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Eugene Reznik

Almost 1500 photographers applied for the Individual Photographer’s Fellowship grants this year presented by the Aaron Siskind Foundation, honoring the legacy of the legendary photographer best known for pioneering lens-based modernist abstraction.

“He was a wonderful teacher, he was always interested in new ideas and in things that challenged us,” says Charles Traub, president of the Aaron Siskind Foundation and Chair of the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Arts. “We’re interested in all aspects of the creative photographic medium and all genres of photograph investigation — as long as the work is new and fresh.”

The eligibility requirements for the $5-10,000 grants are exceptionally democratic. They’re open to any professional, a citizen or resident of the United States, “who’s working on a serious body of work, who is trying to do something imaginative, important, moving the dialogue of our medium forward,” Traub says, and adds: “the term ‘professional’ is of course a loosely defined word.”

“There are no strings attached. It’s not like you have to have five million references, and a complete bio and all this stuff. It’s really just what you present.”

The Foundation selects three new judges each year — one from the editorial field, one artist and one curator — with an effort to avoid being East Coast-centric. This year’s judges were Natalie Matutschovsky, senior photo editor at TIME, photographer Andrew Moore, who recently published a new book on Cuba, and Tim Wride, curator at the Norton Museum of Art, formerly at LACMA.

“[The jury] tends to lean towards younger photographers,” since they are the ones who usually bring forth the newest, yet-to-be-recognized work, but occasionally, Traub says, “there is a better known older photographer who does submit new work that surprises the jury.”

This year, six photographers were each awarded $8,000 grants. “We gave six instead of our usual five this year because we just couldn’t pare it down any further,” Traub says. They are:

Michelle Frankfurter presented her series Destino which portrays the “perilous journey of undocumented Central American migrants along the network of freight trains lurching inexorably across Mexico, towards the hope of finding work in the United States.”

Wayne Lawrence documented the diverse experiences of African-American Orthodox Jews living in New York City.

Joshua Lutz presented a conceptual portrait of his mother’s descent into mental illness as “she slowly slipped away from the aggressive paranoia of my youth to an almost calming sense of delusion,” he writes. The series was published as a book titled Hesitating Beauty by Schilt in 2012.

Justin Maxon documented life in Chester, Pa, where industry has collapsed and the murder rate is among the highest in the nation, “a place where a domino effect of socio-economic issues and a long history of government corruption have revealed the community to be a microcosm of the wounds of racism that stain this country today.”

Jenny Riffle  presented a complex portrait of Riley, a scavenger who as a child read “Mark Twain’s stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and decided he wanted to be like those mythical boys. He wanted a life full of treasure and adventure.”

Sasha Rudensky presented her series Brightness which focuses on “an orphan generation of Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians that came of age in a social vacuum, having disowned their past but lacking any means of orientation within the present.”

“I thought these were all wonderful photographers from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, from different parts of the country,” Traub says. “Largely, the work had a kind of narrative in it, a sort of structure of a story not told in a linear way and not told necessarily in a traditional documentary way. There was a great deal of technical competence and a kind of idiosyncratic look at life.”

Eugene Reznik is a Brooklyn-based photographer and writer. Follow him on Twitter @eugene_reznik.

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data usage

We've come a long way since the days when information in the form of mail correspondence or newspapers was transported by couriers on foot or horses. And even as roads began to be paved and railroad tracks laid, the speed in which information traveled is hardly comparable to how quick it does now that we have the internet and an endless supply of connected devices. Jalopnik recently analyzed how travel evolved throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, pointing out how fast the time it took to get from one place to another decreased as a result of new transportation technology and additional travel routes.

In the article, Jalopnik compares the speed of present-day air flight to the time it took to get to Detroit from New York City in 1800....

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In the fall of 2012, the Mars Curiosity Rover—after years of travel—finally reached its destination, touching down on the Red Planet and transmitting back to Earth a series of strange landscapes of the planet’s surface. Here on Earth, the scenery sometimes resembled the barren Martian terrain, as wildfires, droughts and natural disasters shaped the landscapes of Earth. Climate change, too, had a say on Earth’s canvas—bringing a cold snap to Europe, a dusting of snow to the Middle East and a super-powered hurricane to the East Coast of the United States.

But as much as natural phenomena shaped Earth’s landscapes, humans forced their intentions upon Earth as well. Wars in the DRC and Syria reduced entire city structures to rubble. Careless chemical spills dyed our waters strange and unnatural colors, and continued deforestation in Brazil’s rainforests left huge swathes arid and bare. And finally, large-scale accidents remind us of man’s hubris, like the Costa Concordia in Italy— it’s abandoned carcass standing as a monument to man’s recklessness.

Here, TIME looks back on the byproducts of man’s folly and nature’s fury in a gallery of the year’s strange and surreal landscapes.

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Another year has come and gone and with it hundreds of thousands of images have recorded the world's evolving history; moments in individual lives; the weather and it's affects on the planet; acts of humanity and tragedies brought by man and by nature. The following is a compilation - not meant to be comprehensive in any way - of images from the first 4 months of 2012. Parts II and III to follow this week. -- Paula Nelson ( 64 photos total)
Fireworks light up the skyline and Big Ben just after midnight, January 1, 2012 in London, England. Thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames in central London to ring in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks display. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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This Friday, November 9th, New Yorkers can see the East Coast premiere of Kevin Schreck’s new documentary Persistence of Vision, about Richard William’s never-completed-as-envisioned The Thief and the Cobbler. Williams worked on the film from the mid-1960s through the early-1990s before it was taken away from him and finished by producer Fred Calvert.

