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Original author: 
Richard Conway

For a man who worked professionally for barely more than ten years, Sergio Larrain, who died in 2012, had a disproportionately large impact on photography. The author of four books, he is widely considered Chile’s finest lensman, though he became something of a recluse later in life.

Born in Santiago into a well-to-do family, he ditched a possible career in forestry for a life behind the camera, and saved up for his first Leica by working in a cafe. The son of an architect father, his love of photography grew when he later traveled the Middle East and Europe, lens in tow. His real break came in 1958, though, when he bagged a British Council bursary that allowed him photograph cities throughout the U.K.

The images that emerged – chiefly of London – were captivating shots of the everyday, and caught the eye of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Frenchman later invited Larrian to Paris and the Chilean soon joined Cartier-Bresson’s Magnum agency as an associate in 1959 (and became a full member in 1961).

MAGNUM

MAGNUM

Sergio Larrain

His was a career filled with disparate subject matters, tied together with his famous compassion for those he photographed. Larrain’s style is immediately recognizable: he made use of vertical frames, was a fan of low angle shots and was wholly unafraid of experimentation. Much of his work was concerned with street children, and his some of his earliest pictures – those from a 1957 series in Chile, for example – are certainly his most powerful. Though he was no stranger to architectural photography, having shot fellow countryman and diplomat Pablo Neruda’s house.

Indeed, his portraiture is as humanistic as it is environmental. One of his most captivating images, taken as part of the later Valparaiso series in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, perfectly combines both. The piece shows two young girls going down a staircase, their delicate frames contrasting with the solid, modernist-seeming gray concrete surrounding them. It is a picture as much about its subjects as it is about the context in which see them; and with their backs turned to us, is as much about what we see as what we don’t.

“He is very different, very intense,” says Agnès Sire, director of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, and curator of an upcoming retrospective of Larrain’s work at Les Rencontres d’Arles, “for me, he is [often] interested in what you don’t see.”

Larrain stopped taking pictures professionally in the 1970s and retreated to the Chilean countryside for a life of calm meditation (though he continued to take some pieces in the 1980s, they were photographs of objects, usually in his house, which he would send to friends in the mail). It is said that he withdrew because he, ever the humanitarian, became disillusioned with the often harsh world he was photographing, and felt powerless to help.

“He stopped his career. It was not bringing him what he [thought] it would bring to him,” explains Sire. “[He felt] the fact he photographed those kids will not change the fact that there will always be kids abandoned. Photography will not help save the planet.”

Sire adds that Larrain even rejected the idea of retrospectives for most of his later life, because they might force him out of his self-imposed retreat, and that his career was meteoric for a reason: he was a man who would only, and could only, follow his instincts. “He was unique,” she says, “he was really a free man.”

A retrospective of Sergio Larrain’s work forms part of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2013, which runs from July 1 through Sept. 22, 2013.

Richard Conway is a member of TIME.com’s photo staff. He’s previously written for LightBox on Erwin Olaf, Gary Winogrand, Ezra Stoller and Pete Hujar.

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Original author: 
Liz Ronk

Elaine Mayes might well be the most accomplished photographer and photography educator that many passionate photography aficionados have never heard of. As one of the very first women teachers of photography who learned her craft primarily in art school, Mayes has influenced generations of photographers while quietly, steadily and tenaciously pursuing her own vision as a creative artist. This summer, Mayes’ work from her seminal Autolandscapes series will go on display through January 2014 at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, alongside work by Steve Fitch and Robbert Flick.

Mayes, who defines her aesthetic, in part, as a “Walt Whitman approach” to photography — i.e., embracing influences found in “everything and in nothing” — has taught both photography and film at the University of Minnesota, Hampshire College (where she was a founding member of the faculty), Pratt, Bard and several other schools. (She’s currently Professor Emerita in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.)  She studied with Minor White; was friendly with the likes of Bruce Davidson, John Szarkowski and Diane Arbus in the 1960s and beyond; has shown her work at MoMA New York, MoMa San Francisco, the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere; and cites fellow artists like Paul Caponigro and Wynn Bullock as major influences on her photography.

Her work belongs to no “school.” Instead, across six decades, Mayes has employed a deeply individualistic sensibility — nowhere more evident than in the Autolandscapes (1971). She had just gotten a job teaching at Hampshire when, after requesting an NEA grant for $3,000, she won a grant for a mere third of that. Undeterred, she drove across country with her husband and four cats, chronicling the landscape — other automobiles, gas stations, homes, factories, road signs, cows, empty tarmac. The result is a marvelous, unadorned, understated and perfectly “of its time” document of early Seventies Americana. Focusing on the horizontal plane witnessed outside of her moving car, the photos formalize the idea of capturing movement in a way that also seems to slow, and even stop, time.

