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Mark Steinmetz works in the venerable tradition of photographic prowling that bets everything on the ordinary. Each picture is the fruit of an unplanned encounter: Though the photographer may know more or less where he is going, he can’t know precisely what he will find. An accumulation of these improvised perceptions can make both a world and a way of looking at it.—Peter Galassi

A series of three books—South Central, South East and Greater Atlanta—published between 2007 and 2009 brought the work of Mark Steinmetz to prominence. His quiet, yet confident, black-and-white portraits reflect the isolation and detachment of youth. They suggest transience and are an intimate connection to the lives of strangers.

His latest publication, Summertime, released this month by Nazerali, echoes the sentiment of his previous three books and features images taken over the last decade. Steinmetz tends to think about work over long periods of time, keeping the various bodies of photographs in his head and weaving pictures of the same spirit together. However it is not only process but also circumstance that resulted in the work taking so long to surface. When Steinmetz, who studied at Yale, began making his intimate black-and-white portraits in his twenties, interest rested in fabricated color photography, not photography documenting the way the world actually looked. With the world in a more sober place, viewers have been more receptive to Steinmetz’s point of view.

Although Steinmetz has at times worked in a more scheduled manner—including a series on Little League Baseball and one on summer camp—his preference is not to nail things down too specifically. “I don’t begin a project with an agenda that is going to over-determine the outcome,” Steinmetz recently told American Suburb X. “I think it begins with a faint vision—one of those whispers on a breeze—that somehow gets a grip on me.” The photographs in Summertime are the product of an intuitive roaming approach of a photographer who always has his camera with him, in search of people where they might be out in public.

Summertime opens with an image of a boy laying on his back with an empty school bus and deserted school yard in the background, which sets a school’s-out-for-summer kind of tone that continues throughout the whole book. The photographs are more widely spread geographically than those in the earlier publications concentrated in the South, as Summertime sees Steinmetz getting out more into the country: to New Haven, Conn.; Boston; Chelsea, Mass.; Chicago and rural Illinois. The images were taken in places where the photographer was either living, visiting his parents or teaching. That connection affords Steinmetz a familiarity and comfort and enables an ease he strives for with the strangers he photographs, which is reflected in the pictures. In black and white, things can rest a little easier in the frame. Summertime is more about the kids and that feeling of having all the time in the world in summer—and in the middle of winter, Summertime is what we yearn for most.

Summertime was published this month by Nazraeli Press.

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More often than not, some of the best observers of places are those not originally from there. Leon Borensztein was born in Poland, settled in Israel and emigrated only later in life to the U.S. in 1977. But unlike de Tocqueville and other aristocratic travelers of old, he had to make ends meet and stumbled into taking commercial pictures of average, normal Americans as a fly-by-night job to pay the bills. Borensztein’s portraits—comprised in his new book, American Portraits, 1979–1989, published this month by Nazraeli Press—took place on the sidelines of commercial gigs. His tools and techniques were dictated by his means: a generic backdrop, a camera, simple and spare.

Yet the depth and quality of Borensztein’s oeuvre place him in a storied canon of chroniclers of America, stretching past those intrepid visionaries of the Farm Security Administration, photographers who voyaged out into a country blighted by the Depression and returned with snapshots of its soul — weary, defiant, beautiful. Early portrait photography — be it conducted by socialist sympathizers during the New Deal or the ethnographic work of turn-of-the-century imperialists — all sought after a kind of authenticity. Gone was the age of outsized oil-canvas monarchs. Now was the time of the quotidian and real, a moment imbued not only with a sense of place, but of human feeling.

Borensztein brings this tradition to bear in his work, but does not belabor it. There is, after all, as the first picture above of the man in Native American headdress makes plainly clear, an artifice involved. He shot modest homes, inhabited by unassuming people. He instructed his subjects specifically not to smile, a marked contrast from the faux-mirth and conviviality of his commercial work, which often relied on the same subjects. Reflecting on what the portraits represented, Borensztein once suggested his “black and white images reflect the alienation so typical of today’s America.”

But even a brief sampling of his pictures would communicate far more to the viewer. They are at once hemmed with a wry, sardonic edge, yet brim over with Borensztein’s genuine empathy for his subjects. Still, “they are not sentimental,” writes Sandra S. Philips, a curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Borensztein gives us a world of feeling with a light, almost imperceptible touch. The subjects radiate loneliness and coziness, an empty despair and a glowing hope for the future. Gazing at Borensztein, the man with the camera and that background, “they partly represent him,” writes Philips. “They partake of his curiosity, amazement and tenderness when he looked at these American people.”

