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The 32 Most Surprising Photos of the Month

From fireworks in Munich to tiger cubs in London, TIME shares the most outrageous images from January 2015

Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

TIME On Our Radar

A New Record of Small Town America

In his fourth monograph, photographer Alec Soth takes a different approach to his work

It is little more than a decade since Alec Soth’s first book Sleeping by the Mississippi—and his sophomore publication Niagara—established him as one of contemporary photography’s leading lights. In the intervening years Soth has traversed the U.S., in the distinctly American photographic tradition, of Robert Frank and Walker Evans, in pursuit of his art—while consistently experimenting and pushing the boundaries of his work.

Soth’s book Broken Manual published in 2013 focused on withdrawal from society—as Soth describes it, “the desire to runaway from the world”. His latest tome, Songbook, stems from the photographer’s desire to reengage. “[After Broken Manual] I wanted to be an out-in-the-world photographer and engage in social activities,” Soth told TIME. “I took this new photographic approach, for me, that is more journalistic.”

The large majority of Songbook, which Soth, constructed in a lyrical manner, is comprised of images originally made in conjunction with writer Brad Zellar and self published in the LBM Dispatch collection—a series of seven broadsheet newspapers dedicated to different regions across the country: Georgia, Texas, Colorado, California’s Three Valleys, Ohio, Michigan and Upstate New York—alongside work that Soth was doing for the New York Times and as part of various collaborative Postcards from America projects with Magnum. “All these travels around the U.S. were somewhat under the umbrella of social life and social connection,” says Soth.

“I was interested in the newspaper, in part, [because] it used to exist as this vehicle of social interaction,” he says. “It’s a place where, [especially in] small towns, you would not only have the news but you would have notification that someone had passed away or there was going to be a public dinner at the church— it connected events to each other.”

Soth and Zellar started out three years ago with their first experiments in Minnesota—initially covering news, which included a suburban murder scene. As they moved to Ohio and onward the focus of the project became less “newsy” and much broader. “Every now and again we would encounter something—an execution in Texas, [the aftermath of] a shooting on a freeway in Michigan—but it’s more like a small town newspaper [mentality], where going to the local county fair is a news story,” Soth says.

In 2012, fellow Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen had taken a job at Bladet Vesterålen, a local Norwegian newspaper, in an effort to try to find the local news. Soth’s approach was less literal—working independently, he took on the role, rather than the responsibilities of being a local newspaper photographer. “It was like how a novelist might use the protagonist as a small town journalist to write a story.”

The three-year period over which Soth made his work coincided with mass job cuts in local newsrooms across the country with staff photographers often being those most affected.

From the start, however, Soth had another non-news plan for the black-and-white photographs he had been making. While he and Zellar were equal partners on the LBM Dispatch, Soth always had the intention to publish a selection of the pictures without Zellar’s stories. “That’s where the title Songbook comes from: I wanted to be less informational and more musical or lyrical in nature and more mysterious in that way too.” Consequently, in order to leave the images more open to interpretation, “the caption information for the images is tucked away in the back of the book, still somewhat available, but not there next to the pictures.” [Similarly, the captions to this online slideshow have been moved to the bottom of this article]

Songbook channels the spirit of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s groundbreaking 1970s postmodernist work Evidence—a conceptual book of decontextualized vernacular photographs, mined from government agencies, educational institutions and corporate archives.

There’s no doubt that Evidence was a big influence, but Soth’s own formative photographic experience also informed his concept for the book. “Years ago, I worked as a small town newspaper photographer in Minnesota [for the Lillie Suburban Newspaper chain] and did that work with a limited amount of motivation. Years later, I thought how those pictures out of context are interesting, and that’s the great lesson of Evidence: lack of context, plus time, equals mystery,” says Soth. “And this work was inspired by that and other vernacular photographic approaches, [as well as] press photography in general and this weird intermingling of time—there’s this element of nostalgia in the work, both in subject matter and photographic technique, playing off the history of photography.”