The work seen in this gallery, meanwhile, is primarily comprised of photos that are part of an ongoing series Mayes began when she moved to Minnesota to teach in the 1960s, and has continued to work on through today. With her keen interest in photos that have a mysterious quality, and images where the scene is big, but the tiniest details are still cleanly visible, Mayes characterizes her own goal as an effort to make photographs by “responding [to her environment], but not knowing why.”

This body of work will be on view as part of a group exhibition, Landscapes in Passing: Photographs by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick and Elaine Mayes, at the American Art Museum in Washington D.C.

Liz Ronk is the photo editor of LIFE.com.

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TIME Photo Department

Yolanda Cuomo is the curatorial voice behind some of the 20th century’s greatest photographic books. This year, alongside Melissa Harris, Cuomo is co-curating the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Va., June 13 – 15, 2013.

One word comes up again and again, like a shared mantra, when talking with Yolanda Cuomo, or when discussing Cuomo with people who know her: collaboration. Hardly surprising, perhaps, in light of the talent that, at one time or another, the 55-year-old art director and designer has worked with — including creative icons from Avedon and Sylvia Plachy to Twyla Tharp and Laurie Anderson. But one quickly gets the sense that, in Cuomo’s world, collaboration is not simply one way to approach a project; it’s the only way to approach a project.

As her longtime friend (“creative soulmate” might be a more apt description), Aperture Foundation editor-in-chief Melissa Harris, puts it: “Yolanda is simply one of the greatest people I know. She is so full of ideas, and our collaborations [on books, magazines, exhibitions] have been so fantastic because we always approach each project from an utterly fresh perspective. And we laugh,” she adds, making it clear that humor is an integral element of their long-time, enormously fruitful partnership. “We laugh a lot.”

The driving force behind the celebrated Yolanda Cuomo Studio, Yo (as all her friends and colleagues call her) has helped envision and produce some of the most striking and influential art and photography books of the past two decades, including Diane Arbus’ Revelations, Gilles Peress’ Farewell to Bosnia, Pre-Pop Warhol and scores of other titles.
(Incredibly, it was only within the last year, with New York at Night, that Cuomo got what she calls her “first spine.” She’d done 85 books through the years, she told LightBox, “but Norma Stevens and I published New York at Night in 2012 and, holy shit, there was my name on the spine!”).

A graduate of Cooper Union, Cuomo got her start in the publishing world as a junior designer at Condé Nast in the early 1980s. Under the mentorship of the legendary art director Marvin Israel, she not only was introduced to many of the people who would become part of her vast and cherished professional extended family — Plachy, Avedon, Peress, Nan Goldin and others — but also got her very first lessons, from a master, in the power of collaboration.

Yolanda Cuomo at her desk in her Chelsea studio, New York NY, February 4, 2012.

Pete Pin

Yolanda Cuomo at her desk in her new Chelsea studio in February.

“Marvin was so brilliant,” Cuomo says, “and one of the key things I learned from him — by his example, not by his making a big deal out of it — was that bringing other peoples’ voices and sensibilities to a project can make it so much stronger and more wonderful than if only one person holds sway over everything.”

The reason Cuomo got the job at Condé Nast in the first place, meanwhile, is emblematic of another type of creativity altogether.

“I lied,” she says, her mischievous laugh all these years later suggesting that she still can’t believe it herself. “When I was interviewed [for the Condé job] I told them that of course I knew how to do mechanicals. Then I went right out and immediately called a friend and was like, ‘What’s a mechanical?’”

Regardless of how she got her foot in the door, Cuomo learned the ins and outs of the art and publishing worlds from the very best. A quick study, she was eventually asked to oversee a new project by the Village Voice, and in 1985 Yolanda Cuomo was named art director of the Voice’s short-lived, tremendously creative fashion magazine, Vue. There, she and her small staff were afforded the sort of creative freedom that, for anyone working in magazines today, must seem something from another, near-mythical age.

Courtesy of the Village Voice/Yolanda Cuomo Design

Courtesy of the Village Voice/Yolanda Cuomo Design

Cover and spreads from the September 1986 issue of Vue. Photographs by Amy Arbus.

“It was total carte blanche,” Cuomo recalls. “We had to fill 32 pages that came out once a month. We sat in a room and just said to each other, ‘Okay, let’s call up people we love.’”

