TIME photography

How Eliot Elisofon Brought an Artist’s Eye to Social Problems

For this LIFE photographer, modern art and social documentation could coexist in a single frame

War correspondent, art collector, color consultant, creative director, world traveler — there were very few things Eliot Elisofon didn’t do during his long tenure as a staff photographer for LIFE Magazine. But as diverse as his talents were, they can all be traced to the first two jobs he ever held: artist and social worker.

Elisofon, whose work is featured in an exhibit at New York City’s Gitterman Gallery through April 18, would come to be known as one of the first photographers to extensively document Africa in photographs. But he made a compelling body of work on more familiar territory long before making his way onto LIFE’s payroll. Born in New York’s Lower East Side in 1911, Elisofon received a degree in social science from Fordham University in 1933. While studying and after graduation, he took a job as a social worker for the New York State Labor Department, snapping photos in his spare time.

An admirer of Margaret Bourke-White and Picasso, Elisofon nursed a soft spot for painting that grew into a full-fledged portfolio of watercolors exhibited at museums and galleries around the world. As sensitive to light, texture and composition as he was to urban decay and social injustice, Elisofon’s early work was a combination of modern art and photojournalism, a blend that evolved over his lengthy career and positioned him as a versatile shooter. He was as comfortable creating Hollywood glamor shots as he was making candid portraits of African tribal leaders.

Like many young photographers, Elisofon’s first paying jobs were in advertising. While he would later revisit the techniques he learned from commercial photography, Elisofon had a fierce sense of artistic integrity and a keen understanding of the challenges artists face in making meaningful work while still earning a living.

In a 1953 lecture hosted by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America on “The Ethics and Morals of Creative Expression,” Elisofon explored the moral responsibility of the artist:

Am I immoral if I compromise my career? I began as a photographer in a commercial studio who spent the weekends photographing slum conditions in New York City. Some of my first magazine assignments were negative social reports in the South. I discovered that although great interest was shown by a few people in these studies that I could not get these stories published. Photography, and especially photo-reportage, is a medium which requires an audience. It soon became apparent to me that my career was at a standstill and I became a photographer of wider scope doing a variety of stories from the stars of Hollywood to the Atlantic Coast of the United States in order to gain recognition. I also managed to obtain assignments which interested me and which I felt had real value.

If Elisofon felt he had compromised by photographing celebrities, you’d never know it to look at the photos, as he approached these shoots with the same care and attention that he gave his work in Africa and on city streets. Equal parts technical virtuoso and acute observer, he saw social issues with an artist’s eyes, and documented them as a concerned photojournalist. His ability to turn urban decay into abstract art in his early work was an indication of the kind of duality and balance he would maintain throughout his career. He believed in the power of photography to inspire change, but he never underestimated the value of a beautiful image.

Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

TIME On Our Radar

Explore the Dark Side of YouTube with Artist Doug Rickard

“I knew this work was going to be darker,” says the visual artist Doug Rickard. “As I started to dive into the footage, I realized that there was an extra motive for posting videos on YouTube, and often it was a rather dark motive in itself.”

In 2012, Rickard presented his take on the American landscape using Google Street View. Now, he is sifting through the massive online video cache to reveal, in still frames, the things that go unnoticed among the ubiquity of virtual imagery.

In Rickard’s work, the media is central to the message, though his final product, whether it’s a print, a photo book or a video installation, is helplessly alone, removed from any identifying context that could concretely explain what we’re seeing. What is clear from NA, his latest project, is that digital imagery, whether in video or still form, is loaded with interactive tension.

Clicks, likes and views are encouraging people to exploit each other online, Rickard suggests, as the line between public and private becomes increasingly blurred in a confusing and caustic digital landscape. “I think the technology is embedding a new dynamic that is voyeuristic in terms of the audience and their appetite for voyeurism, and also predatory, in terms of why people are posting photos or videos and what their motivations are,” he says.

Rickard, who describes himself as an artist working with digital technologies, has faced a fair amount of push back for his work, as photography purists take issue with his appropriation of images. His actual process of creating images, however, presents a counter argument. For both New American Pictures, his street view project, and NA, Rickard sets up a digital camera on a tripod in front of a dedicated screen that mirrors a second screen that he uses to navigate. He then performs exhaustive keyword searches and scans the results, and with a shutter release cable in his left hand and a mouse in his right, selects a broad swath of material to work from. From there, he says the most crucial and aesthetically critical part of his process begins: editing.

