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Black & White Photography

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Original author: 
Richard Lacayo

There’s a line from Henry David Thoreau that’s an old favorite of environmentalists: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Not many people have taken that idea so much to heart as the great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who spent much of the past nine years trekking to the last wild places on earth to take the pictures collected in his new photography book, Genesis (Taschen; 520 pages), a window into the primordial corners of creation.

The Genesis project grew out of two dilemmas in Salgado’s personal life. In the late 1990s, his father gave him and his wife Lélia the Brazilian cattle ranch where Salgado, now 69, spent his childhood. He remembers the place in those days as “a complete paradise, more than 50% of it covered with rain forest,” he told Time on the phone from his home in Paris. “We had incredible birds, jaguars, crocodiles.” But after decades of deforestation, the property had become an ecological disaster: “Not only my farm, the entire region. Erosion, no water—it was a dead land.”

By 1999, Salgado was also completing Migrations, a six-year photographic chronicle of the human flood tides set loose around the world by wars, famines or just people searching for work. The project took him to refugee camps and war zones and left him wrung out physically and emotionally. “I had seen so much brutality. I didn’t trust anymore in anything,” he says. “I didn’t trust in the survival of our species.”

So as a kind of dual restoration project—for himself and his Brazilian paradise lost—Salgado and his wife began reforesting his family property. There are now more than 2 million new trees there. Birds and other wildlife have returned in such numbers that the land has become a designated nature reserve. As his personal world regenerated, Salgado got an idea: For his next project, why not travel to unspoiled locales—places that double as environmental memory banks, holding recollections of earth’s primordial glories? His purpose, Salgado decided, “would not be to photograph what is destroyed but what is still pristine, to show what we must hold and protect.” He likes to quote a hopeful statistic: “45% of our planet is still what it was at the beginning.”

As part of the Genesis project, Salgado has made 32 trips since 2004, visiting the Kalahari Desert, the jungles of Indonesia and biodiversity hot spots such as the Galápagos Islands and Madagascar. He hovered in balloons over herds of water buffalo in Africa (“If you come in planes or helicopters you scatter them”). He traveled across Siberia with the nomadic Nenets, people who move their reindeer hundreds of miles each year to seasonal pasture. “I learned from them the concept of the essential,” he says. “If you give them something they can’t carry, they won’t accept it.”

Traveling to the Antarctic and nearby regions, Salgado found vast flocks of giant albatrosses off the Falkland Islands and “the paradise of the penguins” on the South Sandwich Islands. “Islands at the end of the world,” Salgado calls them. “Or as we say in Brazil, ‘where the wind goes to come back.’” And where Salgado went too and came back with glimpses of paradise in peril—but not lost, not yet.

Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian documentary photographer living in Paris. He has produced several books, and his work has been exhibited extensively around the world. His latest work, Genesis, premieres at The Natural History Museum in London on April 11, on view through Sept. 8, 2013. The exhibition will have its North American premier at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada from May 1 through Sept 2.

Richard Lacayo is an art critic and editor-at-large at TIME.

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Twenty-five years old with a single camera body and lens in hand, Steven Rubin hitched a ride in 1982 to rural Somerset County in northwestern Maine and embarked on a project that would continue for more than 30 years.

Now a selection of the images Rubin captured during his decades-long project in this little-visited region of the U.S. will soon get a rare showing in Los Angeles. “Vacationland” goes up at the drkrm gallery from April 28 through May 26.

A graduate from Reed College with a degree in sociology, Rubin had originally come out to the East Coast from Oregon to enroll at the then Maine Photographic Workshops (now the Maine Media Workshops) in Rockport. After documenting the effects of the early 1980s recession on families nearby, he wanted to see how the economic downturn was being handled by locals far from the highways, historic lighthouses and second homes of the Maine coast. On a tip from a friend, Rubin headed inland and settled upon an abandoned shack as his home base and a schedule of hitching four to eight hours between the countryside to take pictures and Rockport to develop them.