The names of those people they loved comprise something of a Who’s Who of talent of the era — each one of whom brought a unique sensibility to the pages of Vue. For one shoot, Sylvia Plachy photographed models posing in the trees of a New York cemetery. For another, Nan Goldin commissioned a pregnant bodybuilder friend to model lingerie in the East Village’s Russian baths. Phrases like “creative foment” seem to have been coined to describe exactly the sort of atmosphere that existed when Yolanda Cuomo was learning her chops.

The Voice shut down Vue after just a half-dozen issues, but its young staff, thrilled by what they’d accomplished together, was not ready to quit working as a team. With her assistant and two others, Cuomo found a small office space in Manhattan, and her design studio was born.

The studio’s first photo book was Unguided Tour, a collection of work by Sylvia Plachy.

“When we work together,” Plachy says of her collaborations with Cuomo, “we both have an intuitive sense about editing and designing. Yo is open to new things; she responds to things in the moment. She doesn’t force her point of view. Instead, it’s a free-flowing enjoyment of the evolution of the ideas, and moving toward something new and exciting.”

For Cuomo, inspiration can come from anywhere, from any time and from anyone. An old French book about the Eiffel Tower, for instance, discovered in a bookstore in Paris decades earlier, might influence the design of a photography book today. Closer to home, while making Paolo Pellegrin’s 2012 artist book — designed in a single, breakneck week — Cuomo found a visual muse in her assistant designer’s workspace.

“Bonnie [Briant] had a little color copy of a dog photo that she loved taped to her notebook on her desk, and I saw it and thought, ‘That is so beautiful.’”

A scan of the notebook — Scotch tape and scratches included — became the cover of the Pellegrin book. “That’s the way I like to work,” Cuomo says. “Spontaneously inventing.”

The fact that Cuomo has a full life outside of her work — a life that helps inform everything she does — speaks volumes about her ability to find balance in both the spontaneous and the thoroughly predictable. Living in Weehawken, New Jersey, Cuomo rides her bike every day from her home to the ferry, which she takes across the Hudson River to the West Side of Manhattan and her studio. At day’s end, she heads back across the river, to her “big old Victorian house,” her garden, her family — in other words, to a world that adds meaning and color to her vocation as an art director, designer and teacher.

In the end, that might be the greatest collaboration of them all: the way Yolanda Cuomo weaves family and work, leisure and labor, vision and vocation into a fully realized world of her own making.

Alissa Ambrose & Ben Cosgrove

See more of Cuomo’s work at Yolanda Cuomo Design.

Alissa Ambrose is a freelance writer and photo editor based in New York. Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

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Original author: 
Vaughn Wallace

To photograph mankind and explain man to man — that was how legendary photographer Wayne Miller described his decades-long drive to document the myriad subjects gracing his work. Miller passed away Wednesday at the age of 94 at his home in California.

Rene Burri—Magnum

Rene Burri—Magnum

Wayne Miller in 2001

Miller began pursuing photography while attending college at the University of Illinois, Urbana, shooting for the school’s yearbook. Following a two-year stint at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, Miller started working as a photographer for the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific Theater under Edward Steichen’s Naval Aviation Unit.

“We had Navy orders that allowed us to go any place we wanted to go and, when we got done, to go home,” Miller said in an interview with the American Society of Media Photographers. “It was fantastic.”

Miller’s reportage-style images of life and death aboard U.S. aircraft carriers provide a visual narrative for a field of battle largely unknown to the American public. Miller’s war-time photographs illustrate the tension and tragedy of bloodshed and destruction underneath the beautiful skies and billowing white clouds of the South Pacific.

And after Japan capitulated in September 1945, Miller was one of the first photographers to enter Hiroshima, documenting the unimaginable effects of the 20-kilton atomic bomb detonated over the city the previous month. Miller photographed victims suffering from acute radiation poisoning and severe shock in the ruins of a city reduced to rubble in one great flash.

Miller received two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation to photograph his next major project, a documentary look at the streets of Chicago’s South Side, his hometown. Shooting between 1946 and 1948, his work — a mix of portraits and environmental scenes — broke convictions for its look at the black communities living and working in postwar Chicago.

USA. Illinois. Chicago. 1948. An alley between overcrowded tenements, with garbage thrown over the railings of the back porches. Most of the area's tenants were transient.

Wayne Miller—Magnum

An alley between overcrowded tenements, with garbage thrown over the railings of the back porches. Most of the area's tenants were transient. Chicago, 1948.

