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VICE Loves Magnum: Thomas Dworzak Takes Photos of Sad Marines and Taliban Poseurs

Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.

Thomas Dworzak joined Magnum in 2000. His books often deal with war. His first, Taliban, was a found photo project which freaked out a lot of Americans who didn’t want to see what the Taliban looked like when they were fooling about. M*A*S*H IRAQ examined the daily lives of US Medevac teams in Iraq, and his latest book,Kavkuz, explored the impact years of brutal war had on the Caucasus region. Oddly enough, in spite of shooting in some of the most hellish conditions imaginable, he thinks Paris is the hardest place to work in.

VICE: You are often described as a “war photographer.” How do you feel about that?
Thomas Dworzak:
 It’s a label. What are you going to do about it? I’m not going to say I am not one, because I do go, and I used to go very often, to these conflict areas. But there are definitely people out there who are more into combat than me. There is a scale of how much involvement in war one has. And I’m not all the way up there.

How did working in Chechnya during the war there differ from your time in Iraq?
I think in Chechnya, I was more “on the ground.” I was hitchhiking around, trekking alone. You would talk to the fighters, you would spend time with them, and then if there was an attack you would arrive with them. It was all done in a very disorganized, one to one, personal way. I think Chechnya was very extreme as a war, compared to anything that I have seen since.

Extreme in what way?
Just the sheer amount of stuff I saw flying around. It was an atrocious war. Bosnia was very brutal of course, but there was not so much physical destruction, it was more killing and revenge on a very personal and human level, between neighbors or whatever. Chechnya was brutal in every way. The destruction of Grozny reached a level I had not seen until then, and haven’t seen since. I guess you might come across something like it now in Aleppo, for example. There was no accreditation when I was working there, no paperwork. I learned Russian so I could talk to the fighters. They were welcoming, so I spent time with them. Whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan I was embedded. You get your piece of paper and the military has to take care of you.

In what way did that affect your work? What’s your view on the embed format, do you think it worked well?
I think there is a strange kind of freedom in the structure of an embed. A lot of people have been bitching about it, going on about the embed being “the end of press freedom” and all that, but I don’t really think that’s true. I don’t know anything about Iraq really; I haven’t seen Iraq outside of the American point of view for so long now. But if I choose to cover the American angle, then an embed is not a bad way to do it. Because it is so institutionalized, you can actually move around and do a lot. You don’t have to beg, you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s a bit duller in that sense. You just have to follow the guys in front of you. And there are not that many decisions to be made. I find embeds pretty relaxing in that way.

Was your M•A•S•H• IRAQ project concluded over one single embed?
It was almost all embed work. I don’t want to over-emphasize the fact that some photos—just a few—weren’t taken in embeds as it’s meant to be an embed book. I don’t know, maybe it was two years or three years, something like that. The core of the work was done over a year, I did maybe five or six embeds with the medical units over that time.

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In an age when “everything is changing, everything is moving,” photographer Nadav Kander has sought to find moments of reserve, reverence and human vulnerability in his latest series, Bodies: 6 Women, 1 Man, opening this week at Flowers Gallery (Cork Street) in London, and published by Hatje Cantz later this month.

Kander told TIME in a recent interview that his work in Bodies — featuring white, smooth figures cast against a stark black background — serves, in part, as a visual homage to fine-art history. But the alabaster forms, naked and undefended, also communicate Kander’s underlying motivation as a photographer: to capture “the paradoxes of the human condition.”

“I don’t like to ignore that there is beauty without imperfection or that there’s health without disease,” Kander says. This interplay between the perfect and the flawed, the pure and the corrupt, suggests an elemental truth — a truth that is central to Kander’s aesthetic and method.

“The nudes,” he told TIME, “are another way of satisfying the quest that I’ve always [pursued] in my work.”

Originally from Israel, the 51-year-old Kander might be best known for his portraits, often uniquely framed and staged in dramatically lit environments. Subjects have ranged from President Barack Obama (for TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year issue) to professional athletes, politicians and Hollywood royalty.

But the range of Kander’s photography extends well beyond the intimate portrait: his documentary photography, for example, has merited awards — most notably Yangtze: The Long River, which won the Prix Pictet prize for photography and sustainability in 2009. With Bodies, however, he has returned to a theme that can sometimes feel archaic, as if abandoned by many in his field.

“In recent years, photographers have stayed away from the nude,” said Kander, noting that the process had become almost “nostalgic.” “I wanted to work with the nude in a new way.”

As if embracing the theme of paradox, Kander’s “new way” required peering into art’s distant past.

“The mixture of dust and cream [applied to the subjects] served as gentle reference to renaissance paintings,” he explained to TIME. Before long, and in spite of his evident reverence for his predecessors in both paint and pictures, his project evolved into a riveting amalgam: fine-art photographs that felt at once deeply familiar and utterly distinct from anything that might have come before.