Leon Borensztein’s book American Portraits, 1979–1989, was published this month by Nazraeli Press.

Ishaan Tharoor is a writer-reporter for TIME and editor of Global Spin. Find him on Twitter at @ishaantharoor.

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Jason Florio

“The Long Fight for Kawtoolie – A Quiet Determination in the Jungles of Burma”

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Sixty two years ago in Karen State, Burma, the Karen people were forced into a David and Goliath conflict against the powerful authoritarian Burmese military regime who have tried to push the Karen people off the map through a brutal and systematic policy of murder, rape, forced labor and the complete destruction of their villages. Six decades on, and now considered the world’s longest current running conflict, the Karen people continue to be brutalized in an ongoing pursuit to cleanse them from their homeland they call Kawtoolie.

Working on assignment in Karen State in 2010 I was enamored by the calm resilience of the Karen people, both volunteer soldiers and civilians who all seem to possess a quiet determination backed up by their motto ‘never surrender’. Moved by the stoic and yet serene nature of Karen and horrified with their stories of the human rights violations against them, I decided to return in February 2011, self-funded, to bring the face of the Karen people, and their highly under-reported struggle to survive against the brutal Burmese junta to a greater audience in the hope of affecting some positive change.

 

Bio

Jason Florio is a NYC based photographer who seeks to create a conduit between cultures and societies by stripping down the seeming boundaries of language, religion and ideologies and to help show the commonalities that we share.

 

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Jason Florio

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Boston-based photographer Christopher Churchill’s new book American Faith from Nazraeli Press will be available in December. American Faith is a sprawling, anecdotal tour that explores the meaning of faith in amazing variety. Christopher Churchill answered questions for me recently about the project.

RH: “How did you go about asking people such personal questions (about their faith)? How much time did you spend with folks before shooting them?”

CC: “In most cases I would spend 2-4 hours with people. It was always amazing to me how gracious people were with their time. To randomly stop someone or knock on their door and then have them drop everything to stake that kind of time was incredible. Usually the picture would happen first then the interview. I would never really ask anything to complicated just simple questions. I think they saw that I was looking for answers in my own life and they felt compelled to share what they had discovered. It just happens to be that for most people the difficult times in life are when you end up needing something greater then yourself.”

RH: “Was this project by a seeker, about seekers? If so, did you find something out about your own ‘faith’?”

CC: “I would certainly be described as a seeker or wanderer. While I don’t know if these people would call themselves that as well, everyone human on the planet I would say seeks to be a part of something greater in some capacity.
That idea of faith is now where I place my own faith. I have grown to understand the vastness of the word and why there would be religions that stem from it. Most importantly I have learned that just because you do not practice a religion does not mean you lack faith.”

RH: “What kinds of aesthetic decisions did you make specifically for this project, and why? Were you happy with the results?”

CC: “I was 27 when this started and trying to figure out who I was as a photographer so the aesthetics were not premeditated rather discovered along the way compositionally speaking. The choice to use black and white film came from circumstance. I really like making things in the darkroom and couldn’t afford color 8×10 film. Looking back I couldn’t be happier. Even just looking at the tradition silver prints made with an 8×10 negative the clarity and tonal range are really amazing. Then even more importantly, the fact that they are made by hand, you can feel that effort in the object its very succinct with the whole project.”


Thomas Putman And Thomas Putman Jr., Ponca City, OK, 2009
“I’m Thomas Putman, born in Ponca City, Oklahoma. We moved out here about a year ago from Michigan due to the fact that there is work. I didn’t have any work in Michigan and I got a little kid who needs anything and everything I can give him. I had to move out here to do that. I mean, havin’ my kid, it was time to wake up. You know, before that I did anything and everything and it didn’t matter what the consequences were afterward. But now that I have him, those thoughts pop in my head before I make a decision on anything. 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.”


Father Grasham, Plum Island, MA, 2004


Dewey Chafin, Jolo, WV, 2004
“I’ve been handling snakes for about forty years. I’ve been bitten 151 times and still counting, I hope. Probably some more will bite me. I don’t get scared. I mean, sometimes one will hiss at you and you’re gonna get bit, but it don’t scare me none. I have handled 20 at one time. That was a long time ago… They just kept piling them in my hands, piling them in my hands. I thank God for every time I handle them and I got them in my hands and they don’t bite me. And if they do bite me I’m thinking, ‘Thank you God for talking care of me’.”