“Up until that time, these [photographs] were considered snapshots by the public and by the commercial world,” he told ASMP. The visual weight of his work didn’t go unnoticed — the hope, worry, excitement, struggle and leisure pictured in ‘The Ways of Life of the Northern Negro’ remains striking even to modern viewers today.

After his Chicago body of work, Miller went on to work as a photographer for LIFE until 1953. He began collaborating with his old boss, Steichen, on a new project called the “Family of Man” — an ambitious look at the commonalities among humans around the world through the work of 273 photographers (including Miller). As an associate curator, Miller helped Steichen produce and organize the show’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955. One of Miller’s photographs even graced the cover of LIFE that February.

Miller held the title of president of the prestigious Magnum photo agency from 1962-1968, leading the cooperative before beginning a career with the National Park Service and later, CBS. In the mid 1970s, Miller put down his camera to follow his passion for the environment, purchasing a small plot of redwood forest in Mendocino County. For the next several years, he worked to combat tax laws that favored clear cutting forests. He continued to push for sustainable practices through retirement.

Miller is survived by his wife Joan, four child, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.

The film about Miller’s career, embedded above, is ‘The World is Young” by Theo Rigby, a photographer and filmmaker based in San Francisco.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

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Original author: 
Megan Gibson

Many artists perceive power in movement. Photographer and visual artist Chris Levine seeks to illuminate the power inherent in stillness.

His larger-than-life subjects — which include Queen Elizabeth II and singer Grace Jones — might be among the most photographed people in the world, but Levine has a knack for capturing them at rest, as if in the calm of a storm. “Every opportunity I got [to shoot a portrait], I tried to distill it back to just pure essence without any suggestion or iconography or anything,” he told TIME during a recent visit to his studio in Oxfordshire, England, ahead of his solo retrospective show at The Fine Art Society on May 17. “I’m experimenting with that and trying to get stillness in the image.”

He says the challenge as a photographer is to distance himself from the idea of his subject  and focus on the person he has right in front of his lens. In a recent sitting with Kate Moss, Levine says he was determined to ignore Kate Moss, the supermodel, and instead tried “to bring her back, just to Kate – Kate, Kate, Kate.” In doing this, he manages to take one of the fashion world’s most recognizable faces and show it in a new light.

Which may explain why an artist who largely focuses on lights, lasers and holography — as Levine has done since his student days at London’s Chelsea School of Art; his light installations will be included in the retrospective at The Fine Art Society — has made a name for himself in recent years for his portraits. The Canadian-born Brit, now 41, says that he never expected to be shooting icons at this stage in his career. In fact, back in 2004, when he received a call from Buckingham Palace asking him to shoot a portrait of the Queen, Levine initially thought it was a prank. “I thought it was a hoax at first! Seriously, I really did. It just seemed so far-fetched.”

Once Levine was sufficiently convinced that it was not a ruse but a Royal request, he went to work preparing lights and equipment, wanting to put his knowledge of light and holography to use capturing the monarch in a truly modern fashion. Setting up the visual light equipment in Buckingham Palace took Levine about three days – “and it took every second,” he recalls – and the shoot itself took about an hour and a half. However, the resulting images, including Lightness of Being as well as the shot selected for TIME’s cover on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, are arresting and timeless.

“I think [these images] struck such a chord because it’s going somewhere into a more spiritual dimension and into a deeper realm,” he says. ”It’s what we are but people don’t very often connect with it.”

Chris Levine: Light 3.142 is on display from May 17 to June 15, 2013 at The Fine Art Society in London.

Chris Levine is a Canadian born light artist based in the United Kingdom.

Megan Gibson is a writer and reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson.

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Note: The sequence of images in this feature was updated Jan. 8, 2013. 

American Special forces, guns trained and at the ready, stand outside a fortified compound on foreign soil. Cast in midnight shadow, the well-armed and night-vision-equipped troops communicate with hand motions and brief radio exchanges.

What follows is a stunningly efficient raid — carefully choreographed — with the requisite shouted commands, sporadic gunfire, and the low-hummed whirr of helicopter blades. Through it all, photographer Jonathan Olley was there.

But these bullets and bombs were mere props. The soldiers: actors instead. The drama: cinematic climate written and directed by the movie industry’s best. But in the world of Hollywood, Jonathan Olley’s photographs are almost too real.

Many Americans have likely seen Olley’s work, even if they don’t know the photographer by name. With his images plastered on the sides of bus stop vestibules or subway station walls, on billboards, print advertisements and even the cover of Newsweek, Jonathon Olley is the stills photographer for this year’s Oscar-hopeful Zero Dark Thirty.