“I’m stitching together what I feel is a vision that’s cohesive, and yet has elements that are distinct; elements that are connected,” he says. “It’s a whole dance of moving parts that have to do with color and light and shadow – all the elements that traditional photography deals with – so I would get to a point where I could look at thumbnails on a screen as I’m going through search categories and recognize before I view the video if the lighting, or the color was going to work out.”

That same sense of stitched-togetherness translates to the physical pages of the book, which is laid out in an off kilter, almost disorienting way. Images are separated at times by varying blocks of black space, spread unevenly across one or two pages, while others are pushed uncomfortably close together, barely split by the seam of the book, emphasizing the uneasy viewing experience Rickard says he intentionally subjects his audience to.

“I’m not satisfied anymore with the most simple or visually pleasing of layouts,” Rickard says. “You need interruptions of sorts and take things out of perfect symmetry in order to carry the ark of a book through and prevent complacency on the part of the viewer. There’s an intent to mix that up.”

The physical layout of the book is part of Rickard’s larger mission to embed deep layers of subtext into his projects, both by completely removing his source material from its native platform and format, but also by choosing to show images that he sees as socially, politically and historically loaded. His aesthetic cynicism is most often aimed at America, questioning in images the various ways American ideals and values are distorted.

“I’m so focused on the idea of America and the idea of what we present, and then a different idea of the way things may really be, and what we present in terms of American history as opposed to the way that history actually went down,” he says. “There are constant gaps between the way we want to see ourselves, the way we think other nations see us, and then the way we actually are. I can’t get off of that.”

And perhaps there’s no reason to. Visual imagery uploaded online is transient at best, but for Rickard, they illustrate larger, darker issues of racism, class inequality and hypocrisy. As images continue to fall haphazardly into the ethers of the internet, Rickard is sifting through them, pulling from our collective virtual consciousness the angst, irony and at times outright aggressiveness we exhibit on quasi-public online forums, but prefer to ignore in the real world.

Doug Rickard is a multimedia artist based in California. His new book NA will be published in December, 2014 by DAP.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

TIME Culture

In Praise of D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus: ‘We Were Beholders’

For six decades, and in more than 50 movies, filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus have reinvented and reinvigorated the very nature of documentary storytelling.

In 1953, Donn Alan “D. A.” Pennebaker produced and directed his first film, Daybreak Express, a vivid, dizzying tribute to New York City’s elevated subways. The film pays tribute to a day in the life of a bustling city, but omits any traditional narration in favor of a stirring soundtrack by Duke Ellington. As the sun rises and sets on subway cars and city buildings, Pennebaker’s camera chugs along at a perfect pace with the music. Clocking in at just over 5 minutes long, the film packs the energy of a full day into a series of straightforward observations and disorienting abstractions, without ever missing a beat.

Having cast off his early ambitions to become an engineer, Pennebaker set out on his own, seeking like-minded and entrepreneurial individuals to join him on a quest to create artful films that nevertheless captured reality. His search would eventually lead him not only to his wife and filmmaking partner, Chris Hegedus, but to a cast of characters who would go on to change the very nature of documentary storytelling.

In the years after Daybreak Express, Pennebaker continued crafting on-the-fly films that followed real people through their daily lives. In 1954, his attempt to film his toddler during a day at the zoo turned into a rollicking chase through Central Park that became the black-and-white short film Baby, a film he said forced him to let go of any narrative structure he might have had, and let the subject dictate where the film was going. In 1959 he filmed Opening in Moscow, a Kodachrome exploration of an America-centric Russian trade fair that also marked his first collaboration with legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles.

“In Russia, we would go out to the countryside, away from Moscow, and try to film the locals,” Pennebaker recently told LIFE.com “But the problem was, we couldn’t do dialog. I saw what we were doing as a kind of theater, and you need dialog for theater. So the idea of getting dialog into these films became very important. We needed sound, but there were no cameras that could do it. Sync cameras were around, but they were heavy and you had to use them in a studio. We wanted something that we could bring anywhere, and that required machinery that didn’t yet exist.”