Taking prints back to his subjects as a thank-you for their time and trust, Rubin was eventually let into the lives of local families—as well as some of their homes to crash on floors and couches—as he continued his work throughout Central Maine.

What he has witnessed is a part of the country largely unbuffeted by the usual economic ups and downs seen elsewhere. For many in the area times are always tough. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, per capita income has been increasing in Somerset County but has ranked at or near the bottom among Maine’s 16 counties throughout the many years of Rubin’s project. Residents get by through resourcefully cobbling together seasonal and part-time jobs, hunting, fix-it know-how and the support of their communities.

“When I met some of these families, I was completely in awe of them in many ways,” said Rubin, now an assistant professor of art in the Photography Program at Penn State University. “I think as an outsider and someone who didn’t have the background that they did, I was really quite taken by how they survived, by their strength, by their resourcefulness.”

Rubin sought to avoid the stereotypes of people broken by their struggles or heroically pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Influenced not only by legendary photographer Dorothea Lange but also anthropologist Clifford Geertz, Rubin aimed at creating a body of work that functioned as a “thick description,” a finely detailed document for understanding the context of human actions. Achieving that goal required time.

Since 1982, Rubin has returned to this project 10 times to capture daily rhythms and rituals and how the people he’d come to know changed, grew up, forged intense family bonds and frequently returned home despite finding good jobs elsewhere.

“I think so many of us—who move around different parts of the country, different parts of the world—we spend a lot of our lives looking for that sense of community. And these people have it,” Rubin said.

He’s planning to return again this summer to Maine, this time possibly shooting digitally rather than on his trusty Kodak Tri-X.

Steven Rubin’s photography has appeared in magazines including National Geographic, The New York Times, Stern and TIME. The series is on display at drkrm in Los Angeles, April 28 – May 26.

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Ever since Matthew Brady trekked to Civil War battlefields documenting war and warriors,  photography has been a critical way of showing what the rest of us cannot—or choose not to—witness. The Pentagon itself has long acknowledged the importance of photographs, and it has hundreds of photographers, some in uniform and some not, taking thousands of pictures every day.

Beginning in 1960 the best have competed to be the Military Photographer of the Year. This year’s contest included 3,500 entries submitted by 603 competitors.

In March, Colonel Jeremy M. Martin, who runs the Pentagon’s Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., announced the 2011 winners. A formal ceremony for the first-place winners in each category will be held on May 4. But in the meantime, LightBox looks at some of the powerful and harrowing images that were recognized this year.

To see more work, including winners of the year in video and graphics, take a look at the DINFOS awards website.

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Last December, Gomma publishers—a small imprint in London with a magazine by the same name, or what founder Luca Desienna calls a “bijou” publishing house—set out to find the most exciting new talent working in black and white photography today. To begin the process they assembled an international panel of experts and curators from around the world that included Christian Caujolle, Yasmina Reggad, Peggy Sue Amison, Tom Griggs, Wayne Ford, Jörg Colberg and John Matkowsky to create a new publication called MONO. The fundamental idea for the new publication was to expose emerging talent to a wider audience by publishing them alongside more established artists pushing the boundaries of the medium, such as Roger Ballen, Daido Moryiama, Anders Petersen, Trent Parke and many others.

“Gomma was formed in 2004 by four friends and artists aspiring to create a new publishing space for photographers,” says Desienna. ”Our major inspirations were the influential Japanese magazine Provoke from 1968 and Permanent Food by Maurizio Cattelan. Since the first days of Gomma we’ve been always publishing black and white photography—it is and always will be one of the most extraordinary art forms that enables us to document the world we live in … and also what is beyond it or underneath it.”

This year’s winners of the MONO open call for entries are: Daisuke Yokota, Maki, Tricia Lawless Murray, Francesco Merlini, Jan von Holleben, Jukka-pekka Jalovaara, Sofia Lopez Mañan and Stephane C. Their work will be featured in the first edition of MONO to be released this fall.