The film, from Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, traces the hunt for Osama bin Laden through the career of one female American intelligence officer, played by Jessica Chastain. While the film has received criticism —from politicians and the military, not to mention historians who challenge the film portrayal of events— the virulence of the critiques may fairly reflect how realistic the movie is presented.

“What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film,” Bigelow told the The New Yorker in an interview about the movie last December. Who better to photograph a movie about a war, than a photojournalist who had seen one up close.

As a 27-year-old photographer, Jonathan Olley traveled to Sarajavo, a city under siege as Yugoslavia slowly broke apart. Packed and ready to leave on February 5, 1994, Olley was footsteps from the city’s main market when a violent explosion rocked his career forever.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Markale market masacre during the Siege of Sarajevo, which killed 68 and wounded 200. 1994.

The mortar, responsible for the deaths of 68 people and the wounding of 200, left a near-dazed Olley reeling amidst the chaos of the scene.

“I made some photographs of the place in a haphazard and panicky way” he remembers. “At that point, I got grabbed by some men and had a gun put in my mouth.”

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

British Army's 19th Field Ambulance high on the mountain plain of Bosnia-Herzegovina protect a wounded soldier from the downwash of a Royal Navy Sea King. Sipovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Former Yugoslavia. 1996.

For Olley, those moments served as “catalyst” in his professional career, illustrating how photographers could become part of the stories they covered, and could even create conflict while trying only to bear witness.

“That day made me think about what my position in all of this was,” he said. “In the end, the risks” — by this he means for himself and the people he photographed— “were not worth the news agenda of the day.”

More than a decade after that fateful event, Olley was introduced to Hollywood director Paul Greengrass, who hired him as photographer for the film Green Zone, a movie about the fruitless search for nuclear weapons in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Iraqi tank destroyed by depleted-Uranium tipped weapon. Al-Amarah, Maysan, Iraq. 2004.

Today, with three films under his belt, Olley says his commercial photography work on Green Zone, The Hurt Locker and now Zero Dark Thirty, requires the same skill and attention to detail as covering any war.

“You don’t really get a lot of access and you have to find your position in the maelstrom of activity.” Olley told TIME in an interview from his home in London. “Like conflict photography, shooting film stills is about being in a place where no one really wants you to be and making it work.”

Because still photographers are “non-essential” for the production process, he said — the photographs are used primarily to promote the movie when complete — the stills photographer is often the first victim of ornery directors, aggressive producers, or mercurial actors. If filming is going poorly, or the timing just isn’t right, photographers can be asked — politely or otherwise — to leave.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Zimbabwean de-miners in full protective clothing in Al-Zubai-Dat, Iran on the Iraqi border.

“Some actors are a little bit like racehorses: great to watch, but tough to deal with,” he jokes. In spite of the tensions, though, Olley is quick to add that many of Hollywood’s best actors — from Matt Damon to Jennifer Chastain — understand the importance of a film’s still photography and that working with these professionals at their best is “a privilege.”

Yet, as journalistic as his commercial images might look, and as close to reality as some Hollywood films have become, Olley views his film work as a means to other personal and professional ends.

“To me it’s like any other job,” said Olley, whose latest project, large format photography looking at the legacy of empire in Ireland, has received interest from the Tate Modern museum in London.

Despite the challenges of photographing the silver screen, Olley’s film experiences have been his most professionally forgiving, he said.

With scenes getting multiple takes — professional “second chances”— he has more opportunities to capture the valuable, powerful moments. However, for Olley — so nearly killed while covering conflict — there is comfort in the security of a Hollywood set.

Jonathan Olley

Jonathan Olley

Victim of shell splinters from a Serbian mortar-round. Jewish Community Centre, Central Sarajevo. 1994.

“At least in this business, you don’t die when you get it wrong,” he said.

Jonathan Olley is a photographer based in London.

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There’s always something interesting about history—it’s often just a matter of knowing where to find it.

That’s the idea behind Shorpy.com, an eye-popping collection of historical imagery that casts a modern light on an astonishing array of photographs long-hidden in the Library of Congress archives. Named after a 12-year-old coal miner in a picture by the great Lewis Hine, Shorpy.com offers new, high-definition life to old images, restoring the often-breathtaking detail found in the original negatives: the uneven, rutted cobbles on a 1908 Philadelphia street, or the slight hint of alarm in the eye of a test pilot about to fly an aircraft in 1911.

