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Original author: 
Lily Rothman

When the Swedish photographer David Magnusson created the pictures for his series Purity — now on view at the Malmö Museer as part of his first solo show — he followed the same procedure every time. One hour with a large-format camera. Sixteen pictures taken; one used. In front of the lens, a father and his daughter(s).

“I want to see your relationship as a father and a daughter,” Magnusson says he would tell his subjects, “in light of the decisions you have made.”

Those decisions were very particular ones. The subjects of Magnusson’s series are participants in Purity Balls, an American phenomenon in which girls promise to remain virgins until marriage and their fathers pledge to help them do so. The photographer spent three years—and four trips to the U.S. for a total of five months—capturing these images. Magnusson first heard about Purity Balls when he stumbled across a short magazine story about them, and was fascinated: although Sweden is a Christian country, he says the culture is generally very secular and the idea of religion so affecting one’s life seemed unusual.

But, by spending time with Purity Ball participants, he learned that maybe they weren’t so different from him after all. Each person in front of the camera was his or her own person with his or her own reasons, but the core motivation was something Magnusson could understand, even though he has no children of his own.

“I found out that the fathers participated out of the best intentions. They had been taught this is the best thing for their children, and a lot of the young girls had themselves taken the initiative to attend the purity balls,” he says. “I got the idea that maybe the difference between us wasn’t more than the culture of how we grew up.”

And though the movement is controversial, he strives to present the images without commentary. His aesthetic goal was to make the portraits beautiful and his subjects proud, while still allowing people coming from other perspectives to reach their own interpretations.

“I’ve done a lot of photojournalism in the past and I was at a point with my photography where I felt that I presented a lot of answers. My pictures were being read quickly – you could see, oh, this is sad, then you move on – and I was a bit fed up,” he says. “I had wanted to do something with the goal of passing along a lot of questions and information, letting the viewer make up their own mind.”

And sometimes that information was beyond his control. Though he did give each of his subjects the same instructions, the details each brought — the pose of their hands, how close they stood to each other — were impossible for him to predict. “That,” he says, speaking of the father-daughter relationship, “can’t be directed.”

David Magnusson is a Stockholm-based photographer. His series Purity is on view at Malmö Museer in Malmö, Sweden, through Sept. 8, after which it will tour. The work will be published in book format by Max Ström this winter.

Lily Rothman is a reporter for TIME.com.

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A great portrait captures the very essence of its subject, and this year, TIME continued its long legacy of storytelling with a number of compelling photographs. 2012 saw newsmakers in several categories and countries, so we sent photographers around the world to capture them as they made their mark. In Turkey, Peter Hapak photographed several Syrian families who had sought refuge in the country after fleeing their homeland to escape the brutality of Assad’s regime; in Iowa, Martin Schoeller captured Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas as the young gymnast trained — both in the gym and at home; and in Israel, Marco Grob photographed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in 2012, proved that his influence is not only large, but lasting. Their portraits — and the rest in this gallery — are visual testaments to the diverse and colorful personalities who made 2012 memorable; herewith, a look at TIME’s best commissioned portraits this year.

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I was able to photograph David in the two iconic settings -- his office and the diner -- stealing only about 2 minutes and 30 seconds from his lunch break.

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For more than a century, ironworkers descended from the Mohawk Indians of Quebec have helped create New York City’s iconic skyline, guiding ribbons of metal into the steel skeletons that form the backbone of the city. In the tradition of their fathers and grandfathers, a new generation of Mohawk iron workers now descend upon the World Trade Center site, helping shape the most distinct feature of Lower Manhattan—the same iconic structure their fathers and grandfathers helped erect 40 years ago and later dismantled after it was destroyed in 2001.

Driving some 360 miles south to New York from the Kahnawake reserve near Quebec, these men work—just as their fathers did—in the city during the week and spend time with their families on the weekends.

One year ago, around the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, photographer Melissa Cacciola began documenting some of these workers—not an easy task given that the roughly 200 Mohawks (of more than 2,000 iron workers on site) are working at a frantic pace, helping One World Trade Center to rise a floor a week.