“While the models are very present and there for your eyes, they are also turned away and quite private,” he said, noting details that contrast with most Renaissance art, which often made use of a Raphaelite “gaze” — that is to say, a portrait’s subject engaging the viewer with direct, and occasionally unsettling, eye contact.

While the bodies in his photos might well relay a vulnerability unseen in more traditional works, the positioning of the figures — the arch of their hands, the flexion of their feet and toes — communicates a Renaissance aesthetic further evident in his casting and choice of models.

“I was into the ideas of effigies, these white marble statues,” he said. To replicate that look Kander chose models without tattoos or piercings, bodies that were — in his words — “unencumbered by modernity.”

In his interview with TIME, Kander noted the influence Edward Weston, a renowned American photographer, has had on his work and approach to photography.

In 1932, Weston and 10 of the industry’s most notable names created the f/64 Group in San Francisco. The loose collective of photographers was staunchly committed to photography at its most accurate. In Weston’s words, “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

For Kander, this same sensitivity meant little editing or post-production work on his own images — images that at-once mirror a specific reality and inform his personal life.

“I don’t want to make art that’s simple, ‘correct for the times,’ or merely to fit a gap in the market,” he said. “I make things that nourish me.”

Nadav Kander is a London-based photographer. Kander photographed President Barack Obama for TIME’s Person of the Year Issue in 2012.

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Ten percent of all of the photographs made in the entire history of photography were made last year — an astounding figure. More than ever before, thanks in part to cell phone technology, the world is engaged with photography and communicating through pictures.

Nonetheless, a great photograph will rise above all the others. The ten photographs we present here are the pictures that moved us most in 2012. They all deliver a strong emotional impact — whether they show a child mourning his father who was killed by a sniper in Syria (slide #3); a heartbreaking scene in a Gaza City morgue (slide #1); a haunting landscape of New Jersey coastline after Hurricane Sandy, a rollercoaster submerged under the tide (slide #2); or a rare glimpse of President Obama moments before he goes out on stage during a campaign rally (slide #9). We spoke to each of the photographers about their images, and their words provide the captions here.

Over the past several days, we’ve unveiled TIME’s Best Photojournalism and Best Portraits of the Year galleries on LightBox. And in the next three weeks, we will be rolling out even more end-of-year features: the Most Surprising Pictures of the Year; the Best Photo Books of the Year; the Top 10 Photographic Magazine Covers of the Year and other compelling galleries. We will also recognize TIME’s choice for the Best Wire Photographer of the Year. Senior photo editor Phil Bicker is curating many of these galleries with help from the photo team at TIME. His discerning eye has been responsible for the curation of TIME’s Pictures of the Week throughout the year, galleries that regularly present the best of the week’s images, with surprising and sometimes offbeat takes on the news.  We will round off the year on December 31 with our second-annual “365: Year in Pictures,” a comprehensive look at the strongest picture of every day of 2012.

Kira Pollack, Director of Photography

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Swedish photographer Mårten Lange is of that rare breed of people to whom you can give a camera and, no matter what he takes a picture of – be it a shower curtain, a puddle or a cavity in a rock – he’ll make it look so great it’ll give you goosebumps. I could reel off a whole list of adjectives to describe his work, like “inspiring”, “universal”, “sentimental”, “larger-than-life”, blah-blah-blah, da-da-da, but what’s the point when you can just admire the photos above and make up your own mind?

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Earlier this month, TIME sent contract photographer Marco Grob to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in Nashville to photograph comedian Jerry Lewis. Now 86 years old, Lewis, profiled by Richard Zoglin in this week’s issue of TIME, is filling his days directing a musical version of The Nutty Professor—adapted from the film he originally wrote and starred in back in 1963. The new stage version, in collaboration with the late composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Rupert Holmes, is being performed at TPAC through the end of the weekend in a bid for a slot on Broadway.

Although he’s photographed subjects as diverse as Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga, Grob still felt nervous as he waited for Lewis to arrive for his portrait shoot. Experience photographing other comedians led Grob to expect Lewis to be a handful—a worry that proved to be completely unfounded when the legendary funny man showed up.

During the ten-minute shoot, Grob learned that Lewis shared a passion for photography. ”He carries a camera with him everywhere he goes,” says Grob. “It’s pretty much the same equipment we use to film. He’s very professional.”

Grob was also excited to photograph a man he had grown up watching on television. “He’s a legend in Europe,” says the Swiss-born Grob. “It’s always fascinating to meet people who were around all my lifespan, especially someone with as crazy a career as Jerry.”

Marco Grob is a contract photographer for TIME. View more of his work for TIME here or on his website.

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“The preoccupation with I has become a cliché in contemporary art,” says Kimiko Yoshida. The Japanese photographer challenges that cliché by creating large, color photos of herself in which she wears elaborate costumes that reference a wide range of subjects, from haute couture and indigenous cultures to the canon of Western painting. By constantly changing what at first appears to be a self-portrait, Yoshida says, “I am basically saying that there is no such thing as a self-portrait,” she says. “Each of these photographs is actually a ceremony of disappearance. It is not an emphasis of identity, but the opposite—an erasure of identity.”