Darleen And Marcus Obi, Ho River Indian Reservation, WA, 2007
Darleen: “I’m from the Ho River Tribe.” Marcus: “I’m from the Quileute Tribe.” Darleen: “I’m 16.” Marcus: “I’m 11.”
Darleen: “I think about our ancestry when we do drumming and signing. They have a lot of different songs that they sing and I think about who started the songs. I never find out, but our family probably goes back thousands of years.” Darleen: “My grandma died a couple of weeks ago and we got little necklaces with her ashes in it. I think she is in heaven and always kind of with us. She taught me how to put fish on a stick, like salmon when they have ceremonial dinners and stuff. She taught me how to drum and sing.”


Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, TN, 2009


Hudderite Classroom, Gildford, MT, 2005


Priestess Miriam Shamani, New Orleans, LA, 2004
“At that moment I relaxed and found that all the different circumstances I moved through were just a beautiful ball of wisdom. The inspiration came into my ear, into my soul: One’s life experience is your Master Teacher.
My experiences have given me an understanding of how to be a better self-creative with my life and with my time. It never discouraged me from moving forward and seeking new ways to elevate my life. In these moments of clarity you can see your Master Plan put together and still never know where or how you are going to extend it further. It’s a moment that your Master has put together. It’s a unique sequence of knowledge and activity meant just for you. So many people miss this because they become conflicted in life. They retreat into their troubles.”


Engaged Muslim Couple, Madison, WI, 2005
Amber: “I feel very misunderstood here. I feel like people don’t really know that much about Islam and what they do know is pretty negative. They just take what they know from the media and when they see me they get upset – especially if it’s in a big crowd. They think it’s funny to say things, usually sexual comments. A few weeks ago someone pushed me. It happened at a student organization fair. I was standing next to a Muslim student association poster. She just came up and pushed me. That was the first physical contact I’ve had.”
Babir: “I don’t feel the brunt of it, you know, she does. I hear from her and what scares me the most is how it is for our daughters and sisters who go through these situations with no one to talk to. It’s a sad thing in America, but it happens so much it’s just something you kind of have to just get used to. Before 9/11 it was cultural stereotypes like ‘sand nigger’ and ‘rag head.’ But that’s different than people thinking you killed thousands of people. They don’t know that we had a family member die in one of those towers.”

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Jerry Podany, antiquities conservator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, says the X-rays are powerful diagnostic tools that can reveal technologies, dates, past repairs and hidden treasures. Mr. Podany provided a key to the mysterious images in David Maisel’s new book “History’s Shadow,” by describing some of the forensic details exposed by the X-rays—these are in the captions that follow the images below. The Getty is one of the institutions that allowed Mr. Maisel to work with its X-rays, along with the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Photographer David Maisel writes:

“During a residency at the Getty Research Institute in 2007, I began to explore the idea of images that were created in the processes of art preservation, where the realms of art and scientific research overlap each other. While photographing the Getty Museum’s conservation departments, I became captivated by X-rays of art objects from the museum’s permanent collections. The X-rays I photographed — both at the Getty museum and then at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco — were elements of previously existing archives made for the purpose of art conservation. Each was laid on a light box in a darkened room; the emanations of light were transmitted by long exposures onto color film, which was subsequently scanned to digital files that I work on using software to adjust the tonal range and to make certain that as much detail as possible is legible.”

“History’s Shadow” is published by Nazraeli Press. All images courtesy Courtesy David Maisel/Haines Gallery.

The squarish black dots on the head here are “chaplet holes”. Chaplet rods stabilize the the core within the mold. After the sculpture is cast, the rods must be pulled or cut out. Chaplet holes come in different sizes and shapes and can be diagnostic–square holes tend to be ancient.

In this seated Buddha figure, the light square patch on the head might show a hidden compartment, possibly with secret offerings. Using X-rays and CAT scans, curators have also discovered hidden offerings inside the bodies of mummies.

Lighter lines indicate joints where the pieces are joined together, and may show where adhesive was used.

Inside the torso of this female figure the X-rays show the remains of a support for a wax or clay model or core.

Crack in the handle shows restoration or repair, and may indicate that the upper part of the handle is made of a different material which in turn suggests a restoration in that area.

Dark spots show casting flaws in the male figures, perhaps voids from bubbles during the casting.

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