Cacciola, a photographer with a background in chemistry and historic preservation, is one of few photographers who work exclusively with tintypes, images recorded by a large-format camera on sheets of tin coated with photosensitive chemicals. Having previously photographed members of the armed-forces for her War and Peace series, Cacciola looked to document those continuing to help the city move past the shadow of tragedy.

“It seemed like a real New York thing,” she told TIME. “And it made sense as the next chapter in the post-9/11 landscape. Rebuilding is part of that story.”

Just as towers like the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center mark the height of America’s skyscraper architecture, tintype photographs are inherently American. Tintype developed in the 1850s as early American photographers looked for alternatives to the expensive and finicky glass-plate processes popular in Europe. Recycled tin was a readily available resource in the new nation—less than 100 years old—and so the tintype grew in popularity, earning its place in American photographic identity. Even Abraham Lincoln’s campaign pins contained an inlaid tintype portrait of the candidate.

“You don’t find tintypes on other continents,” Cacciola said.

Slightly blurry and sepia-toned, Cacciola’s portraits feel timeless, save for the occasional modern stickers on her subjects’ hardhats. Each portrait focuses tightly on the men’s strong facial features.

The 30 tintypes in the series are each made from bulk sheets of tin, although Cacciola has also used recycled biscuit jars in prior tintype projects. Coated first with a black lacquer and then a layer of collodion emulsion to make them light sensitive, the plates are dipped in a silver bath immediately before exposure to form silver iodide—a step that bonds actual particles of silver to the emulsion. Nothing could be more fitting for men working with steel to be photographed on metal.

In the tradition of 19th-century photography, Cacciola’s process is slower than today’s digital systems. But the finished plates are more than simple portraits; rather, they hold their own weight as tangible objects. Just as histories often reflect the blemishes of times past, Cacciola’s tintypes are fragile, containing marks and slight imperfect artifacts that reflect the medium’s limitations. Working by hand rather than machine, each portrait records the artist’s intentions as much as her subject’s.

“These tintypes are so much a part of me,” she says. “Like the fact that you get partial fingerprints or artifacts from the way I’m pouring collodion on the plate—it’s all human. The way silver and light interact in this chemical reaction is a testament to the Mohawk iron workers and this early [photographic] process—it’s unparalleled in terms of portraiture.”

Melissa Cacciola is a New York-based tintype photographer.

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The land upon which the nation of Israel sits is steeped in stories and myths. It’s ancient, holy; all three major faiths that took root here see salvation in its domes, its olive groves, its cracked earth. It’s a land where people still seek the messiah. In one Orthodox Jewish messianic tradition, He will return riding a white donkey. On a blistering summer’s day in 2006, Yaakov Israel peered through the heat waves and saw, emerging in the distance, a man atop a white donkey. “He materialized,” says Israel, a photographer based in Jerusalem, “like a fata morgana,” a mirage.

Israel’s book The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey will be released in the U.S. this fall.

This man on a donkey was no illusion — nor, most would contest, was he the messiah. Instead, his arrival from the desert and into Israel’s lens gave the photographer a guide for a photo project he has worked on for the past decade, crystallized in a new book, The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey. Israel’s pictures are the product of years of wanderings in Israel, in the Occupied Territories and in the spaces in-between, seeking to document a vision of its people and landscapes away from the noise of an intractable political conflict and the rumbling news media that watches it.

In the spirit of U.S. photographers who chronicled their journeys through the American vastness, Israel would wake up early in the morning and head off in a direction, photographing what he saw and whom he encountered along the way. Of course, unlike in the U.S., Israel, traveling in the country that bears his name, would invariably run into one or two political borders by nightfall. And so his gaze dwells on the quiet of certain moments — “the small clues for me that exist in each image,” as he puts it — that tell a story of daily life in a land whose deep history and uncertain future are woven through with gestures that are at once religious, political and inescapably human.