Pennebaker and his colleagues would go on to develop a lightweight, portable, sync-sound camera with financial support from LIFE magazine and the visionary leadership of Robert Drew, a writer and editor who was pushing the weekly magazine to approach journalistic filmmaking with the same care and attention it paid to documentary photography. Drew’s work with LIFE, and later with his own production company, Drew Associates, effectively laid the groundwork for the cinéma vérité movement in America.

“There was a lot of excitement when these films first appeared,” Chris Hegedus recalls. “No one had followed real-life stories in that way before, and they really were trying to do something that LIFE magazine had started to initiate with its photojournalism, and take it a step further. I remember when I saw the first vérité films, I was given the feeling of really being there, and that had to do with both the picture and the sound. Since then, we’ve looked for stories like that, following people who are passionate about something in their lives and are taking some kind of risk, and we somehow convince them to bring us along on their journey.”

The journey that started in the early 1950s on the New York City subway has now spanned more than a half-century and produced more than 50 films, including 1967’s explosive concert documentary, Monterey Pop; 1965’s Don’t Look Back, Pennebaker’s revealing feature on Bob Dylan; and 1993’s The War Room, chronicling Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Pennebaker and Hegedus are being honored for their work this fall in both the weekly film series Stranger Than Fiction, which, in its 10-year history, has never before dedicated an entire season to a single filmmaking team, and by DOC NYC, New York’s largest documentary film festival, which will present the pair with a lifetime achievement award on Nov. 14, 2014.

Despite the accolades, Pennebaker says he owes much of his success to the subjects themselves, and the dedication of the team he worked with to pursue stories in a way that had never been done before.

“We weren’t dependent on things we couldn’t control,” he says today. “We weren’t really directors. We were beholders.”

Krystal Grow is a contributor to LIFE.com and TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale

TIME Culture

Arthur Rothstein’s Return: A Master’s Photographs Come Home to Columbia

LIFE.com explores the work of the prolific 20th-century photographer Arthur Rothstein, whose work is now included in the permanent collections of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library in New York City.

The Great Depression was one of the most dismal periods in American history—and, paradoxically, one of the most photogenic. Hired by the U.S. government under FDR’s visionary Farm Security Administration, documentary heavyweights like Gordon Parks, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange made photographs during the Depression that have come to exemplify the era. But in a sense, the FSA’s operation really took root at Columbia University in New York, where Roy Stryker, a Columbia professor tapped by the Roosevelt administration to lead the fledgling photo project, recruited Arthur Rothstein, the first official photographer of the FSA.

Rothstein, born in 1915 and raised in the Bronx, was a largely unsung hero of the now-legendary government-run documentary collective, first conceived as part of Roosevelt’s series of New Deal initiatives meant to help bolster a devastated economy. A promising Columbia student who majored in chemistry and founded the university’s first camera club, he was recruited by Stryker and professor Guy Tigwell to set up what would become the official FSA darkrooms and photo studios. He was also enlisted to purchase equipment that future photographers on assignment for the government’s first photo agency would use to document a country in crisis.

After setting up shop in Washington, D.C., Rothstein, then just 20 years old, went out on assignment, shooting stacks of pictures for Stryker and the FSA, many of which have now made their way back to Columbia. Thousands of Rothstein’s original prints, donated by the Rothstein family and spanning his entire career, are part of the permanent collection of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. It took two years for the collection to be fully processed and cataloged.

“It was important to the family to maintain the Columbia connection,” said Carole Ann Fabian, Director of the Avery Library. “They had a long history with the school, and with the city, and really wanted to see the work here for people to research and for students to discover.”

Rothstein’s work for the FSA took him across the country, and he would go on to document much of Europe, India, Myanmar (then called Burma) and China for the United States Signal Corps. As the chief photographer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, he captured powerful images of the Great Chinese Famine of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A gifted editor and graphic designer, Rothstein also served as the Director of Photography for LOOK and Parade magazines, though according to Fabian he always referred to himself as the “technical director” for publications he worked with. An engineer at heart, Rothstein was also the principle inventor of a machine called the X-o-Graph, a device that could reproduce images and make them appear three-dimensional.

While the collection at Columbia includes a vast survey of Rothstein’s own work, it also includes notes, letters, paperwork and photographs from his personal collection. A quick scan of Columbia’s newly compiled and exhaustively cataloged research guide shows prints by FSA colleagues Evans and Lange, as well as seminal figures like Lewis Hine, Julia Margaret Cameron and Matthew Brady.