While Songbook is one of more than 20 books and magazines that Soth has published or self-published, he considers this latest opus his fourth “serious” book, he says. “It’s the difference between publishing a short story in a magazine and a publishing a novel—Songbook is a novel,” which informs his decision to turn to MACK to publish it. “I wanted it to be treated professionally. I wanted this [book inspired by small town America to have a] larger audience.”

Captions: 1. Bil. Sandusky, Ohio. 2. Woodville Farm Labor Camp. San Joaquin Valley, California. 3. Hewlett-Packard. Palo Alto, California. 4. Bill, Antlers, Oklahoma. 5. Near Kaaterskill Falls, New York. 6. Dover, Ohio. 7. Magic Forest. Lake George, New York. 8. Home Suite Home, Kissimmee, Florida. 9. Rochester, New York. 10. Miss Model contestants. Cleveland, Ohio. 11. Sue. Sierra Sky Park. Fresno, California. 12. Round Rock, Texas. 13. Brian. Williston, North Dakota. 14. Execution. Huntsville Prison. Huntsville, Texas. 15. Bree. Liberty Cheer All-Stars. Corsicana, Texas.

Songbook by Alec Soth is published by MACK. Songbook will also be on show in three concurrent exhibitions—each with slight content variations—the first at Sean Kelly, NY opening Jan. 30, the second at Fraenkel Gallery, in San Francisco, on Feb. 5 and the third at Weinstein Gallery, in Minneapolis, on Feb. 20.

For the duration of the New York presentation, Soth will take over Sean Kelly’s official Instagram account. Follow @SeanKellyNY and search the hashtag #SKNYtakeover to see the images.

TIME On Our Radar

TIME Exclusive: Magnum Emergency Fund Announces 2015 Grantees

11 photographers are set to receive financial help to produce work on under-reported issues

Over the past six years—since announcing its first grants in 2009—the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund has supported the work of 60 photographers, in 42 countries, to the tune of a total of over $500,000, with the funds helping photographers work on under-reported issues. The Foundation also offers an infrastructure of collaborators, partners, advisers, editors to help evolve and disseminate the anticipatory work they produce, that is both dynamic and effective.

This year’s selection of awardees are Massimo Berruti, Matt Black, Peter DiCampo, Emine Gozde Sevim, Curran Hatleberg, Guy Martin, Pete Muller, Elena Perlino, Nii Obodai Provencal, Asim Rafiqui and Peter van Agtmael. Each will receive a budgeted grant that will enable them to offer new perspectives or to complete “second chapters” of stories they have previously explored. For example, Black will extend the work he has done in California, for his Geography of Poverty project, to the American Southwest.

“The driving factor in every single decision I’ve been part of over the years is a sense of excitement for the excellence and originality and necessity that each photographers’ work conveys,” says Philip Gourevitch, who has served on the Magnum Foundation’s independent Editorial Committee since the first Emergency Fund grants were made. “We haven’t funded a thing in my time there because we liked the idea more than we believed in the photographers’ ability to realize it. But we have always found ourselves funding work that convinced us to take a chance on an unexpected idea. And this feels exactly right — just as it should be for the EF to serve photojournalism today and for the future.”

“These kinds of grants are essential in the creative process as they allow photographers to make the kinds of pictures that he or she feels best suit the experience. Sometimes those pictures are unconventional,” says Muller. “It is to be expected that commercial work occasionally requires modifications to ones personal process for the sake of pleasing a client. The Emergency Fund and other, similar grants provide opportunities to make pictures that truly reflect your vision and perspective on a topic for which you feel great passion.”

While, Magnum Foundation’s president Susan Meiselas notes that “there is still a strong prize culture that recognizes photographers for work already completed rather than seeding new production, [the priority for the Emergency Fund has been] to invest in new production and fund photographers in a way that allows them to take the time they need in the field to produce in-depth work.”

“The 21-day structure of the Emergency Fund grants are a unique and very positive characteristic,” says Muller, referring to the three-week proposals the Foundation sought from its grantees. “I believe that 21 days of consecutive reporting is a judicious window as it allows for immersion but maintains a level of urgency to produce material. As a photographer who often works on assignment, I enjoy working with structure and with deadlines. In some ways the EF grant feels like a perfectly timed assignment on a subject to which the grantee is completely devoted.”