Desienna says there has been a renaissance among the image makers working in black and white. “With the advent of digital photography, taking pictures has become sort of more accessible for everyone,” he says. “While black and white photography, which is often associated with analogue photography, has become rarer and rarer. Agfa collapsed, and films and chemicals started disappearing, so as it happens with anything that gets near to extinction, it just becomes more valuable.” At the same time, Desienna says great new digital, black-and-white photography has added to the exquisite and timeless world that monochrome images create. “We don’t see the world in black and white so this is probably why we are so attracted to it,” he says. “In addition I believe that black-and-white photography has the capability to show the inner moods of the photographers better than colors do.”

For more information visit Gomma Books and check out Gomma Magazine online.

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In 1959, Swedish-born photographer Christer Strömholm moved to the Parisian neighborhood of Pigalle. There, during the darkest hours of the night, he would comb the streets, not as a voyeur, but as a participant of the night’s activities. In time he would meet and form intimate relationships with the transsexuals of Place Blanche. At that time, France was ruled by General Charles de Gaulle, the man who led the Free French Forces during World War II, and his wife Yvonne, who were both devout Roman Catholics. Tante Yvonne (Aunt Yvonne), as she was known to the general public, held old-fashioned conservative views that created a puritanical atmosphere. As a result, Strömholm’s “friends of Place Blanche” found solace in each other, most having escaped a life of misconception. These friends, biologically born as men, were forced to flee their hometowns in search of a place where they could be at ease with themselves.

But life in Paris was just as difficult. It is a widespread belief that it was Aunt Yvonne’s influence on her husband that brought forth the reinstatement in of a 330-year-old draconian law that punished landlords who allowed prostitutes to work on their premise with the forfeiture of their property. There was no social security in Paris nor any chance of getting hired if the name on a person’s identification card did not match his appearance. Without the help of society, these ladies of the night had little choice but to sell their bodies in hopes of earning enough money to make it to the hospitals of Casablanca where they could physically be transformed into women.

The photographs in Les Amies de Place Blanche, a new re-edited version of the original book published in 1983, demonstrate the photographer’s compassion for these women and the intimate friendships he developed during the time he lived in Paris’ red light district. They do not reflect the cruelty that these women endured, perhaps because in their own world, life was that much brighter and hopeful. After spending all night working the street corners, Strömholm and his friends would gather at the brasserie on the place Blanche and order hot chocolate and walk quietly back to their hotel rooms. The next day Cobra, his next-door neighbor at Hotel Chappe, would knock on the wall to announce that coffee was ready just as dusk was breaking. Crumbs would fall into the creases of the sheets as they shared their thoughts in bed.

Christer Strömholm—Agence VU—Aurora Photos

Christer with Panama, 1968

Living side by side with these women, Strömholm perfected taking photographs at night. As these women got ready for work, so too did the photographer. With his Leica, Tri-X films and a pipe in his hand, he would walk down the boulevard from place Pigalle to place Blanche ready to capture fleeting moments of beauty.

Les Amies de Place Blanche, will be published by Dewi Lewis in the United Kingdom this February, and in the United States this March.

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The Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu is one of Nepal’s holiest sites. Until the country was transformed into a secular republic in 2008, the temple’s deity — an iteration of the Hindu god Shiva — served for nearly three hundred years as the patron spirit of this Himalayan kingdom. Generations of Nepalese monarchs derived legitimacy from its shrines and pilgrims from across South Asia continue to flock to its stone steps.

Those living in its environs include a clutch of elderly people, “orphaned” and destitute, the sort of folk that temples across the region gave shelter and sustenance to for centuries. But on his explorations by the outskirts of Pashupatinath in December 2010, photographer Dan Giannopoulos found many of these elderly living in dire conditions. His pictures — stark and grim — capture a desperate scene. He says, “I found a number of residents on different occasions had been left immobile and agitated on the floors of communal areas, sometimes in the bright sunlight, dehydrated, sometimes in their own excrement, often covered in flies.