In the last decade, the Library began digitizing specific sets of images in their 13-million-photo strong collection. Soon after, Dave Hall, the co-founder of Shorpy.com, began exploring their archives. Previously a Style editor at the Washington Post, Hall wasn’t especially interested in historical images until late one night, when he discovered several photographs of early 20th-century child laborers. Taken by Lewis Hine on an 8×10 view camera, Hall was amazed at the pictures’ clarity — sparkling with far more detail than a standard 35mm frame. Wondering why he had never before seen such strikingly detailed historical imagery, Hall took it upon himself to post the photos online, in high-resolution — an endeavor simplified by the LOC’s public-domain image rights.

That was in 2007. Now, six years later, Hall has worked his magic on more than 10,000 historic photographs, ranging from early tintypes of Native Americans to medium-format color slides of 1950′s suburbia. Hall mostly sources the site’s new images from the LOC’s raw high-resolution scans, then restores them to their original grandeur.

The physical reality of turn-of-the-century America — its machines, factories, tenements and faces — emerge as if unearthed from a time capsule. Quirky cultural artifacts that have always been with us — locked in photosensitive chemicals in the glass plates and nitrate negatives of the LOC’s Prints & Photographs Division — feel as new and, in many cases, as unexpected, as they were on the day they were shot.

But the primary value of Shorpy.com isn’t just found in the hundreds upon hundreds of restored images of Americana, trains, bathing contests, accidents, war ephemera, portraits of royalty, and the occasional sharecropper. It’s in the details that Hall has meticulously restored within each photograph that the true power of these pictures is found. Every image republished on Shorpy has been color corrected, toned, and sharpened — restoring the brilliant texture and jaw-dropping sharpness found in the original negatives and glass plates. These negatives have a tremendous amount of detail, Hall explains, but the Library of Congress’ scans often don’t reflect this. The details exist in the original negatives, but are frequently hidden in blown-out highlights and muddied shadows. So, with each image, Hall balances the exposure, correcting for the wear of time upon negatives that record a narrow but deep slice of American history.

Hall doesn’t modify the content of the images, either — all of his adjustments are carefully limited to the standards of which the original photographers would likely pursue. He is, in effect, a master digital restorer, working as a darkroom printer of the time period would have done while preparing the images for public exhibition.

Most — if not all — of these pictures have never before been displayed with such clarity, and certainly have never been enjoyed, by an audience as vast as the web. This is where Shorpy’s strength as a historical and cultural tool comes into its own. Images that were once considered only as objects of history are made immediate and relevant once again, in part because we’re able to see that life in the past isn’t quite as different from our world as we perhaps imagined it to be. Shorpy lets us see in detail the faces of the past — and they look, in essence, exactly like the faces we’d see today on any American street.

Perhaps even more amazing than the photos themselves, however, are the comments on the site, often made anonymously, that help to flesh out the huge story behind the photos — and, in a sense, behind the Library of Congress itself. Users of the site closely inspect the images, pointing out a range of details — everything from specific styles of clothing to the facial expressions of passersby reflected in store windows.

For history to be relevant, it has to not only be accessible, but detailed enough that it feels alive. By embracing the immeasurable value of America’s vast, public photo library, Shorpy has found an elegant way to engage a generation for whom, and on whom, the power and personality of history is often lost.

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

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The long view of history tends to be the judge of a presidency. As we approach what President Obama hopes will be the midpoint of his tenure in the Oval Office, it is too early to draw conclusions on his legacy as Commander in Chief. What we do know is that Obama’s first term has been a historic one: the first African American to hold the county’s highest office, Obama and his Administration have battled a recession, passed health care reform and legislation to end the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, formally ended the war in Iraq and brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

Through adversity and triumph, public victories and private setbacks, chief official White House photographer Pete Souza and his team of photographers have relentlessly documented the actions of the President, the First Lady and the Vice President since Obama took office in early 2009.

As the President runs for a second term, LightBox asked Souza to reflect on his time photographing Obama and share an edit of his favorite images that he and his staff made during the President’s first term; the photographs offer a fascinatingly candid insight into the life of the President while painting a portrait of Barack Obama the man, husband and father.

“I tried to, in putting together this edit, not only to show some of the high points or low points of his presidency thus far, but pictures that help people understand what he’s like, not only as a President but as a human being,” Souza tells TIME. “And how he relates to other people, how he relates to his family.”