The role of the Magnum EF goes beyond simply providing the means for photographers to investigate stories and make work. Also of equal importance is finding an audience for that work. The Foundation works individually with each photographer to find the most effective partners for distribution through mainstream media channels and NGOs, and to seek other, alternative and creative means of reaching targeted audiences.

The goal is not to circumvent the media, the Foundation says. In fact, it continues to place enormous value on its relationships with media partners to distribute work that is important but has been overlooked or that mainstream media simply does not have the resources to explore. Beyond its partnership agreement with Mother Jones to publish four photo online essays and one photo essay in print annually, work supported by the Magnum Foundation has been published by National Geographic, The New Yorker and TIME among many others. But while the program’s mission remains consistent, shrinking editorial budgets have led the Magnum Foundation to adopted new models for partnerships and expanded its range of approaches for supporting photographers.

Conscious of today’s rapidly changing media distribution landscape, that tends to favor singular images, video and interactivity over long-form linear storytelling, the Magnum EF has embraced photographers, including Benjamin Lowy and Matt Black, who articulate plans to use emerging social platforms strategically and creatively to draw attention to under-reported issues and to build their audiences over time. While, through its related Photography Expanded program of talks and seminars, the Magnum Foundation also encourages photographers to use emerging platforms for storytelling and to collaborate with developers and designers to adopt new tools for distribution, it still remains cautious about the future.

“We initiated the Emergency Fund seeing the disruption in the media landscape, feeling the reality of the funding gap, and fully understanding that we needed to find ways to sustain high quality, in-depth work that could no longer be produced through the media alone,” says Meiselas. “Over these last years we hoped to see innovative funding strategies emerge, instead we see more free exchange models, creating traffic and ‘followers’, but not significant income for photographers. This continues to be the challenge that needs to be addressed today”.

The Foundation is also cognizant of emerging markets across the world. In recent years and months, it has partnered with New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to provide the next generation of young, non-Western photographers and human rights activists with scholarships and training in the ethical use of photography in the advancement of social justice – this year’s fellows, all between the ages of 18 and 33, are Anastasia Vlasova (Ukraine), Muyi Xiao (China), Nour Kelze (Syria), Chery Dieu Nalio (Haiti), Basel Alyazouri (Palestine), Sipho Mpongo (South Africa), Xyza Bacani (Philippines)– and has launched multi-year partnerships that support and mentor photographers to produce and distribute independent projects focused in specific regions. In 2014 Magnum Foundation partnered with Asia Society’s ChinaFile to create the Abigail Cohen Fellowship in Documentary Photography —this year awarded to photographers Yuyang Liu and Souvid Datta— to produce stories that engage with under-reported and critical issues facing China today. On a parallel path, the Foundation is also working with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture and the Prince Claus Fund on a new long-term partnership to support young documentary photographers who are living and working in the Arab region.

For 2015, the Foundation’s Emergency Fund is planning new partnerships and funding opportunities to support in-depth projects throughout the year in response to the world’s most pressing issues.

Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

TIME On Our Radar

Photographers Turn to the iPad for Independence

A new magazine app on the iPad offers photographers new ways to tell their stories

Since its initial launch in 2010, the iPad has been hailed as the future, if not the savior, of mainstream magazines faced with declining sales. While certain publishers have used innovative approaches, embracing new technologies and incorporating video, photography and data-visualization, to bring the printed page to life, many of these tablet-focused iterations have preserved the limitations of a linear reading experience held over from the days of ink on paper.

A group of photojournalists is aiming to change that with the launch of Me-Mo (MEmory in MOtion), an independently published digital platform. Me-Mo is an attempt to move app-based long-form storytelling to a brave new world—and at the same time allowing its founding members to take more control in the presentation and dissemination of their work, in more innovative ways—while still respecting the classic ethics of documentary photography.

The crowd-funded venture—a collaboration between the MEMO collective of award-winning documentary photographers and Libre, a group of technically astute web developers and designers—teases the publication’s ambitions through a mind boggling, zoom-through 3D photo animation.