The elderly orphanage is nominally run by the government, which speaks volumes for why it’s in such a miserable state. Nepal, an impoverished country of 40 million, suffers from some of the world’s most dysfunctional politics. An internationally-monitored peace process started in 2006 with the aim of reconciling the country after a decade-long civil war that saw some 13,000 deaths. The authority of the Nepali monarchy was dissolved and Maoist guerrillas who had once lurked in hills and jungles entered the political process as one of the country’s biggest democratic parties. But political sparring, infighting and inertia have crippled Nepal. Three years after it was elected, the country’s legislature has yet to even agree upon a Constitution for the new secular republic. Coalitions and ruling governments continue to splinter and fall—the latest Prime Minister resigned his post Aug. 13.

All the while, the country’s economy lurches in the doldrums, propped up by aid handouts from increasingly exasperated foreign donors. Power and fuel shortages routinely grip Kathmandu, bringing daily life to a halt. Nepal’s growth rate remains middling, while countless Nepalese are forced to abandon their country for jobs in the Gulf states, India, and further afield in Southeast Asia. In 2010, over a fifth of Nepal’s GDP came from remittances sent back home by hundreds of thousands toiling abroad.

In this context, the plight of these forsaken elderly seems almost an afterthought. But, says Giannopoulos: “At the very least, on the most basic humanitarian level, the international community needs to ask questions of the current healthcare funding situation in Nepal.” The photographer intends to do his part, and is seeking avenues for funds and partnerships with NGOs to improve the lot of these marooned elderly, so the twilight of their years can be lived out with more grace than their circumstances provide.

Dan Giannopoulos is a member of Aletheia Photo Collective, an independent cooperative of photojournalists covering underreported socioeconomic and humanitarian issues. He is currently working on a long term project that focuses on the differences in the treatment of society’s elderly with particular emphasis on geographical and social divides in diagnosis and understanding of the degeneration in the mental faculties of the elderly.

Ishaan Tharoor is a writer-reporter for TIME and editor of Global Spin. You can find him on Twitter at ishaantharoor. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEWorld.

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Olivia Bee

Converse, 2009

At 11, Olivia Bolles started shooting when she was enrolled in a photography class by accident. Now 17, the precocious Portland-based photographer’s portraits of teen life have appeared in campaigns for Nike and Converse, as well as American Photo magazine. Bolles—who goes by Olivia Bee professionally—spoke to fellow teen, Style Rookie fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, to talk about her images and inspirations.

TG: Who are your influences?

OB: For the most part, my muse is everyday life. It’s kind of like enjoying where you’re at and appreciating what’s going on around you. Photographically, Ryan McGinley is my favorite. [Also,] Annie Leibovitz, Nan Goldin.

TG: Something about your photos I really like is [that] they feel really intimate. You feel like you’re getting to learn about this person and her life, but at the same time, a lot of them capture more universal experiences about everyday life as a teenager. Do you think about whether a photo [will be] more diary-like or more about being a teenager in general?

OB: I think it’s both. My photos are my diary. But a lot of the things I photograph I’m sure happen to other people too. That specific moment happened in my life, but other moments like it happened in other people’s lives. So it’s a diary but it’s kind of relatable, and that’s what I want to be doing with my work.

TG: Yeah, and I think that’s one thing I like most about your work—that you’re independent and unedited.

OB: Yeah, it’s all honest, you know? That’s the important part for me, being honest about everything.

TG: It can be so mind-blowing seeing someone’s earlier work, or freshman year versus senior year. Do you ever feel embarrassed?

OB: (Laughs.) Totally. There are some things where I’m like, “Oh my god, what the hell was I thinking?” I look back at my old Flickr, and that’s the stuff that gets on Tumblr like every day. I’m like, “I hate this picture. Why are people hyping over this?” But then I think this is a fortunate thing. I hate it now, but it had to happen to get where I am now.

