could know what he really did for a living.” Dundon says. Despite his success in the city, “he was still forced to lie about his job when he went home for holidays. After tasting city life he said he could never move home again.”

Rian Dundon is an American photographer. See more of his work here.

Objects of Sex: ‘Wired’ at the Kinsey Institute

As a child, Sarah Sudhoff wanted to be a doctor. Her maternal grandparents were in the medical field, and she grew up with a healthy fascination for the human body. It’s fitting, then, that much of Sudhoff’s work relates to the human body and its frailty, a topic she finds instantly relatable. “I’m a naturally curious person and often seek photographic subjects that are less mainstream,” the Texas-based fine art photographer says. “I prefer pieces that leave a residue longer after I’ve walked away from the object or seen the photograph.”

Sudhoff had the chance to explore her passions in depth after she participated in the annual juried art exhibition at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Ind., in 2008. Her image, titled Exam 2, was selected for inclusion in the show and now hangs permanently in the Kinsey Institute. After her selection for the show, the photographer was invited to visit the Institute by Catherine Johnson-Roehr, curator of art, artifacts and photographs, as the Kinsey Institute’s first artist in residence in 2010.

“I spent four days absorbing medical journals and textbooks dedicated to the treatment of women in the early 20th century as well as hundreds of photographs of the female nude from the same time period,” Sudhoff says of her visit. “However on the last day of my residency, I witnessed a research assistant washing out a medical device in a small sink—the trough portion of the Biothesiometer. Although a rather routine event for everyone else at the Kinsey Institute, I was caught completely off guard yet intrigued.”

Up until that point, Sudhoff had not realized that psycho-physiological research was still being conducted at the Institute. “I stared at the instrument, wondering about the identity of the volunteer subject and the test being conducted. It was a potent reminder that sexual research is still happening, and it is just as pressing, and taboo, as it was 60 years ago,” she says.

This unexpected occurrence served as a catalyst for the project entitled Wired. In 2011, Sudhoff journeyed back to Bloomington to catalog many of the devices, both contemporary and vintage, that the Institute has used in its research.

“I spent months in the planning stages of the project, acquiring permission and arranging for my flight and accommodations. I only spent one weekend shooting,” she says. “I visited during Indiana University’s spring break while the Kinsey Institute was officially closed. It assured me uninterrupted time to work as well as prevented me from accidentally encountering volunteer research participants.”

Sudhoff believes some of our attitudes towards sex and our sexual selves have changed since the Kinsey Institute began its work, but much of the country is still quite conservative about sex and sexual acceptance.

“A few years ago, my husband went to a drugstore to purchase condoms. The woman behind him in line asked in a serious voice, ‘What, you don’t want to have children?’ ‘Not yet,’ my husband replied.” Sudhoff found herself both shocked and fascinated by the comment. “I found it interesting that a stranger was irritated enough to say something about our sexual habits and discuss them publicly, but at the same time, pass judgment on our choice to practice safe sex,” she said. “It left me wondering why it is only appropriate to discuss sex when it’s for reproduction and not for pleasure?”

Sudhoff still views the project as a work in progress and she’s exploring the possibility of adding additional devices to the series from research institutes like the Kinsey. “I’m not sure how the inclusion of another space and their instruments will work conceptually and aesthetically, but I feel it’s worth investigating,” she says.

Sarah Sudhoff is a fine art photographer based in Texas. See more of her work here.

Distorted Smile: Weegee’s Mona Lisa

Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, made a name for himself as a crime photographer in New York in the 1930s and 1940s, creating gritty scenes of the horrors of urban life.

After ditching his career as a photojournalist, Weegee moved to Los Angeles in 1947. It was in California that he began experimenting with distorted images, photographing celebrities, news clippings and even scenes from television. Though he produced distorted images of a wide range of subjects from presidents to movie stars, Weegee turned his surrealist lens on the classical world’s most famous painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, in the late 1950sHis photographic homages to the da Vinci masterpiece feature one with an elongated forehead, one with a square face and another image with two sets of eyes. In one picture, the photographer even manages to flip her enigmatic smile upside down.

Recently, the Prado in Madrid confirmed its copy of the masterpiece was painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students in the master’s studio at the same time da Vinci was working on his own Mona Lisa. “The copy invites you to see it with new eyes,” says Prado curator Miguel Falomir of the museum’s version, which features vibrantly restored colors and definition.

While there are no shortage of homages to the da Vinci masterpiece, Weegee’s surrealist interpretations of the Mona Lisa are beautiful and unique in their own right. They also invite the viewer to revisit the iconic painting with ‘new eyes’—but hopefully not two sets of them.