Born in Tokyo in 1963, Yoshida came of age in a tradition-bound culture where the conservative attitude towards the role of women left her alienated and unhappy. She studied literature and worked in fashion, which allowed her to hone her creative eye, but she remained frustrated. Over her father’s objections, she enrolled in the Tokyo College of Photography. Even after she had her degree in hand, she felt her options for a creative career in Japan were limited and moved to France to escape those stifling confines.

“Since I fled my homeland to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women, I amplified through my art a feminist stance of protest against contemporary clichés of seduction, voluntary servitude of women, identity and the stereotypes of gender,” Yoshida says.

Yoshida critiques the idea of a firm and unchanging identity in a variety of ways, most obviously by physically changing it. In her “Brides” series, she often photographs herself in indigenous garb that she borrows from museums. Meanwhile, in her “Paintings” series, she and her husband repurpose items from the archives of Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne. But no matter what the source material is, Yoshida riddles the final product with playful anachronisms and cross-cultural references that undermine its perceived authenticity. The Paco Rabanne garments and accessories, made between 1965 and 2000, are themselves full of unusual materials, from plastic bottles to CD-roms. Yoshida adds a twist by refusing to wear them as intended: shoes become headdresses while dresses become hats. Yet another twist comes when you realize that Yoshida’s odd remixes actually reference paintings from Western art history, from Caravaggio to Picasso to Warhol. The fact that many of her images are nearly monochromatic threatens to drown whatever individuality that may remain. Finally, Yoshida often displays her images on walls in overwhelming numbers, thus minimizing their specialness.

The end result is evocative of Cindy Sherman, another artist who dons costumes in front of the camera and who even references art history like Yoshida. And while the meanings of Sherman’s work reside in its surfaces, Yoshida’s work provides the artist with an internal, metaphysical space. “Art is above all the experience of transformation,” explains Yoshida. “All that’s not me, that’s what interests me. To be there where I think I am not, to disappear where I think I am, that is what matters.” In the end, perhaps the photographs themselves are simply evidence of this performance. But it is interesting that Yoshida, an artist who is driven by the denial of the self, has made them with such a singular and memorable voice.

Yoshida has solo shows at St. Jakobshalle in Basel, Switzerland, and the Musée Pavillon Vendôme-Dobler in Aix-en-Provence, France, both opening June 13. Her work is also in a group show at the Musée de la Tapisserie in Angers, France that opens June 29. More of her work can be seen here.

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Present-day Chicago is not Harlem in 1979. Present-day Harlem isn’t even Harlem in 1979. But at the Art Institute of Chicago’s new exhibition Dawoud Bey: Harlem USA, some things have stayed the same. The show comprises the 25 original prints from Bey’s noteworthy 1979 exhibition of the series at the Studio Museum in Harlem, plus five previously unpublished prints from the same era.

Dawoud Bey

Smokey, 2002

The impetus for Harlem USA, which was made throughout the 1970s, was Bey’s visit to the Harlem on my Mind show at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969; it took him ten years to start and finish the work. And although the images in the show don’t superficially resemble Bey’s later work—they are small, made with a handheld 35mm camera, impromptu and monochromatic, unlike the later work seen at right—the photographer says that the series contains the seeds of his later work. “They gave me my initial sense of how to engage people in front of the camera,” Bey told TIME in an email. “I first learned how to translate the physical experience of the human subject into compelling photographic form during the years I spent making pictures in Harlem.”

He is not the only one who sees the thread running through his work. Matthew Witkovsky, a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, says that some artists show from their first work a strong sense of who they are and what they want to do. Bey, according to him, is one of those lucky people.

Dawoud Bey

A Boy in Front of the Loews 125th St. Movie Theatre, Harlem, NY, 1976

And Witkovsky says that the photographs, though they remain unchanged, are still fresh. “[Bey] managed to take that ability that cameras have to give you total specificity and imbue it with some kind of other-time-other-place quality,” he says, pointing out an example: in Bey’s picture of a boy outside a movie theater, seen at left, the clothes are quintessential 1970s but the pose is a classic contrapposto. “It’ll always be timely,” says Witkovsky, “because it’s a little bit out of time.”

Bey, who now lives in Chicago, says the photographs themselves are not the only constant. “My feelings about the work haven’t really changed,” he says. “I am still concerned with trying to make resonant photographs of ordinary people.”

Dawoud Bey is a Chicago-based photographer and professor. See more of his work here.

Dawoud Bey: Harlem USA will be on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from May 2 – Sept. 9. The Renaissance Society in Chicago will also present a retrospective of his work, entitled Picturing People, which includes the later work featured in this post, from May 13 – June 24.

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You become kind of jaded and realize that when you get the call to go cover one of these assignments that you are going in as a journalist and your job is to cover the reality of the situation no...

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