INSIDE THE LIBYAN WAR
Libyan rebels during mopping up operation in a destroyed house in the outskirts of Sirte on October 20, 2011. The battle for Gaddafi’s hometown was the last of the conflict. The rebels first captured Ougadougu and then entered Sirte. After nearly a month of fighting they conquered the city and, with the help of NATO bombing, capturing and killed Muammar Gaddafi. Fabio Bucciarelli—MEMO

The first themed issue, titled Fear, which includes works on religion and the financial crisis in Europe, statelessness, and violence against schools in Pakistan, focuses on events in Libya where the five founder-members—documentary photographers Fabio Bucciarelli (winner of the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 2012), Manu Brabo (a Pulitzer Prize winner), Guillem Valle (a World Press Photo winner), Diego Ibarra Sánchez (a New York Times contributor), José Colón (an Agence France-Presse contributor).

Although photography is central to the app experience, the images are contextualized and can be explored through a multitude of other media—maps, texts, info graphics—and in more immersive ways including through responsive 360-degree panoramic photo environments.

The inaugural edition revisits the photographers’ archives to present mostly unpublished material—including Tales from a Libyan Jail by Brabo, who had been kidnapped and imprisoned for 44 days by the regime and returned, as the rebels gained the ascendancy, to investigate the plight of suspected Gaddafi loyalist incarcerated as the dictatorship collapsed.

Migrants from Somalia is seen sleeping on a mattress on the floor barrack at a detention center for migrants near Maytigha Airport in Tripoli, Libya, Nov. 2013
A Somali woman is seen sleeping on a mattress, on the floor, at a detention center for migrants near Maytigha Airport in Tripoli, Libya, Nov. 2013 Manu Brabo—MEMO

Future issues (including the second, which is titled Disintegration) will focus on specifically commissioned original material, not only from the founding group but also from an extended roster of freelance contributing photographers and journalists. Plans to also include photographers own writings on their experiences in the field will add to “the emotional and immersive” experience of the platform, says Bucciarelli.

MEMO’s success will be contingent on not only finding an audience who have a passion for a hybrid of photojournalism, innovative technology and long-form story telling, but the appetite of the mainstream to adopt the collective’s vision. Things look good at the outset: the Italian newspaper La Stampa is supporting the project by extending distribution of the launch issue to their subscriber base.

Bucciarelli tells TIME that the core founder group is open to different forms of collaboration—whether by involving their readers in the editorial process, giving them the opportunity to choose the stories they wish to see, or by providing the technology to other freelancers interested to develop their own ideas on the platform. The group is also considering outsourcing its expertise to established media partners for co-branded or stand-alone projects.

A portrait of Belen, 6, wearing a traditional Easter dress i seen at her parent's house in Albaida del Aljarafe, Spain, Mar. 17, 2013 (Jose Colon/MeMo)As the economic crisis in Spain rages, with hundreds of thousands living on the edge of poverty, many turn their views towards religious beliefs.
A portrait of Belen, 6, wearing a traditional Easter dress at her parent’s house in Albaida del Aljarafe, Spain, Mar. 17, 2013. As the economic crisis in Spain rages, with hundreds of thousands living on the edge of poverty, many turn their views towards religious beliefs. Jose Colon—MEMO

The app is available initially only on the iPad with an Android version coming soon.

However, it ultimately may be a companion website, slated for the next phase of the project, that will offer the most potential for the project’s survival, growth, real-time social connectivity and audience engagement that is at the heart of the MEMO founders’ philosophy.

Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

TIME Behind the Photos

Ways of Seeing: The Growth of the Everyday Everywhere Movement

As 2014 draws to a close, we take a look back at the photographic trends that defined 2014

Whether through digital channels, print or on exhibit, the impact, influence and reach of the still image has never been greater. But with so many images fighting for our attention, how do photographers make work that most effectively stands out and connects with an audience. In this seven-part series, TIME looks back over the past 12 months to identify some of the ways of seeing—whether conceptually, aesthetically or through dissemination—that have grabbed our attention and been influential in maintaining photography’s relevance in an ever shifting environment, media landscape, and culture now ruled by images.

