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Megan Gibson

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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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“I sometimes think that being photographed by a clicking still camera is infinitely more satisfying to me than shifting about for a whirring moving one,” wrote Tilda Swinton for LightBox in early December. The Academy Award winner was describing her experience being photographed by Peter Hapak in September for TIME, a shoot that yielded images both delicate and intense — not unlike the actor herself.

Finding essence in a single image is a challenge, yet somehow our photographers manage to do it again and again. This year was no exception, as portraits of celebrities, political powerhouses and survivors filled our pages. While each shot displayed the talent of our skilled photographers, TIME’s photo department narrowed the field to select our favorite portraits of the year. From the poised conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi (captured by Platon) to the grief and defiance of Cindy Sheehan, an antiwar activist and the mother of deceased Iraq soldier Casey Sheehan (captured by Marco Grob), to the delighted exuberance of 15-year-old Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld (captured by Hapak), 2011’s best shots spoke volumes about their subjects in the way only portraits can.

After all, as Tilda noted when recounting her luminous shoot, “Still portraits operate their own code.”
—Megan Gibson

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Sometimes words just aren’t enough. We realize that’s a bold statement for a news magazine to make. After all, words are our currency. Yet we know that there are times when, to fully tell the stories that need to be shared, we need more than words.

This year it was as evident as ever. From the tsunami in Japan, to the war in Afghanistan, to the Arab Spring, our reporters, columnists and correspondents worked tirelessly to bring you the stories that matter. But beyond the words and interviews that filled our pages, our photojournalists sought out the pictures that told a deeper story. Whether they were behind the political scene like Diana Walker as she photographed Hillary Clinton aboard a military plane or risking life and limb like Yuri Kozyrev as he captured the conflict of Libya’s revolution, TIME’s dedicated photographers brought the stories to life.

In March, acclaimed TIME contract photographer James Nachtwey traveled to Japan to capture images in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. A veteran photojournalist, even he found himself at a loss for words when trying to describe the country’s devastation. Yet in his hauntingly bleak images of ravaged towns and wounded families, we glimpsed what language failed to convey — and it was heart breaking.

TIME‘s words offer the important facts, clear-eyed insights and sharp analysis needed to understand the story. Our photojournalism offers the chance to not only see, but also feel the story. —Megan Gibson

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For photographer Liz Hingley, one of the most familiar locales was also one of the most uncharted. The images in her series “Under Gods” capture cultures from all parts of the globe, many in various states of religious practice. In one, a Jainist woman prays while wearing a mask over her mouth, preventing her from inadvertently breathing any microbes or insects in, which would go against her religion’s non-violent beliefs. Another photograph shows three Catholic children, Polish immigrants, rehearsing carols. In another, a Hare Krishna trudges uphill, through the snow, to distribute books. Each photograph seemingly shows a different world, yet all of the images were shot along a single stretch of road in Birmingham, U.K.

Crammed along a two-mile stretch on Soho Road are more than 30 religious buildings in a city that is home to more than 90 different nationalities. Hingley grew up in Birmingham so she had personal knowledge of the religious diversity that existed in her hometown, which she was often reminded of whenever she returned. “I was going back to Birmingham and seeing this celebration among all this diversity and I thought that this was something that I wanted to look at,” Hingley, the daughter of two Anglican priests, told TIME.  And look she did, spending nearly two years capturing the practices and interactions of this multi-faith community. The result is the Under Gods: Stories From Soho Road series, which has been shown around the world and made into a book.

Though she was familiar with the area, having lived in Birmingham until she was 18, Hingley said she was caught off guard by the religious mélange the community held. “I had no idea that there were so many different religions and practices going on in just one street,” she said.

It was a lot to document. A day of shooting could start as early as 5 a.m. meeting Hare Krishnas who gathered to chant, before she’d attend a lunch at the Vietnamese Buddhist temple and then move on to the park with members of the Jesus Army, an evangelical Christian movement. “It was a very difficult project to finish [each evening] because you’re tired at the end of the day and you think, oh, I’ll just see what that building is,” said Hingley, who describes herself as “nosy.”

That nosiness clearly paid off, however, as she captured some wonderfully intimate moments. Several photographs show the ways in which the different cultures overlap in the small community, as their paths frequently intersected. One photograph shows a young Muslim girl, cloaked in Islamic dress, speaking over the fence in her backyard to her Jehovah witness neighbors. Another shows a Jain schoolgirl, sitting on the floor reading in front of an Indian sitar while beside her poses another girl, her neighbor, in white ruffled Holy Communion dress.

For all of the stark contrasts that appear in the work, there’s also a sense of ease to the images. Soho Road — which enfolds people of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, Christian and Sikh faiths — appears as a cultural mosaic, with each set of traditions represented as a distinct part of the community’s whole. Hingley said that the work has inspired her to continue the series in Paris, where she’s just completed a show with Next Level projects, adding that she’s interested in the experiences of religion in the secular state. She’s also quick to point out that her series isn’t about dogmatic beliefs, but rather how beliefs pervade people’s lives. She claims that Stories From Soho Road was personal for her—a look at her own journey living in Birmingham.

“I don’t feel that it’s documenting religion or just that. I feel it’s about many things. Religion is definitely a part of your daily life. It’s everything,” she said. “I wanted to show what it gives people and the beauty it can bring to people’s lives.”