Souza’s process is aided by his long-standing working relationship with Obama — one that precedes the presidency. They met on Jan. 3, 2005, Obama’s first day in the Senate. For Souza, then a staff photographer at the Chicago Tribune‘s Washington bureau, it was the first day of a yearlong assignment to document the new Senator’s time in office.

As the assignment evolved, Souza — who had worked as a White House staff photographer during President Reagan’s second term — began recognizing something special about the Senator. An inkling of things to come, or potential for the future. He began looking for moments that would prove valuable in the course of history, photographs that would define Obama’s early years to those who only knew his legacy.

“I was looking for things that I knew that if he ever became President you would never see again,” he says. “[Obama was] walking down a sidewalk in Moscow in 2005 and no one recognized him. I realized that if he ever became President, you would never, ever see a photograph like that. The odds of becoming President are obviously pretty slim, but I knew he had the potential. And you can’t say that about too many people.”

Souza continued to photograph Senator Obama, who quickly became presidential-candidate Obama and then Democratic-nominee Obama. With Obama’s 2008 election victory, Souza returned to the White House as chief official White House photographer and director of the White House Photography Office.

The photographs that Souza has taken extend the lineage of White House photography that began in the 1960s, first in a somewhat scattered way during John F. Kennedy’s Administration and then more officially with Yoichi Okamoto, Lyndon B. Johnson’s photographer. Okamoto is considered the first photographer to capture the presidency with an eye for history. Souza is quick to acknowledge and praise his work and that of others who have followed, including David Kennerly (Ford), Bob McNeely (Clinton) and Eric Draper (George W. Bush).

An all-digital workflow is one thing that differentiates Souza’s work from the majority of his predecessors. Although he wasn’t the one to move the process to digital — Draper, Bush’s photographer, made the switch from film to digital — Souza made the first official portrait of an incoming President with a digital camera. The Obama Administration has understood the insatiable appetite for imagery that the digital age has wrought and embraces Flickr as a means of disseminating presidential photography.

The Administration encourages sharing behind-the-scenes photos now, he says. “[It wanted] to establish a way to become more transparent than any other Administration, so every month, we upload a new batch of behind-the-scenes photos. The response has been overwhelming.”

But alongside the ease brought by the digital era came one difficulty: the Presidential Records Act prohibits Souza and his team from deleting any photographs. ”One of our bigger challenges is just the storage of all these images,” he says, noting the immense difficulty the team will experience moving millions of digital files to the National Archives at the end of Obama’s tenure.

Souza’s work with the President follows in the golden age of photojournalism’s best traditions, when photographers working for magazines like LIFE established relationships and spent inordinate amounts of time shooting beautifully crafted images of public figures.

“I spend a lot of time with [the President], around him, on vacations, sometimes on weekends, depending on what’s going on. He’s used to me being around,” Souza says. As his friend P.F. Bentley described it, “When the President is on, I’m on. And when the President’s off, I’m still on.”

Souza recalls one meeting that he missed because it had been rescheduled unbeknownst to him. “I was a little upset with the President’s secretary for not telling me that they had moved the meeting up, and [the President] heard us talking and he said, ‘What are you talking about? You were in that meeting.’ He’s so used to me being there that he thought that I had been in the meeting that I wasn’t even in. So I took that as a compliment.”

His access to Obama’s inner circle and day-to-day routine stems from the trust he built during their relationship prior to the presidency. “I’m there to seriously document his presidency. I’m not looking for cheap shots, and I think that’s the kind of relationship any White House photographer should have with the President they’re covering,” he says. “That they have a level of access and trust that will lead to important photographs for history.”

Souza is aware of the significance of the photographs he and his team are taking, but he’s also focused on capturing the small and incidental moments that make the Obama Administration unique. “There are days that you certainly think about the importance of what’s taking place — you’re serving an important role in visually documenting this period of time for history,” he says. “But at the same time, a lot of the pictures that tell you a lot about a President are not [made] during those times. They’re when he’s having a private moment with one of his daughters, or when something unexpected happens that may not be, you know, important in terms of history’s sake.”

“I think that’s what keeps you on your toes. You never know when those moments are gonna occur, because they don’t always occur when big things are happening,” he says. The image of Obama playing in the snow with Sasha and Malia is a testament to Souza’s approach. The photograph is not simply of the President but of a moment shared between a father and his daughters.

These personal images round out Souza’s portrait of the President and give it greater depth. While preparing this edit for LightBox, he acknowledged that it was hard to present what a presidency is about in just a handful of pictures. “I don’t gravitate toward any singular image right now,” he says. “I try to look at a body of work, and so I’m proud of this edit that I submitted. To me, it’s all these photographs together which tell you something about this man, this President, and I guess to a certain extent, about me and what I think is important.”

