Jade Doskow is a New York-based photographer and professor. She is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts and City University of New York, where she teaches architectural and digital photography. She is a photo-blogger for the Huffington Post and has exhibited her work widely. Her work has been featured on WIRED, NPR, and the New Yorker Photo Booth. Her large format photography examines the visual paradox between utopian architecture and its unpredictable current environment.
The 1939 edition of Robert Frost’s Collected Poems contained an introductory essay that wasn’t in the first edition. In that article, entitled “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Frost wrote, “Like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere.”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, acclaimed photographer Joel Meyerowitz began hurling his own experiences ahead of him in 1962. While working as an art director at an advertising agency, Meyerowitz met photographer Robert Frank who was shooting a clothing brochure. Meyerowitz watched Frank move while he photographed, and he had an incredible epiphany. On the way back to the office, Meyerowitz walked the streets of New York for more than an hour. “I felt like I was reading the text of the street in a way that I never had before,” he says.
When he returned to the office, Meyerowitz told his boss, Harry Gordon, that he was quitting. He wanted to be a photographer. Gordon then asked him a crucial question: did he have a camera? The answer was no, so Gordon lent him a 35mm camera and Meyerowitz embarked on the great journey of his life.
Over the next 50 years Meyerowitz exhibited at the MoMA, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, published books and taught photography at Cooper Union. But there was always one place where you had a chance to run into him and become immortalized in his gargantuan body of work. Meyerowitz is, first and foremost, a street photographer. Though he has shot street scenes in France, Germany, Atlanta, Ohio and dozens of places in between, the chaotic streets of New York City make up his favorite studio. “Fifth Avenue is my boulevard,” he says. “No street in the world, and I’ve traveled a lot, has for me the kind of sexy, improvisatory collisions between elegance and lowness. You can see bike messengers and models, billionaires and hustlers, and it’s all out there every day.”
That first day with Robert Frank served as more than just a catalytic inspiration; it laid the foundation for how Meyerowitz would record street life. He bobs and weaves through the throngs of people, searching for that serendipitous moment that becomes a great photograph. “The way someone makes a gesture on the street or the way couples react to each other or the simultaneity of two things happening at the same time and the relationship between them,” are some of the elements he looks for. “It was the wonder of human nature and this incredible capacity for things to keep showing themselves to me,” he says.
When he is shooting on the street, there isn’t much time to contemplate each moment. “Photography takes place in a fraction of a second,” Meyerowitz says. “There isn’t a lot of time to think about things. You have to hone your instinct. You learn to hone that skill and timing so you’re in the right place at the right time.” Although he has made images that have moved audiences for decades, that has never been his true motivation. “I’m not out there to make another ‘great picture,’” he says. “I’m really out there to feel what it feels like to be alive and conscious in that moment. In a sense, the record of my photographs is a record of moments of consciousness and awareness that have come to me in my life.”
This year, the 50th anniversary of when he first took up the camera, Meyerowitz compiled hundreds of his favorite images for the two-volume collection, Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time (Phaidon Press). The project isn’t just a greatest hits collection. “It’s easy to make a book of your very best things and not necessarily have a narrative arc,” he says. “I wanted to stick strictly to the chronology as precisely as I could and show my own development.” The result is a visual biography of an artist who for half a century has snapped moments–fractions of seconds–and preserved them forever. Each tells a unique story that Meyerowitz has used to pave his life. Through the images of people and places and tiny moments in time, one can see a remarkable line of purpose he has created, one that runs fluidly across the experience of his life.
Joel Meyerowitz is a New York City-based photographer. Beginning Nov. 2, his work will be displayed in a two-part solo show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York.
LightBox previously featured Meyerowitz’s photographs of the destruction and reconstruction at Ground Zero.
Jack Latham was born and raised in Wales. He graduated from the Documentary photography course in Newport in 2012. His work often takes on form by the use of large format photography. He lives and works in Brighton
Los Angeles photographer, Tom Paiva, often finds himself working in another reality, creating his photographs long after our heads have hit the pillow. Tom received his BFA from the San Francisco Academy of Art, and for the last 15 years has worked as a freelance photographer specializing in large format photography of industrial and maritime settings, as well as architecture and interiors. Tom is passionate about night photography and is a co-founder of The Nocturnes, an organization dedicated to night photography, and has recently started a blog that celebrates twilight and night photography. What I love about Tom’s work is that his night images elevate industrial structures to epic proportions, the same structures that seen during the day don’t get a second glance.
Tom has a new project, Closed Auto Dealerships, that shot at twilight bring a strange beauty to a sad subject.
Closed Auto Dealerships: Over the past year I have been working on this project of the closed auto dealerships in Los Angeles. Well over 3500 dealerships have closed nationwide, laying off an estimated 200,000 people. This presence is felt in these acres of empty asphalt and boarded up buildings.