TG: How do you think that being in Portland affects they way you think about your work or what you end up photographing?

OB: I definitely think it affects me a lot, because in Portland it rains all the time. So everybody plays an instrument, and is in a band and working on a project. Being in a creative atmosphere 24/7 just encourages me to make something every day. And my friends are my muses. Being in Portland is awesome (laughs). It’s such a warm, friendly atmosphere, but it’s really real.

TG: Are there any movies that inspire you?

OB: I’m like every other girl, and I like The Virgin Suicides. There’s this movie Wonderwall. George Harrison did the soundtrack to it. It’s like a really bad 60’s movie, but it’s really beautiful visually. Anything ’60s or ’70s—The Partridge Family. But Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is also a gorgeous movie.

TG: Who are the other young photographers you like?

OB: I love El Hardwick, Francesca Allen … There’s so many people on Flickr, it’s ridiculous. Chrissie White, Maggie Lochtenberg. Oh, and Lauren Poor. And Mike Bailey Gates, obviously, Erica Segovia.

TG: It’s great that with the Internet, there has come this sense of creative independence. Having your stuff online—some people think of it as gimmicky, but in a way, it’s one of the most pure forms of having your work judged.

OB: Because so many people can see it, you know? It’s the only thing that makes sense in 2011. You can have shows or whatever, but that’s going to be seen by like 50 people, or a hundred or a thousand or whatever. But if you put your stuff on the Internet, millions of people can see it.

TG: Do you ever want to balance out this public content? Do you keep anything just for yourself, or just for a show?

OB: There are a lot of photos that are so intimate to me that I don’t want to show other people. Someday when I make a book, I’ll put in all these pictures that I’ve kept secret. And some of them are my favorite photos, but I just don’t think they should be public, because they’re so special to me.

TG: Can you fill in your readers on some of that commercial work you’ve done?

OB: I just finished shooting the Fiat 500 campaign in April. And then I did some Degrassi stuff for TeenNick—production stills. I shot Nike and Converse, Zeit Magazin, which is like the German New York Times. Yeah, that was cool. I got to shoot the cover for that. And then I did the FOAM International Photography Museum magazine; I just did their cover and a feature. I have a really big editorial coming up, but I obviously can’t talk about it in this. 2011 has been a good year to me.

TG: Do you find that when you’re with a crew of people, that your age seems to factor into how they work with you, or talk to you?

OB: When I’ve shot alongside other photographers, sometimes people really look down on me…Sometimes people will be like “What the hell is she doing on this set?” But when you get to know people, [they] kind of become my mentors. It all depends on how long I’ve worked with someone. But it’s still weird (laughs); I’m still 17.

TG: I could definitely see being shot by you as the foray a Dakota Fanning-type would take to being, like, a cool teenager. If you could put together a photo shoot that wasn’t just the things you see every day, what would your dream setting be?

OB: It’d be on the moon cause that’d be so amazing! But I don’t know who my models would be. I like shooting anybody, so the models wouldn’t really be specific. But if it was on, like, the moon—that would be killer.

TG: Where would you like to go with your skills?

OB: Honestly, I just don’t want to stop. I’ve been happy with the kind of commercial stuff I’m doing. I don’t want to stop making personal work. I’m just going to photograph my life all the time, because that’s what I really like doing. As I grow older, I’m sure my pictures will change, but that’s basically what I want to keep doing. I’d love to shoot AnnaSophia Robb; I think she’s just gorgeous. And I’d like to shoot Dakota Fanning or Kate Moss, or someone like that—that’d be fun. Or shoot bands. If I got to shoot The Strokes, I’d basically die.

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Bolles, who goes by the name Olivia Bee, lives in Portland, Oregon and has worked for clients including Nike, Converse, Fiat, and TeenNick, among others. She is represented by Candace Gelman. More of her work can be seen here.

Fifteen-year-old Tavi Gevinson lives in the Chicago, Illinois area and has run the fashion blog The Style Rookie since 2008.

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