A girl wades into the Sea of Galilee, her arms held wide as if choosing between crucifixion and baptism. Spools of barbed wire are followed in the book by tangles of thorns and a sea of dandelions; men with guns look on, at times curious, at times detached. A backpacker sleeps. The hills glow and soak in sunlight.

Israel emphasizes the everyday nature of his subjects — “these are people I’m just bumping into every time I go out.” Often, they would go out of their way to accommodate Israel, posing patiently, introducing him to family and friends, pointing to new vistas for his camera. In one scene, a pair of Arab workers who had intended to go to work choose instead to hang out with Israel and share their breakfast with him. “These episodes of human courtesy happened again and again,” says Israel. “For me, these small things tell another kind of political story.”

The man on the white donkey, a Palestinian farmer, was no different. In 45 degrees Celsius heat, he agreed without hesitation to participate in Israel’s project, desperately trying to keep his steed still until an image became clear.

Yaakov Israel is a Jerusalem-based photographer. See more of his work here.

The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey will be available in the U.S. this fall. The project recently won the PhotoEspaña Descubrimientos (PHE12 Discoveries) 2012 Award.

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Few are alive today who remember the 1948 Olympics in London. To commemorate London’s third hosting of the Games, TIME has traversed two continents to speak to the last surviving medalists from the U.K. and the U.S. for its special Olympics edition. Those competitors speak of feelings familiar to us all—the comfort of a lucky charm, the joy of victory. They also recount experiences that are foreign to many athletes today: the enervating effect of post-war rations, and training sessions fitted around everyday jobs.

Despite the various hardships they encountered, the athletes interviewed by TIME remember the Games fondly. Yet when the International Olympic Committee selected London to host the 1948 Summer Olympics, not everyone in the city was pleased. “The average range of British enthusiasm for the Games stretches from lukewarm to dislike,” wrote London’s Evening Standard in September 1947. “It is not too late for invitations to be politely withdrawn.” Even government officials who had pushed for a London Olympics acknowledged that following the devastation of the Second World War, Britain had few resources to spare for a sporting contest. “We have a housing shortage, and food difficulties, which do not permit us to do all we wish,” said Prime Minister Clement Attlee in a radio address welcoming athletes in 1948.

(For daily coverage of the 2012 Games, visit TIME’s Olympics blog)

It was called the ‘austerity’ Olympics—in a sense that even in today’s frugal times we can hardly fathom. With a budget of just $1.2 million (compared to today’s almost $14 billion), no new venues were built—instead, organizers made do and mended. The Henley Royal Regatta course hosted rowing events despite being 70 meters too short. Javelin throwers, deprived of stadium lighting, cast their spears in the dark, while judges officiated with flashlights. Wembley Stadium—usually used as a greyhound racing arena—received a new brick rubble cinder surface, which quickly turned to slush in the rain.

Yet, as Atlee pointed out, if there was anything lacking, it was not “good will.” Britain worked hard to be able to welcome 4,000 competitors from 59 countries – converting university dormitories, schools and RAF bases into accommodation for visiting athletes and their entourages. The army convalescent camp in London’s Richmond Park became an athletes’ village, complete with a ‘milk bar’, a cobbler’s, a hair dresser’s, a post office and a cinema to seat 500. Good will also streamed in from other nations, particularly when it came to food. The Dutch shipped over 100 tons of fruit and vegetables, Denmark contributed 160,000 eggs, and Czechoslovakia sent 20,000 mineral water bottles. The Brits cooked these and other contributions in camp kitchens, attempting to cater to national cuisines. Although post-war rations were boosted for athletes, the fare wasn’t always well received—legend has it that oarsmen displeased by their end-of-the-Olympics dinner at Henley began to chuck bread rolls in protest.