This impact was an obvious indicator of the ailing economy and inspired me to take the project on and both document and try and capture that feeling of loss. It is particularly powerful when shot at night. While I was scouting and shooting this project, I thought about the people who worked there and the thriving businesses they once were.
Early on, I decided to shoot this project in 8×10, which gave me the discipline to really study the subject and be very deliberate about composition and lighting.
It’s difficult to make a new kind of portrait of a soldier in an age when they have been depicted in such iconic manner in the media. But in her new book Soldier/Many Wars (Decode, 2011), artist Suzanne Opton does so by staging slight performances in front of her 4×5 camera. Opton asks soldiers returning from war to pose with their head lying sideways, and in that simple gesture, much is revealed. “We are inured to pictures of war,” she says. “This may have more power than a documentary picture. It makes you think. It’s a conceptual photo based on a documentary situation and that’s what I’m interested in.” When she began photographing soldiers back in 2006, around the same time her son would have been of draft age if the draft were still mandatory. “I’d see these young guys with all this gear representing the United States, and you really have no idea who they are,” Opton says. “I wanted to strip all that away and look at them like I would look at my own son.”
Getting to the subjects was not easy. After calling bases around the country a public affairs officer from Fort Drum finally called her back and asked if the project would have political undertones, and Opton said no. “Because the country at the time was so polarized, I wanted it to be about people. It’s about looking at these guys and wondering what they went through. How would they continue with their lives, with something that’s never going to go away—how do you manage your life around that? It’s that process that’s interesting to me and it’s the people. It just makes it so narrow to call it an anti-war project and so dismissible.” After Opton explained that it was an art project, they eventually gave her an appointment, and on three visits, she photographed almost 100 soldiers for the series. “They brought in one person after another, and they were all amazing looking,” she says.
Of her process Opton says, “I think of this a little bit as performance art. They have to keep their heads down and they have to stay in that uncomfortable position while I adjust the camera.” In that time their minds can wander and we see soldiers in a rage of expressions from detached to awkward, to sensual, all enhanced by the light and unique background colors she chooses. “I wanted to make them kind of theatrical because I think there’s a certain kind of glamour to the military and the way it presents and sells itself,” Opton says. “These pictures wouldn’t mean anything if they were just the man on the street. The only way we know they are soldiers is the haircut. Studio pictures are abstracted from life, extracted from a sense of place so the color and light was meant to imply a sense of place. If they were fallen where would they be?”
Opton acknowledges that the photos are difficult to view, particularly for those who have children in the military. In fact, she’s the first to admit that she wouldn’t want her own son photographed that way if he were in the military, but she made the pictures to create a dialogue. Opton has even presented them on billboards around the country in conjunction with exhibitions, playing off a space traditionally reserved for fashion ads or movie posters. “The billboards were interesting because they were ambiguous and that’s what we wanted,” she explained.
Opton first exhibited the images in 2006 at a time when showing the coffins of dead soldiers returning home was banned. Today, there still exists a lot of controversy around publishing photographs of the fallen, and Opton says some people connected to the military were upset she’d shown the soldiers in this vulnerable way as opposed to looking strong or heroic. ”Of course that’s what you want them to be,” Opton says. “But they are also seen from a mother’s point of view or a brother or sister’s point of view…so it’s from that very personal point of view that I wanted to show them.”
In 2004, Christopher Churchill began a personal journey with his vintage Deardorff 8×10 camera, driving thousands of miles across the country to photograph what he describes as “an America that felt divided” and “caught in the middle of a cultural tension.” It was three years after the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the photographer was noticing a palpable intolerance in the country. “Questions of what or who was considered American were very prevalent,” Churchill says. “And religion was in the middle of this debate.” This feeling led him to start asking people about their faith, and the resulting journey is the subject of his Chuchill’s first monograph, American Faith, published this month by Nazraeli Press.
In the introduction of the book, Churchill says, “I had assumed that in order to have faith in your life you must be religious. However, when I would ask individuals I encountered through my travels what they placed their faith in, their responses would be something much more universal and simple than religion.”
Churchill had no specific plan when he set out on the road, but followed an intuitive journey where one subject led to the next. How does someone document a faith or an idea that’s invisible? Churchill began by making formal yet intimate portraits of his subjects. Then he carefully weaved in recorded responses from his subjects to his questions about their beliefs. Thomas Putman of Ponca City, Oklaholma, who was photographed holding his young son, told Churchill, “I believe in God. But everybody has a different belief, and as long as it furthers you in life and gives you a better perspective on the things you do in life, then I don’t really care what you believe in.” The response is one of tolerance mixed with independence that feels intrinsic to American culture.