“The Arthur Rothstein Photograph Collection is stunning in its power, scope, technical prowess and beauty,” Fabian told LIFE.com. “We are thrilled to receive this important body of materials and we look forward to intensive study of this archive by the research community.”

The acquisition will be officially announced at Columbia University on Oct. 28th, and will include an exhibition and speeches by Columbia faculty and staff. The event is open to the public, but RSVPs should be sent to Avery-Friends@libraries.cul.columbia.edu, as space may be limited.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to LIFE.com and TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University is one of the most comprehensive collections relating to architecture and the fine arts in the world. Avery collects a full range of primary and secondary sources for the advanced study of architecture, historic preservation, art history, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archaeology.

TIME On Our Radar

How 12 Exhibitions, Two Museums and One Gallery Changed Photography Forever

A new book by Contrasto explores how exhibitions shaped the evolution of photography and helped establish it as a unique and powerful art form

The history of photography is often explored via moments, movements, and individual practitioners. Strangely, these watershed events are typically removed from the vehicle which allowed them to be experienced by a wider audience: the exhibition.

From its humble beginnings as slow paced, painterly depictions of quiet streets and cluttered window sills, photography began to expand the moment it was put on display, and continued to evolve as people began to organize and curate it in a way that used to be reserved to more traditional art forms. In the book, Photo Show, published by Contrasto, editor Alessandra Mauro has identified a series of landmark exhibitions that, she says, shaped not only the history of photography, but its evolution as a distinct art form and modern means of communication.

“The special, crucial thing that affects photography is its special relationship with reality, and for this reason, I think there is a deep, narrative heart to photography. It has its own language, and photo exhibitions are ways of telling stories about reality,” Mauro says. “Some exhibitions stood out very clearly. The Family of Man, of course, was a seminal exhibition. We are all, you could say, sons of Family of Man.”

The 1955 photo show was curated by Edward Steichen, the 2nd director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. MoMA was an early supporter of photography as an art form worthy of wall space, and would become a bastion of photographic activity over the following half-century. The Family of Man was a truly epic undertaking for MoMA’s young photo department, and included 503 photographs by 273 photographers representing 68 different countries. Unconventional and completely unprecedented at its time, most of the photos were displayed unframed, mounted to slabs of masonite and hung from the ceiling- suspended in mid-air. The show followed a distinct, narrative path, leading viewers through a three dimensional photo collage that occupied the entire second floor of the museum.

Steichen’s monumental exhibition set a precedent that Mauro says can be traced through the remainder of the 20th century and came full circle in 2001 with the opening of here is new york: a democracy of photographs, an egalitarian exhibition of images taken in the midst and immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Staged in a vacant storefront in downtown Manhattan, the show opened on Sept. 25, and included hundreds of photographs submitted to the show’s curators, who scanned and reprinted the images and hung them, unframed, with wires that criss-crossed the makeshift gallery space. The idea was to create an exhibition that could tell in images what words could not express, and to present a platform for everyone capable of capturing an image in those harrowing moments, a place to show them, and the opportunity for a grieving city to collectively reflect.

"Here is New York: Remembering 9/11" Exhibit

“The fact that everyone could be called to submit pictures, no matter if they were photographers or amateurs, is something that really changed completely the perception of what photography is and what photography can be,” Mauro says, adding that the exhibition was also one of the first to rely heavily on the power of the internet to share and collect images.

Over time, the photo show has served as a nucleus of ideas, Maruo says, from Daguerre in Paris and Steiglitz in New York, to fine-art photojournalism and the rise of contemporary photography. While Photo Show covers a substantial time line that runs parallel to the invention of photography and all its subsequent evolutions, Mauro says that it is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather, a new perspective to approach the medium from. “It was clear to me, that before everything, photography must be shown – must be demonstrated – and the exhibition is a demonstration, so that was my starting point, and this book is an attempt to see exhibitions as a key to the history of photography.”

Alessandro Mauro is a curator and the Editorial Director of Contrasto Publishing House, Italy.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale


TIME On Our Radar

Eerie Photos of Japan’s Coast

“I remember my parents taking me to the beach,” says photographer Asako Narahashi. “The coastline of Japan is very long and complex. There are beaches and mountains. They all have their unique expressions.”