Everyday Everywhere

There is little doubt that when Everyday Africa was launched by photographer Peter DiCampo and writer Austin Merrill in 2012, it offered a welcome and refreshingly positive take on a continent that was so often portrayed through strife, turmoil, war and famine. The project—made with smartphones and disseminated through social media platforms including Tumblr and Instagram—concentrated on showing the mundane and incidental aspects of everyday life to reveal a side of Africa that was often overlooked. Everyday Africa’s subsequent expansion from its two founder members to a wider network of contributing photographers established the model that this year became a franchise and spread Everyday’s reach across the globe, from Everyday Asia and Everyday Latin America to Everyday Bronx.

One of the most interesting developments came when David Guttenfelder (TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year 2013), Matt Black (TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year 2014) and a collective of talented documentary photographers—and equally innovative Instagram users—launched Everyday USA, not only to record offbeat moments but to bring awareness to off-the-radar issues here at home. This year, TIME gave the group its first commission for #TIMEvets, a multi-platform project coinciding with Veterans Day. Alongside Everyday USA, Guttenfelder somehow found time in his busy newfound freelance career (this year, he parted ways with the Associated Press after 20 years) to initiate Everyday DPRK to continue his work from inside North Korea through the lenses of the country’s homegrown photographic talent.

Over the past two years, DiCampo has helped guide photographers interested in developing their own outshoots – with Everyday Asia and Everyday Latin America drawing on his input to shape their message. And this year, the Everyday project matured when the “owners” of some of the most successful Everyday accounts met for the first time in New York to coincide with an exhibition of their work. “I think we have a voice to talk about what cell phone photography is and to try, in some way, to lead the discussion on rights, usage and [the like],” DiCampo told TIME in September last year. The meeting resulted in the creation of the Everyday Everywhere project, which has the ambitious goal of changing “the way we see the world”.

While 2014 saw the explosion in the number of Everyday feeds on Instagram, 2015 could be a make-or-break year for many of them. The original purpose of Everyday Africa was to combat the stereotypical imagery that emerged from the continent. There are other places that could benefit from a similar approach, but only the most rigorous of practitioners – with well thought-out plans – will be able to sustain their followers’ interest in the long-run. The risk is that the multiplication of such feeds – Everyday Climate Change launched on Jan. 1 with a staggering number of participating photographers – will dilute their importance, bringing to an end one of the most interesting photographic experiments we’ve seen in years.

Read Part 1 – Direct to Audience.

Read Part 2 – Documentary Still Life.

Read Part 3 – The Portrait Series.

Read Part 4 – The Contemporary Photo Essay.

Read Part 5 – From Stills to Motion.

Read Part 6 – Books Within Books.

Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him onTwitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME

Ways of Seeing: Books Within Books

As 2014 draws to a close, we take a look back at the photographic trends that defined 2014

Whether through digital channels, print or on exhibit, the impact, influence and reach of the still image has never been greater. But with so many images fighting for our attention, how do photographers make work that most effectively stands out and connects with an audience. In this seven-part series, TIME looks back over the past 12 months to identify some of the ways of seeing—whether conceptually, aesthetically or through dissemination—that have grabbed our attention and been influential in maintaining photography’s relevance in an ever shifting environment, media landscape, and culture now ruled by images.

Books Within Books Publications and Presentation

Books come in all shapes and sizes but their design aesthetics are often dictated by the latest trends. This year, we saw countless cloth-bound books with tipped in images—Peter van Agtmael’s Disco Night Sept. 11, Dan Budnik Marching to the Freedom Dream were among them—as well as books in cardboard boxes; Congo by Paolo Pellegrin and Alex Majoli or Ponte City by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse to name just two.

There was also a penchant for small photobooks from Does Yellow Run Forever?, Waters of Our Time and War Porn. And another iteration on the small book was used to good effect this year. The aforementioned Ponte City was the most elaborate example of this year’s most interesting publishing concept—a book within a book.