In the book, portraits are interspersed with landscapes and documentary photographs, adding contemplative spaces. In a photograph of tourists looking out at the majesty of the Grand Canyon, Churchill conjures ideas of American transcendentalism, which holds the idea that one must find themselves thought self reflection, which often takes place alone in nature. An image of such idyll could feel slightly ironic or trite, but not in the style of Churchill’s work. He creates a tableau in soft black and white, where the viewer is gently presented with a space to ponder the majesty themsleves.
Churchill himself was not raised with religion. “I find my faith these days is in my family, the kindness of strangers and or course photography,” he says. “I’ve found that if I can get my brain past the obstacles of any given day and think about time from a larger perspective, there seems to be a path that is perfectly sequential and beyond coincidental. And I find great faith in that.”
American Faith was published this month by Nazraeli Press.
Christopher Churchill is a photographer based in Massachusetts. See more of his work here.
In her projects, Corinne May Botz reveals a dark obsession with domestic space and what lies behind closed doors. Often times the home is used as a stage to explore mysterious moments about life and fears of death. This is evidenced in her past series which include her book The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (The Monacelli Press, 2004), where she photographed models of crime scenes based on actual homicides, suicides and accidental deaths created to train detectives to assess visual evidence. In the project Murder Objects, she photographed household items that were used as evidence in violent crimes, and in Parameters, she explores the homes where agoraphobics live. What eventually comes together in all of this work is an idea of how we use seeing to come to terms with something invisible like crimes we didn’t witness or fears that are unexplainable.
Her latest book Haunted Houses is no different and uses photography as a way of exploring an invisible history of the spaces we live in. Here, Botz tells TIME what inspired the project:
“The first thing that inspired the project were writers like Edith Wharton, Charlotte Bronte and even Toni Morrison. Often these ghost stories were written by women as a means of articulating domestic discontents. I was interested in the idea of a woman being trapped in the home or by domestic space and how this was expressed in history. That combined with the desire to travel led me to photographing the houses.
It has almost become a right of passage for photographer to go on a road trip like Robert Frank or Stephen Shore and traditionally it’s work about public spaces but this project is about private spaces. It’s amazing how many people let me into their homes.
A lot of time I would just show up and knock on the door. When I photographed in haunted houses, I tried to open myself to the invisible nuances of a space. I photographed using a large format camera, with exposures often ranging from a few seconds to a few hours. Though the medium of the visible, photography makes the invisible apparent. By collecting extensive evidence of the surface, one becomes aware of what is missing, and a space is provided for the viewer to imagine the invisible.
I worked on the project, on and off, for 10 years photographing over 100 houses and recording over 50 oral ghost histories. (You can listen to them here)
Unlike the majority of horror films where the ghosts arrive as a result of an inopportune death, or to right a wrong, the inhabitants of these houses are often at a loss for why the ghosts are there, and in some cases the ghost is considered a source of comfort.”
In terms of people…many of them like their ghosts and and the comfort of not being alone, they like these caretakers protecting the house and having these histories attached to their house. They like having their everyday life have some kind of surprise or mystery to it.”
Haunted Houses (The Monacelli Press) is available here. Corinne May Botz’s work is currently part of Crime Unseen at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, which is on display through Jan. 15.
One week after a deadly wildfire killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Oakland and Berkeley, California in 1991, photographer Richard Misrach photographed the aftermath. “There were no police barricades, and people hadn’t really returned,” he says. “It was just completely devastated, very much like a post-apocalyptic movie.”
Misrach decided early on not to show the work, but on the 20th anniversary of the fire, the photographer is finally unveiling his images in a new book published by Blind Spot, which coincides with twin exhibitions at the Berkeley Art Museum and Oakland Museum of California Art, on view through Feb. 5 and Feb. 12, respectively.
“There was so much coverage, it was almost like a media spectacle,” Misrach says of his decision not to publish the pictures right away. “It seemed like the work might get lost, and I wasn’t interested in the news component. I was much more interested in the history.” Misrach mocked up a few photographs into a book maquette shortly after the fire, but he hadn’t really looked at the series as whole until preparing them for his exhibitions. Citing Civil War photographs as a precedent, Misrach says he wanted to allow his images to serve as historical documents, shifting in meaning with time. “The pictures are not of flames. They’re not of not of people fleeing,” he says. “They’re more quiet, meditative and reflective of our relationship with landscape.”
Richard Misrach’s work is in the collections of over fifty major institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is represented by Fraenkel Gallery.
1991–The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath is published by Blind Spot. The accompanying exhibitions are on view at the Berkeley Museum of Art through Feb. 5 and at the Oakland Museum of California from Oct. 15-Feb. 12.