Still, athletes managed to enjoy themselves, without fine cuisine and—in many cases—without alcohol (though the French team carted over their own wine). After winning a gold medal in the swallow sailing class, David Bond and other competitors celebrated by going to a dance at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay, on the English coast. “We had a wonderful ball,” he tells TIME. “Nobody got drunk actually.” In 1948, the rewards for top competitors, were modest — a medal to show to their family and, in British cyclist Tommy Godwin’s case, a post-race glass of chocolate milk. There were no multi-million dollar endorsements, no spandex uniforms, no neon mascots. The big technological advances in 1948 were the photo finish and silk swimming costumes, which replaced saggy cotton. Yet for all the differences with the modern Games, some things have remained the same. Sixty years later, people from all over the world will gather once more in London to celebrate the Olympic spirit. Londoners will still grumble. And like Prime Minister Attlee said in his address, everyone will be hoping for a bit of good weather.

Jim Naughten is a photographer based in London. See more of his work here.

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We’re accustomed to seeing Olympic athletes in their elements: gymnast Gabby Douglas tumbling across the balance beam; runner Lolo Jones mid-hurdle on the track. But in his portrait series of gold-medal hopefuls for TIME’s 2012 Olympics special issue, Martin Schoeller shows three U.S. team members—Douglas, Jones and swimmer Ryan Lochte—whose passion for sport isn’t contained by training center walls.

(For daily coverage of the 2012 Games, visit TIME’s Olympics blog)

In Des Moines, Iowa, where Gabby Douglas has lived since 2010 with a host family to train with legendary Olympic coach Liang Chow, Schoeller met a young athlete who was a role model in the gym and in her home. “It was inspiring to see Gabby with the family who has taken her in so that she can pursue her dream of being an Olympic athlete,” the photographer said. In one picture, Douglas is posed in a full split against her family’s refrigerator, a move that Schoeller says isn’t uncommon for the 16-year-old gymnast. “She’s always stretching around the house to stay limber—you see what it means for these athletes to live and breathe their sport,” Schoeller says. “And then to watch the little girl clinging to Gabby’s leg and playing with her like a new sister was really lovely.”

In Baton Rouge, La., Schoeller photographed track and field athlete Lolo Jones, who finished a disappointing 7th in the 100-meter race at the 2008 Games in Beijing after she clipped a hurdle during the race. “Lolo made me realize how much pressure is on these athletes,” says Schoeller, who, in one image, captured the athlete training for hurdles with her dog. “One little misstep in her last Olympic performance caused a big disappointment, and that is devastating when these athletes have given up everything to become an Olympian.”

Watch behind-the-scenes footage of Martin Schoeller’s cover shoot with swimmer Ryan Lochte

Swimmer Ryan Lochte has become somewhat of the poster boy for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team after appearing on the June cover of Vogue and on the front page of the New York Times’ style section. It’s not surprising, then, that Schoeller found a confident, self-assured athlete in Lochte when he photographed the swimmer in Gainesville, Fla. this May. “He was very nice and very nice-looking, almost like a model,” Schoeller says. “But he is also obviously an incredible athlete—to watch him swim back and forth, turn at the edge and create those ripples in the pool made for a great photo.” With just an hour and a half to shoot, Schoeller tapped a professional diver to lay a black sheet and several lights at the bottom of the pool to create the contrast seen in his photos. “I’m not even a big sports person, but athletes’ bodies are mesmerizing,” Schoeller says. “They’re constantly putting themselves in pose and doing something interesting with the physical expressions, and I love to photograph them because they’re natural performers at heart.”

Martin Schoeller is a New York City–based photographer. See more of his work here.

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On her first visit to the French hospital in 2007, photographer Maja Daniels noticed two elderly residents trying to get her attention through the port-hole-shaped windows of a hallway door. The door, she later discovered, was the entrance to a locked Alzheimer’s ward and the patients who lived there were to become the subjects of a three-year documentary-photography project that recently helped earn Daniels a spot in the 2012 Joop Swart Masterclass — a mentorship program organized by World Press Photo.

The final collection of photographs of the ward and its residents, titled Into Oblivion, is an effort to convey the daily life and struggles of the French Alzheimer’s patients, while also bringing up issues surrounding geriatric care. “I want to motivate people to think about current care policies and the effects it can have on somebody’s life,” Daniels said.