Liz Hingley is a photographer currently based in Paris. See more of her work here.

Megan Gibson is a Writer-Reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson

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Though the sumptuous images in Dustin Arnold and Nicholas Cope’s Stamen series may resemble a throwback to the romantic oil paintings of the 19th century, they’re actually the contemporary result of a string of combinations: first of ideas, then of chemical reactions and photography.

The seeds of the work were planted back in the late aughts when Arnold, an art director with a background in fashion, and Cope, a still-life photographer with a focus on architecture, first met while working together on a commercial project. They became fast friends, recognizing in each other a desire to go beyond basic editorial work and move into the world of fine art. So they teamed up, working together in their free time. “Besides getting along really well and having similar tastes and perspectives on producing work, it was really an opportunity to do something that satisfied our own desires and own needs,” says Arnold, on the phone from Los Angeles where he and Cope are both based.

They planned to create a series of projects, which they could then distribute via their own periodical publication. Slated for release in early 2012, Stamen is the second project of their endeavor, full of lush images which represent the life-cycle of a flower. The duo say the idea was inspired by the abstract photography Cope had been experimenting with, which Arnold found intriguing and wanted to take further. They then began building ideas off one another’s suggestions.

“It kind of led us to work on something really classical like flower arrangements and to turn it on its head a little and start experimenting with chemicals,” says Arnold. “A very New World thing combined with an Old World thing like paintings of flower arrangements.” The dreamy, hazy look of each photograph was created by combining substances such as dry ice, sodium chloride, lye, and what they dub other “household chemicals you shouldn’t really mix together,” and applying them to traditional floral arrangements.

While the flowers were all meticulously arranged and color was discussed endlessly, the duo really had no idea what to expect once the chemicals were applied and the camera started snapping. “It was all preparedness for what we didn’t know was going to happen,” says Cope, laughing, though he adds that both he and Arnold were more than happy with the final outcome of the images.

Though a team consisting of an art director and a photographer isn’t unusual for any project, Arnold and Cope both say that their method of working together — slowly, thoughtfully, with a curious, rather than a commercial, motivation — is unique and has allowed them to create work that they find satisfying. And though they fully collaborate on their work as they each bounce ideas off of one another, Cope says they don’t compromise anything.

“We’re really just making exactly what we want to make. Which is rare. “

More of Nicholas Cope’s work can be seen here and more of Dustin Arnold’s work can be seen here.

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

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Of the myriad lessons that can be gleaned from the Arab Spring, perhaps the most inspirational is the confirmation that there’s strength in numbers. So it’s hardly a surprise that several photographers who’ve made their livelihood documenting the Middle East – including the aftermath of the revolutionary riots from earlier this year – would apply such a lesson to their work.

Hence, the Rawiya collective, a photography cooperative made up of six female photographers from across the Middle East, who’ve pooled their resources, contacts and talents to not only strengthen their work, but to also expand their reach.

The photographers—Tamara Abdul Hadi (currently in Beirut), Laura Boushnak (currently in Sarajevo), Tanya Habjouqa (currently in East Jerusalem), Dalia Khamissy (currently in Beirut), Newsha Tavakolian (currently in Tehran) and Myriam Abdelaziz (currently in Cairo) – had each previously built careers shooting across the region, working the hard news cycles for various publications. However, the women felt that important social and political stories were still going unseen and wanted a platform to share them.

So when Tavakolian first approached Abdul Hadi and Khamissy during a trip to Beirut in 2009 with the idea of forming the collective, the women were enthusiastic. Boushnak and Habjouqa were asked to join the group soon after and in August 2011, Abdelaziz, whose work covering the Egyptian revolutions was admired by the other women, also joined the collective. The women spent long nights in Beirut cafes and chatting over Skype, discussing their vision.

The focus of Rawiya – which means “she who tells a story” in Arabic – is on capturing the region’s social and political issues as well as its stereotypes through photo essays and long-term projects. Unsurprisingly, this has translated into a body of work that spans the spectrum of subjects from dancers to displaced citizens to drag queens. The images are powerful and, thanks to the already extending reach of the group, now garnering an audience.

Rawiya made its official debut at the Format Festival in Derby, U.K. this March and the women say they’ve already benefited from exhibiting as a group. They went on to showcase their work at the Empty Quarter Gallery in Beirut, which led to invitations to exhibit in Greece and Kuwait. Because each woman brings a new region and issue to the collective table, they all benefit from one another’s audience.

In addition, being the first cooperative of its kind from the Middle East – with only female photographers – has provided the women with an extra bump in prominence. Of course, being female in a male-dominant industry isn’t without its challenges, yet the women insist that their gender hasn’t hindered their work. “When people ask me if it is more challenging being a female photographer in this region than a male photographer I usually answer ‘no,’” Abdul Hadi told TIME in an email. “I personally have had access to places a male photographer wouldn’t, which ends up being more of an advantage.”

The women hope to capitalize on that advantage and have plans to eventually expand the collective, hoping to work with other female photographers from across the region whose work they admire. Because that’s another way the collective has strengthened one another’s work: by inspiring it.

Read more about Rawiya here.

Megan Gibson is a reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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