In her latest book, Ever Aftera continuation of her 2008 masterpiece half awake and half asleep in the water – Narahashi shows the geography of Japan from a dreamy, desolate and disconnected perspective. Floating off the coastline, Narahashi lifts her camera just above the water, and makes a photograph. The images that appear are split, at times almost completely in half, with the lower frame practically submerged, while the peak of Mt.Fuji or another far-off landmark rises just above the glistening ripple of a breaking wave.

“When I started this project, I wanted to see and depict Japan as an island,” she said, admitting that at first, she didn’t have any strong attachment to the places she was photographing from afar. But after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, people began to see an eerie tension and trepidation in her waterlogged imagery.

“That was really shocking to me, so I stayed away from taking photos in Japan for a while,” she said. “I didn’t want to take pictures of the water anymore.” She traveled to the Netherlands instead and made images on dry land that continued her photographic exploration of disconnected landscapes, but did not return to the water until friends encouraged her to visit Nojiri Lake, near Nagano, Japan. “It was a challenge getting back to this work,” she said, “but visiting this lake was something of a rehabilitation for me, and allowed me [to find] a way back into photographing in Japan again”

Her photographs, which she had called “happy coincidences,” became reminders of the darker, more ominous side of the natural world, and our helplessness in the face of destruction. That sense of resignation is as calming as it is unsettling in Ever After, as Narahashi’s floating photographs feel listless, but not carefree – certainly not the sort of photos one would take on a leisurely day at the beach. The distance she creates between herself, the camera and the landscapes is powerfully serene and dreadfully solitary.

While not all of the images in Narahashi’s book are underwater, she still manages to creates a distinct sense of separation that makes the viewer acutely aware of just how little we know about the landscapes that surround us. “After the disaster, those words ‘ever after’ were always with me. I found myself repeating them, like the end of a fairy tale,” she said. “The work is more complex now.”

Asako Narahashi is a photographer based in Japan. Her book Ever After is published by Osiris

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale

TIME technology

Capturing a Great White Shark with a GoPro

Depending on your perspective, Amanda Brewer either had the best, or worst summer vacation ever.

The elementary school art teacher snapped the photo above of a Great White Shark in South Africa where she volunteered this summer to collect data for the eco-tourism and animal conservation organization White Shark Africa. A lifelong lover of the typically terrifying sea-beasts, Brewer said that her time in the waters of Mossel Bay were some of the most fascinating and rewarding of her life.

“I wasn’t even a little bit frightened,” she said. “When you’re there and you’re in their presence, it’s not scary. They’re beautiful and graceful, and you can see how intelligent they are.”

The photo was taken totally off the cuff with the a GoPro camera, Brewer said. And while she’d experimented with nature and candid photography, had no way of knowing if the image she saw as the giant shark approached her with its jaws wide open, was the image she’d actually captured on camera.

“I bought the camera right before I left for the trip, and had no expectations at all,” she said. “It was the perfect moment, and the camera is so easy to use and takes such magnificent photos. I’d been waiting for this kind of experience my whole life, and was worried that when it finally happened I’d ruin it, but that photo was taken from the cage and the shark was just coming straight at me. It happens so fast when you’re actually there.”

Brewer said she took multiple images during her adventures among the sharks in South Africa, but none as dramatic as this single frame of the Great White Shark. When she returned to the U.S., the New Jersey school teacher hung the photo in her classroom, and said that her students were enthralled by her close encounter, but also inspired by her passion for animal conservation.

“I knew immediately that that photo was going to do something,” she said. “It’s a motivation for them to see that image, and be excited by it, and to realize that they could do that too, if they wanted. And even though some people may see the image and think it’s terrifying, if 350,000 people can talk about it in one day, at least people are talking and having conversations about these beautiful animals.”

Amanda Brewer is a New Jersey based educator and a volunteer with White Shark Africa in Mossel Bay

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instgram @kgreyscale

TIME Out There

Stephen Shore: Defacto Photographer of Andy Warhol's Factory

A rare look inside Andy Warhol's Factory, shot by an 18-year-old Stephen Shore, whose exposure to the legendary pop artist would inform his own career as a legendary photographer

In 1965, Stephen Shore was 18, and living the dream of every artist-in-the-making at that particular moment – he was the defacto photographer of Andy Warhol’s factory.