Although Souza’s edit comprises more than 100 images, it is by no means a comprehensive record of Obama’s time in office. “I’m sure that I left out some important moments,” he says. “I don’t think I included anything from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and that’s historic in itself — he won the Nobel Peace Prize. But it just didn’t fit in with the series of pictures that I wanted to present.”

Says Souza of the President: “He has certainly created history just by being the first African-American President. Hopefully in future generations, we’ll soon have a woman President or a Hispanic President, and it won’t matter that much. But I think that if you’d ask him, he wants to be remembered for the things that he’s done.”

For Souza, it’s difficult at this point to reflect on the last four years and the photographs he and his team have made. “One of the difficult things, doing this every day, is having a chance to really sit back and take it all in. Putting these photos together helped that a little bit,” he says. “You’re a little bit overwhelmed about everything that happened in four years, because a lot of stuff has happened. I hope there will come a time where, when I’m not doing this job any longer, I’ll be able to sit back and reflect on everything that he’s been through and everything that I’ve been through.”

An exhibition of Souza’s work, The Obama White House — Photographs by Pete Souza, is on view at the Leica Gallery in New York City from Oct. 5 to Nov. 10, 2012.

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Photo: Nadege Meriau

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At first glance Nadege Meriau‘s photographs appear to be microscopic images, at second glance, apocalyptic landscapes. But in reality they are assembled out of food: fruits, vegetables, bones, meat and more.

The lighting is haunting and carefully constructed with a muted color palette. When studying her images, one starts forming an exit strategy. There is a paradox in them, between pain and pleasure.

Meriau is a Tunisian-born artist who is currently based in London. She received her masters from the Royal College of Art in 2011 and has exhibited her photographs in Europe since 2005. Most recently she was nominated for the Discovery Prize at Les Rencontres d’Arles. In her interview with Raw File below, Meriau discusses her process, intentions and negotiating art versus commercial work.

Wired: Would you say that science is an influence on your work? If so, could you explain how?

Meriau: Yes, the natural sciences, especially biology, are a strong influence. One of the main starting points for this project was my reading of Darwin’s The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits. I am also very interested in biomimicry, especially when it comes to architecture.

Wired: Do you consider your images to be abstract or do you want your audience to immediately understand what you are building? Could you explain the importance of working with food?

Meriau: I want to disorientate the viewer, at least initially, so hopefully the images are not immediately understandable. I’m drawn to edible materials because of their complex textures and colors but also because they are alive and unpredictable as they change with time and temperature.

The transformative, alchemical aspect of growing and cooking food is interesting to me, perhaps because it is akin to the creative process. I also like the idea of exploring everyday edible objects such as a piece of bread or a potato.

Wired: I see that you shoot commercial photography as well as fine art and that you are represented by Wyatt Clarke and Jones. How do you feel about making your work for strictly commercial purposes?

Meriau: I don’t see myself as a commercial photographer but more as an artist who takes on commissions and works collaboratively with art directors, designers and picture editors.

Wyatt Clarke and Jones are known for representing people who didn’t set out to be commercial photographers. They have an understanding of fine art and documentary photography, which makes it possible for me and other photographers to work with them.

I see my art and commercial practices as separate yet entwined: One is research based and the driving force behind everything I do, the other is more indexical and about working collaboratively on a brief. I enjoy both and I see them as feeding of one another as if part of an ecosystem.

Wired: In many of the structures from your current work, the viewer has a sense they are trapped inside these caves. Is this your intention in terms of narrative?

Meriau: My intention is to envelop or draw the viewer into these spaces, not to trap him/her. If you look carefully there is always an exit point, a chance to escape.

Wired: To me your structures seem to represent dwellings, are they a comment on the nature of “Home”?

Meriau: I’m interested in the duality of the concepts of food and home and how both can be seen as safe, nurturing, life-giving or unsafe, destructive and poisonous.

Wired: Who are your artistic influences?

Meriau: Jules Verne, Stanley Kubrick, Werner Herzog, Marx Ernst, Salvador Dali, Theodore Gericault, Caspar Friedrich, William Turner, Alex Hartley, Louise Bourgeois, Anya Gallacio, Sarah Lucas … to name a few!

Wired: What is next for you? Will it involve food?

Meriau: Food is vast territory that I’m only beginning to explore. Ideas for future projects involve a mushroom-based installation and a collaboration with a beekeeper and his bees.

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