Ponte City documents the checkered history of Africa’s tallest residential high-rise through an array of photographic materials and texts —including the artists’ photographs of the building, its inhabitants, found ephemera, and archival publicity materials—within a hardbound volume and a series of 17 small individual saddle-stitched paperback supplementary booklets designed to be inserted by the reader—and to expound on specific content—at various points in the main hardbound edition.

Two books published by Radius this year followed this principle and included a companion edition to the main volume: Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb‘s collaboration Memory City—a plaintive look at Kodak’s 125-year home, Rochester—intertwines work by the two photographers in the main book, with a smaller accompanying booklet again mixing imagery from both photographers along with writing about the region.

Victoria SambunarisTopology of a Landscape augmented her main book’s stunning landscape photography with three supporting pieces—a booklet of personal ephemera (note books, maps and objects taken and collected on the road) a small text leaflet and a fold out of Polaroid images.

In each case the additional booklets allow not only for a distinct separation and organization of content but for a cleaner more focused photo-centric experience befitting of the photographic work in the main publication, while affording the reader the opportunity to gain more insight and context through the text and additional imagery contained in these supporting materials.

Read Part 1 – Direct to Audience.

Read Part 2 – Documentary Still Life.

Read Part 3 – The Portrait Series.

Read Part 4 – The Contemporary Photo Essay.

Read Part 5 – From Stills to Motion.

Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

TIME Behind the Photos

Ways of Seeing: From Stills to Motion

As 2014 draws to a close, we take a look back at the photographic trends that defined 2014

 

Whether through digital channels, print or on exhibit, the impact, influence and reach of the still image has never been greater. But with so many images fighting for our attention, how do photographers make work that most effectively stands out and connects with an audience. In this seven-part series, TIME looks back over the past 12 months to identify some of the ways of seeing—whether conceptually, aesthetically or through dissemination—that have grabbed our attention and been influential in maintaining photography’s relevance in an ever shifting environment, media landscape, and culture now ruled by images.

From Stills to Motion

The moving image has become a defacto aspect of today’s photography landscape, with B-roll, behind-the-scenes videos of photo shoots and requests for photographers to shoot video as well as stills.

But this year some photographers found a way to preserve the conceit of the still image while extending its form to video, in a poetic and absorbing manner by shooting slow motion video—at a thousand frames a second. Magnum’s Jonas Bendiksen made short sequences of celebrating fans at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and Ross McDonnell created vignettes (effectively photos that came to life) amidst the fire and ice of the protests in Kiev, Ukraine. The images (see Bendiksen’s video above) have a mesmerizing quality extrapolating and magnifying the frozen incidental moment to a absorbing sequence.

Elsewhere Gifs and memes evolved to the more subtle, and sophisticated Cinemagraph to bring the still photo to life in other ways and Instagram embraced the short form video amongst its square format photo stream. But one of the simplest and most effective of executions of still photography to video was realized on The New York Times‘ website coverage of the Indian elections which utilized seven-second clips by Daniel Berehulak shot with a locked off camera of people moving through the frame to bring the photo to life.

Drones

Aerial photography has a rich history and holds an innate fascination—from Margaret Bourke White’s mid-twentieth century forays to the skies for LIFE magazine to more recent practitioners in the art of photography from the skies above, notably George Steinmetz and Edward Burtynsky, to the satellite imagery that maps our planet and images by astronaut photographers which shows our beautiful planet from space.

This year, drones—which have been used for surveillance, in war zones and to cover public and sporting events—fully embraced their creative and journalistic potential. We saw drone videos proliferate online but one of the most effective creative uses of drones was done by photographer Tomas van Houtyre. His black-and-white drone photographs of America addressed issues of privacy, drought, inner city plight and farming. Van Houtyre’s Blue Skies series became the longest photo essay to be published in Harper’s magazine, while a new chapter was featured in TIME’s Futures Issue.

A New York Times story which utilized drones (amongst other technologies) to give a new perspective on baseball, and the first drone photography contest organized this year both suggest that this art has more potential. But whether the use of drones becomes a viable everyday option for photographers will depend on the government’s decision to legislate their use or not.