Just four years earlier, the brassy teenager made a personal phone call to Edward Steichen, then the curator of the Museum of Modern Art, to request a meeting. Steichen accepted the request, and acquired three of Shore’s images for the museum’s collection. The following year, Steichen’s successor John Szarkowski purchased two more of the young photographer’s prints, placing Shore in a small circle of New York City artists on the brink of being the next big thing, which made him a natural in Warhol’s world.

In Stephen Shore: Survey, a new book published by Aperture and Fundacion MAPRE, his work from the Factory stands out for its starkness. Basked in unassuming black-and-white, the people Shore highlighted in his photographs outshone the neon-pop-art Warhol was known for. All striped shirts, straight-leg jeans and shaggy haircuts, larger-than-life personalities such as Lou Reed and Edie Sedgwick became refreshingly accessible in Shore’s photos. His images were so shockingly mundane they demystified the mythology that was (and still is) in orbit around the Factory. That same deadpan visual delivery would reveal itself in Shore’s later work, amplified by Kodachrome’s colors.

In the years that followed the Factory, Shore revolutionized photography with his colleagues with color, an aesthetic shift that mirrored Warhol’s fascination with industrial/mechanical processes and the serial reproduction of images. Color photography, at that time, was a commercial process, meant for advertising and other non-art purposes, but Shore used it in a way that exposed its artistic potential, much like Warhol did for silkscreen printing.

In 1995, Shore published The Velvet Years, a book on his time at the Factory, and in it, wrote that while he was confident in his abilities as a photographer when he first encountered Warhol, watching the iconic artist at work was pivotal in how he came to see himself as an artist, and helped shape the way he thought about his own work.

“I think I was still very naive,” Shore reminisced. “I saw Andy making aesthetic decisions; it wasn’t anything he ever said to me. I saw these decisions happening over and over again. It awakened my sense of aesthetic thought. I had to do more with the framework that the work was seen in. I think I learned by observing, not observing him in order to learn, just by being exposed to the decisions and the actions he was making. By the end of my stay at the Factory, I found that just my contact with, and observation of Andy led me to think differently about my function as an artist. I became more aware of what I was doing.”

Stephen Shore is a photographer and director of the photography program at Bard College in New York. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, George Eastman House, the Hammer Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others. His latest book will be published by Aperture in October, 2014. An exhibition of his most recent work from Ukraine and Israel is on display at the 303 gallery through Nov. 1, 2014.

Aperture and Fundacion MAPFRE have published Stephen Shore: Survey to coincide with the photographer’s first-ever retrospective exhibition. It includes more than 250 images produced between 1969 and 2013, spanning Shore’s impressive career.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

TIME Out There

Inside the Unseen Photo Fair, Where Photography is 'Under Construction'

The Unseen Photo Fair and Festival in Amsterdam offers a new way to look at photography

The Unseen Photo Fair and Festival might be the best kept secret in the art-fair circuit.

Not that Unseen is unknown, but the Amsterdam-based photo fair is for its third year unveiling a cache of new work to the art world that not only promises to be unusual and enlightening, but backs up its claims to promote groundbreaking new work by encouraging an open dialog around the purpose of photography, its evolution as a medium, and its place in the art market.

Launched by Foam, the Dutch photography museum and magazine, Unseen aims to close the gap between artists and audience, curator and collector, photography and contemporary art. “Unseen is about creating this platform for new photography and photography talent, but we also want to engage a broad public, not only by looking at photography, but by giving people a helping hand in really looking at photography in a different way,” said Sasha Stone, Managing Director of Unseen.

In one of three major exhibitions on display in Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (which will open during Unseen), ‘Under Construction,’ features work by artists that the Unseen consortium believes are breaking down barriers and rebuilding an art form that has undoubtedly survived more shaky transitions and drastic upheavals than most mediums combined.

“Ten years ago, the conversation of analog versus digital was a technical question. For theses artists, this discussion is gone. [It’s] no longer exciting, no longer a question. It’s far more from a conceptual point of view,” said Marcel Feil, Editor of Foam magazine and Deputy Director of Artistic Affairs for Foam Museum.

Unseen has embraced what is sees as a new generation of artists, who are questioning the very nature of photography itself, and see no reason why a photograph can’t be self-referential while drawing from classical Greek sculpture, 1980’s abstraction, performance art, and the internet, all within the same frame.