I’m looking forward to seeing Schreck’s film, which includes interviews with many people who worked on the film, though not Williams who declined to participate. And if the film is playing at a festival near you, see it! The documentary likely won’t be released on home video anytime soon because Schreck didn’t obtain permission from the copyright holders whose animation appears in the film. Sadly, Schreck’s approach is just about the only way nowadays to create animation history projects since the handful of conglomerates that own the film libraries don’t understand the value of cooperating with historians and researchers to present an accurate historical and critical portrait of the animation they own.

The film screens on Friday at 9:15pm at the SVA Theater (333 W. 23rd Street, NY, NY). The director will do a Q&A after the film. Tickets cannot be purchased at the theater. They must be purchased in advance, either at the IFC Center or online HERE. There’s also a Facebook page for the film where you can bug the filmmakers to bring a screening to your city.

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Confession. I see the East Coast today and feel something (among many other things) unwelcome: jealousy. I moved back West only a month ago, leaving behind Maryland after five years. The landscapes and psychic geography are still fresh in my mind, and, for the past four days or so, the entirety of my online social life has revolved around Hurricane Sandy: stories, photos, worried exchanges; flickering lights, wine, Scrabble. Biking to the bar against solid sheets of water; planning Christmas decorations for downed trees; infrastructure losing the battle. I’m missing out on something, a chance to scratch that ugly itch for doom, to feel the unique and terrible pleasure of catastrophe.

It is terrible, of course. People are dead, at least 17 at last count, while many billions of dollars in damage has been done. That misery is real, and all of the blood and money extracted by any disaster comes from somewhere also very real. But the pull persists. Think of staring at the burning towers of 9/11 — and staring and staring and staring. Or at a car accident or fire-gutted building or train derailment. The feeling isn’t entirely repulsive. I’m not even sure it’s mostly repulsive. Isn’t that awful?

Maybe, but also maybe not so much. There’s a great many reasons why we love disasters, and none of them have to do with enjoying the suffering of others. So take some comfort. We’re not into disasters because we’re secretly evil villains; we’re into disasters (in large part) to connect to others. At the very root of human morality isn’t supernatural dictates — it’s empathy, or the ability to share in the experiences of others.

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of gawking at an auto wreck, your eyes passing a little too non-nonchalantly over the ambulance lights and crumpled car-frames and sizzling flares, when, unexpectedly, you meet the gaze of a victim. And you’ve gone cold, like a trapdoor opened in your body letting out all of the warm feelings and comfort in a gush. It’s not the feeling of being “caught,” rather it’s the feeling of connecting. We’re neurologically constructed to do this, put ourselves within the perspective of another.

We don’t enjoy that perspective, but, like a great many creatures, we need it. It’s fundamental to pro-social behavior, or the things we do to help to help others. Those things keep societies together, and societies keep their constituents alive and breeding longer. So, yes: evolution. We stare because we want to empathize and, at the very end of things, to survive.

But before you get to the end of things, you have some great stuff, like community and generosity. Which are things usually pretty well hidden behind a veil of assholedom and routine. But then something happens and people feel impelled to get together into groups — maybe just for boozing and board games — and maybe offer up their couch and electricity to someone they don’t know very well. Or maybe even do something really brave and selfless. The sky’s the limit.

Metro-North plus boat, via MTA

There’s other reasons we love disasters that are maybe more psychological. Perhaps there is a dark side. Psychologist Eric G. Wilson writes:

[Carl Jung] maintained that our mental health depends on our shadow, that part of our psyche that harbors our darkest energies, such as murderousness. The more we repress the morbid, the more it foments neuroses or psychoses. To achieve wholeness, we must acknowledge our most demonic inclinations.

Yes, I took pleasure in my enemy’s tumble from grace. No, I couldn’t stop watching 9/11 footage. Once we welcome these unseemly admissions as integral portions of our being, the devils turn into angels. Luke owns the Vader within, offers affection to the actual villain; off comes the scary mask, and there stands a father, loving and in need of love.

Empathy doesn’t usually extend to things, but our fascination with catastrophe sure does. Some of the most alluring photos from Hurricane Sandy are totally empty landscapes: the waterfalled construction site of the World Trade Center, a flooded FDR, empty Grand Central Station. We’re attracted to these in part because they’re empty. They are vulnerable.

Which is crucial because, in a city, it’s these landscapes that run us. There’s that odd, dull terror of urban claustrophobia, that we’re not in control. All of these buildings and tunnels we’ve created in the general interests of civilization, but we’ve also given up quite a bit to their grid-lines. There’s power and possibility in a big storm. Loss of control is its own power. And sometimes we don’t realize how disempowered we feel in the city, no matter that cities are where we go to feel just the opposite (to find possibilities). To, ahem, paraphrase the Anarchist Cookbook (with a wide variety of apologies), when outcomes are uncertain, anything is possible.

I think that’s true. Last night, in the depths of the storm, maybe you didn’t know how today would look. You had some idea, of course, but compared to last Tuesday, today was wide open. That’s pretty important. Even if your life in New York City is perfect and awesome and every day is ice cream and puppies and big fat checks, without possibility — even if most of them are bad — something isn’t quite complete.

Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.

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