Read Part 1 – Direct to Audience.

Read Part 2 – Documentary Still Life.

Read Part 3 – The Portrait Series.

Read Part 4 – The Contemporary Photo Essay.

Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

TIME Behind the Photos

Ways of Seeing: The Contemporary Photo Essay

As 2014 draws to a close, we take a look back at the photographic trends that defined 2014

Whether through digital channels, print or on exhibit, the impact, influence and reach of the still image has never been greater. But with so many images fighting for our attention, how do photographers make work that most effectively stands out and connects with an audience. In this seven-part series, TIME looks back over the past 12 months to identify some of the ways of seeing—whether conceptually, aesthetically or through dissemination—that have grabbed our attention and been influential in maintaining photography’s relevance in an ever shifting environment, media landscape, and culture now ruled by images.

The Contemporary Photo Essay

We live in an age where the volume of photographic output has never been greater. Yet the propensity is for images to be conceived, received digested and regurgitated in an isolated, singular form—and without further context. Against this backdrop, a generation of committed photographers are working passionately to iterate on, and further develop the traditions for long form story telling, and in so doing, draw attention to their subject matter through new powerful, innovative and resourceful ways.

On Aug. 31 this year, the New York Times Magazine published a photo essay that interweaved the images of two Magnum photographers working on each side of the Israeli, Palestinian conflict—Paolo Pellegrin (in Gaza) and Peter van Agtmael (in Israel). The essay was not only a creative and effective way of balancing a delicate and sensitive story, it was also, as Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein explained in a note about the project, conceived in part as a reaction to “the prevalence of cellphone cameras and social media [that had] led to many more images of Gaza than in previous iterations of this long-running conflict.”

“As powerful as these photos were,” he wrote, “the speed and fervor of their dissemination tended to bring them to us isolated from context.” The Times Magazine story was a considered attempt to have Pellegrin and van Agtmael slow things down and in Silversteins words “try to capture a deeper and more narrative sense of the texture of life on the ground.” The resultant essay, that intentionally combines two aesthetically different bodies of work emphasizes “that the fates of average Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined.”

Photographer Matt Black has subverted the prevalent philosophy of Instagram for his project The Geography of Poverty. Although using Instagram as one of the primary platforms for the work, Black has maintained a thematic and aesthetic cohesion to produce a dedicated feed—devoid of distraction or interference—that builds image by image, to deliver an investigation on poverty that is essayistic and closer to that of a traditional photo essay. On the website—exclusively dedicated to the project—Black explores the potential of geo-tagging to extend the project and map the images (for this project, Black was selected as TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year in 2014)

Photographers such as Diana Markosian with her work made in Beslan, Russia and Carolyn Drake in Turkistan have embraced different types of media and photographic approaches–including still life, documentary, portraiture as well as writing and drawing. They have also actively encouraged their subjects to contribute to the artistic process and tell their own stories through notated recollections narratives and artwork, which is at times directly applied to the photographic print. As Drake says of her project Wild Pigeon that documents the lives of the Uyghur people: “I started looking for meaning at the intersection of our views, and find ways to bring the people I was meeting into the creative process. Traveling with a box of prints, a pair of scissors, a container of glue, colored pencils, and a sketchbook, I asked willing collaborators to draw on, re-assemble, and use their own tools on my photographs. I hoped that the new images would bring Uyghur perspectives into the work and facilitate a new kind of dialogue with the people I met, one that was face-to-face and tactile, if mostly without words.”

In Ukraine a generation of young, predominantly European, freelance photographers including Maria Turchenkova, Ross McDonnell and Capucine Granier-Deferre committed themselves to documenting the searing violence and the disquieting consequences of the year-long conflict—building long-term photo essays that contextualize news events through more in-depth and nuanced perspectives.

One of the most important and powerful bodies of work was produced by Daniel Berehulak, who spent more than 14 weeks covering the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. His work, made on assignment for The New York Times, shows that long-term commitment to a story can reap astounding returns. And a powerful continuum of work, can raise awareness and deeply affect its audience.