Because Alzheimer’s disease causes memory loss and confusion, Daniels could not get consent directly from the patients she photographed. Instead, she spent nearly two years clearing authorizations with the hospital and the families and legal guardians of the residents. Daniels also had to consider the ethics of documenting subjects who were not able to fully understand what she was doing. “I felt very uncomfortable at times,” she said. “I justified my presence by spending most of the time in the ward with the residents, just like any other volunteer.”

Daniels spent many hours just sitting with residents while she tried to find a dignified way to present them and their situation. The end result of these efforts is a collection of simply composed photographs that are both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Chipped and worn from years of escape attempts, the door through which Daniels originally encountered the ward is a central theme in her photographs. Residents are pictured peeking through its glass, rapping on its windowpanes or jiggling its white plastic handle.

“Sometimes a resident can remain by the door for hours trying to open it,” Daniels explained. “It becomes the center of attention by the residents who wonder why it is closed and why they are unable to open it.”

After completing the series, Daniels shared her pictures with the French ward’s staff and residents’ families. She noted that staff members were surprised by the photographs of the door. “They had never contemplated its symbolic value and had just seen it as a necessity,” said Daniels. “The images led to important discussions around notions such as care and selfhood.”

Maja Daniels is a London-based photographer. She was recently chosen to participate in the 2012 Joop Swart Masterclass in Amsterdam. See more of her work here.

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Last week, seven Palestinian men sat for Pulitzer Prize-winning Israeli photographer Oded Balilty in a home in the West Bank village of Bilin. Against a black backdrop, one man posed with a taut slingshot, two small pebbles resting in the sling. Another stared defiantly through a gas mask. A third carried a tire.

Balilty is no stranger to his subject matter. Based in Tel Aviv as an Associated Press photographer for more than a decade, Balilty has photographed daily clashes as well as the longer-term friction between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2007, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his image documenting a lone Jewish settler challenging Israeli security officers in the settlement of Amona.

Although his subject matter is familiar, his portraits transcend the ongoing conflict.

Clad in checkered kaffiyehs, masks and flags, they carry with them the objects of protest used in resistance against Israeli soldiers. Their improvised arsenal of everyday objects echoes the ongoing conflict—a struggle temporarily put on hold while Balilty photographed the men.

“The clashes have been going for years and years and it’s become repetitive, all these clashes every weekend,” Balilty told TIME. “But, this time I said, ok, I want to do something a little bit different. How am I going to show the conflict in a different way?”

He arrived at the idea of shooting portraits, but consulted with his colleague, Nasser Shiyoukhi, the AP’s Palestinian photographer from the West Bank, for help with the access.

“I asked him if it’s even possible for me, as an Israeli,” he said.

Shiyoukhi helped Balilty get in touch with the organizer of the weekly street demonstrations, who gave his consent for the photos to be taken—even arranging for the portraits to be shot inside the organizer’s house in Bilin, a village in the West Bank.

“The Palestinians are definitely not like the Israelis—they are aware of the power of the media. And any exposure for them, in any way, is an opportunity to explain their situation and to talk about the conflict. They are very open minded—they cooperate for a specific reason,” explained Balilty.

Despite the serious nature of the shoot, the atmosphere inside the studio lacked the conflicted tension Balilty expected.

“It’s a very serious issue. But mainly for me, I was trying to focus on the person and to tell like the general story through a few individuals,” said Balilty.

“On the weekend, they are in those protests, but other than that, they are totally normal people—they live normal lives, they go to school, they work, they have families. But yet these guys are always standing on the front lines of the protest and some of them get injured, some of them get arrested, some of them get killed,” he said.

Looking back on the shoot, the photographer was surprised by the way the day turned out.

“At the end of the day, we became like friends. We spent the entire day together, sat together and smoked a cigarette together, and we [shared] some common jokes and it was a very cool day. I wish, you know…it was like that all the time and everywhere. The experience I had that day…for me was one of the best things.”

Oded Balilty is a photographer for the Associated Press based in Tel Aviv. LightBox featured his work earlier this year in The Art of Storytelling.

LightBox updated the story at 3pm Saturday with comments from Oded Balilty. 




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