“They show an image that is always constructed. These aren’t image takers, they’re image makers,” Feil said, “and I think it relates, more or less, to a shattered reality. This is a generation post-Cold War, post 9/11, post NSA and Edward Snowden. So a lot of things that were certainties are far more complex and layered, and you can see those layers, those complexities in the way they build and create images.”

Add the art market and its never ending ups and downs, as well as the photographic dependence on technology and consumerism to those existing layers, and you’re diving head first into some of the most complicated socio-political questions on the table. But at Unseen, those questions, posed by young artists and ‘image makers,’ and discussed by curators, critics, and collectors, are building a bigger frame-of-reference for artists, and their audience, to experience art.

Unseen Photo Fair and Festival takes place in Amsterdam from Sept. 18 – Sept. 20

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

TIME Out There

How Smartphones Have Changed the Way We Experience Photography

Smartphones have not only changed the way we make photos, but also the meaning and purpose of photography itself, an exhibition at the Center for Photography at Woodstock shows

From film reels to memory cards to cell phones, it seems perfectly logical to trace the roots of the last dozen seismic shifts in photography to the physical devices used to capture images, but an exhibit at the Center for Photography at Woodstock has taken a more philosophical approach to the rise of smartphones and their drastic impact on the way we use and respond to photography.

The Space Between: Redefining Public and Personal in Smartphone Photography is curated by photographer and film maker Henry Jacobson, and through a survey of 10 photographers, one collective and one collaborative project, delves into the never-ending debate around smartphones and their function as cameras capable of capturing a moment in time and distributing it all over the world in a matter of seconds.

“Photography has always depended on technology, and every change in technology has affected the history of photography, but the smartphone, in its nature, is a device that is not for photography. It’s a device that is for communication,” Jacobson tells TIME. “It makes perfect sense that a new kind of photography would evolve from that.”

The exhibition at Woodstock not only attempts to explain this shift, but also to bridge the gap between the screen of a smartphones and the walls of a gallery, a process Jacobson says legitimizes work that, until very recently, was dismissed by editors and gallerists alike. But as photographers adopt smartphones as cameras and adapt to social media, Jacobson says they’ve realized that platforms like Instagram and Tumblr can provide exciting and accessible ways to produce and distribute images.

“The purpose of photography is changing, and as a photographer, on some level, you have to address that,” Jacobson says. “I think there is a lot of amazing photography out there, but I was looking for people for whom the question of the camera, the question of ‘How is photography evolving,’ is a central theme in their smartphone work through images where the technology itself is both consciously reflected and explored in a way that’s pushing their own traditional photography to places that they’d never expected.” Some photographers included in the show are veteran photojournalists like Mark Peterson, who uses Instagram’s filters and editing features to visually amplify his work, turning his political photographs into call-backs to B-movie posters and dramatized campaign advertizements.

Through cross-continental collaborations like Tiny Collective, whose members contribute images to a single feed, and Echo/Sight, where photographers Daniella Zalcman and Danny Ghitis combine their images into artfully blended photographs, smartphones are expanding the geographic reach photographs have while completely changing the way photographers communicate, both with their audiences and with each other. The layered images on the Echo/Site feed are reminiscent of double exposures, but are created through an app called Image Blender, which gives photographers the ability to combine images and add textures and layers to create surreal and unique photographs. “There are a few people in the show whose work couldn’t have existed before now,” Jacobson says, “people from different parts of the planet who are now combining and sharing this experience of living in contemporary life by sharing and combining images.”

Jacobson, whose own work explores similar themes of space, place, privacy and personal connections, says smartphones have democratized image making in an unprecedented way, more than even the Kodak Brownie or the 35mm Leica had done in the past. “I think the smartphone is a radical change,” he explains. “The fact that everyone is a photographer has changed the way that everyone thinks about photography. It’s become about the sharing of experience, rather than the sharing of a moment, and that’s something that I think is entirely new.”

The Center for Photography at Woodstock is a non-profit photography organization founded in 1977.

Henry Jacobson is a photographer and film-maker based in New York City, and the curator of ‘The Space Between: Redefining Public and Personal in Smartphone Photography”. Due to popular demand, the exhibition has been extended through Sept. 15, 2014.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

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