In an age when we’re saturated with an omnivorous barrage of distracting and singular imagery, there is still a role for subtleties embodied within the traditions of long form storytelling. Through innovative, full screen photo-centric web designs and effective digital dissemination, these photo essays are drawing our attention—in different and often more meaningful ways—to important issues that we otherwise would ignore or at best feel we had seen too many times before.

Read Part 1 – Direct to Audience.

Read Part 2 – Documentary Still Life.

Read Part 3 – The Portrait Series.

Read Part 5 – From Stills to Motion.

Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

TIME Behind the Photos

Ways of Seeing: Portrait Series

As 2014 draws to a close, we take a look back at the photographic trends that defined 2014

Whether through digital channels, print or on exhibit, the impact, influence and reach of the still image has never been greater. But with so many images fighting for our attention, how do photographers make work that most effectively stands out and connects with an audience. In this seven-part series, TIME looks back over the past 12 months to identify some of the ways of seeing—whether conceptually, aesthetically or through dissemination—that have grabbed our attention and been influential in maintaining photography’s relevance in an ever shifting environment, media landscape, and culture now ruled by images.

The Portraits Series

This year there was a plethora of portrait series taken by photojournalists, who consciously chose to isolate their subjects from their context and deliver typological studies of them in multiple.

For the past four years, Associated Press photographer Muhammad Muheisen (TIME’s Best Wire Photographer of the Year 2013) has consistently produced strong documentary work of daily life from the slums of Islamabad, Pakistan. In January this year, he filed a series of images to the news wires that were widely published to much acclaim. Unlike his previous work, which was shot in a traditional reportage manner, these were close-up portraits of Afghan child refugees photographed against simple backdrops. The poignancy and power of these bare images is reinforced through the repetition of individual dirty faces and their emotive, direct gaze.

Amongst the many photojournalist who took a similar approach, were Anastasia Taylor-Lind—who produced a simple and nuanced portrait series of individual protestors in Kiev’s Independence Square in Ukraine (using Instagram and Facebook to share her entire process with her followers and her subjects), Pete Muller who photographed men—both soldiers and civilians—in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for his study into the causes of male-perpetrated violence, Andrew Quilty who made two portrait series related to the war against Islamic State Militants—one of Syrian Kurdish refugee women who had fled the fighting and another of Iraqi Kurdish militia men in training to seize back their homeland, and Andrea Bruce who as part of an innovative collective project with fellow Noor photographers Nina Berman, Stanley Greene and Alixandra Fazzina took photo booth portraits—in a converted tent—of refugees and their cherished possessions, at the Zaatari camp in Jordan.

On a lighter note Philipp Engelhorn’s images of beach goers in Quindao, China, wearing strange masks and suites to protect themselves from the sun and jellyfishes weirdly recall Rineke Dijkstra’s early 90’s beach portraits, and Martina Bacigalupo‘s series of found portraits from the oldest photographic studio in Gulu, Northern Uganda—discarded and faceless images after passport portraits have been stamped from the prints—offer a surreal take on the approach. More recently Daniel Berehulak took a clean and graphic approach to augment his powerful long term reportage work covering Ebola in Africa, with a series of strong, stark, black and white portraits of Ebola workers that showed the disease from another equally powerful perspective.

Read Part 1 – Direct to Audience.

Read Part 2 – Documentary Still Life.

Read Part 4 – The Contemporary Photo Essay.

Read Part 5 – From Stills to Motion.

Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME

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The Most Uplifting Photos of 2014

TIME's photo editors present this year's heart-warming images

2014 was a heart wrenching year—that brought with it a litany of terror, turbulence and tragedy. But it also provided us with some exuberant, heart-warming and magical images, giving us something to smile about amidst a traumatic news cycle.

Here TIME presents a selection of underreported, intimate and ecstatic images that accentuate the positive—from Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize and Ebola survivors, to singing priests in St Peter’s Square and dancers in the streets of North Korea—that caught the attention of TIME’s photo editors. Without a doubt, these images reveal a brighter side of life.

 

 

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