Nyt Photo Essays That Tell

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Twenty-five years ago – before people were texting and taking pictures with their cellphones – the future of photography was explored at a workshop where photographers encountered early digital tools.Read more »

A private collector of historical images and postcards from Africa’s colonial era shows how imperialists constructed stereotypes to shape and distort Western views. Read more »

Carrie Mae Weems’s series “Slow Fade to Black” plays on the concept of the cinematic fade, showing mid-20th century female black performers “disappearing, dissolving before our eyes.”Read more »

A collection of images of African-American men together, from the Civil War to the present, challenges modern discomfort with male intimacy, sexual or otherwise.Read more »

A series of portraits and an accompanying book argue that racial identity is not merely biological or genetic, but also a matter of context and even personal choice.Read more »

When photographers are discovered after their deaths, creating a narrative can be just as important as creating a market. Often, the two go hand in hand.Read more »

By chronicling the Delano grape strike in California in the 1960s, Jon Lewis exposed the harrowing story of labor behind the fruits and vegetables that Americans consumed without thought.Read more »

In an uncertain world where photography as moneymaker is of particular concern, the career of Ansel Adams can provide a road map to potential success.Read more »

The photography of Leonard Freed, whose images explored the March on Washington at ground level, still resonates 50 years after that historic day.Read more »

Gordon Parks documented some of the quieter, but no less compelling or important, moments of the civil rights struggle. Decades later, one of his subjects recalls a poignant image.Read more »

Confusion over France’s strict privacy laws has made it harder for street photographers to work in the tradition of legends like Henri Cartier-Bresson.Read more »

A Gordon Parks photo essay in Life magazine made the Fontenelle family in Harlem the face of American poverty. It also forged an enduring bond between Mr. Parks and Richard Fontenelle, the family’s only child to live past 30.Read more »

Guidi’s main subject is the terrain of postindustrial Northern Italy. In 2007, he made a photograph of the Savio River, which flows through his home city, Cesena. In the photograph, the river is flat and muddy and seems to be passing under a bridge, whose brick wall we can see on one side. The photo was taken on a bright day, with some sections of both the river and the bridge in the full glare of the sun, and other sections in shadow. The shadow of the bridge over the water is angled, so that the bright section looks like an arrowhead. But there’s a second photograph, of pretty much the same scene, with a similarly muted color scheme, except that the bright section is now larger. And it turns out there’s a third photograph as well. Again, the scene is the same, but the arrowhead is even larger. We surmise that the three photographs were taken in a single afternoon, as the sun moved across the surface of this unremarkable stretch of the Savio River. Something about the serenity of this movement, or at least our apprehension of the photographer’s loving patience in capturing it, is beautiful, more beautiful than any single photograph in the series.

The photos I’ve been describing have in common an affective approach to landscape. In this way they are different from other timed photographic studies, like Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering studies of human and animal movement or Harold Edgerton’s strobe-lit experiments. Closer in concept is Zoe Leonard’s untitled four-photograph work, made up of repeated depictions of a pair of trees in a New York housing complex. Leonard noticed how plastic bags, floating up on the wind, had become snagged on the branches of the trees, and how the number of bags would vary over time. In the course of several months, she made photographs of the trees, with four or five or a dozen bags hanging from them.

Leonard’s project, like Christenberry’s and Guidi’s, implies physical return. Between one exposure and the next, time passes, life goes on and the artist re-encounters his or her altered subject. Guidi’s camera, set on a tripod, captures a scene with some of its elements exactly repeated. But in Christenberry’s and Leonard’s work, there’s an imprecision in the placement of the camera, an imprecision both natural and welcome that gives us easy spot-the-difference variations between one photo and the next. This inexactness of framing helps us understand that what makes these images valuable is not the differences among them, but the way a pair of stills can, simply and elegantly, pin down a central concern of human life: the passage of time.

Jem Southam, an English photographer whose projects also unfold over many years, takes a similar approach. Southam often works on rockfalls and landslides, registering significant changes on cliffs and coasts in England and France. But some works in his series also record the barely perceptible movement of eroded material down a slope, the process geologists term “creep.” The intervals between Southam’s gorgeous large-format photographs allow for both radical changes and subdued ones, illustrating that the earth has a different sense of time than we do. Why does Southam revisit the cliffs of East Sussex? What drew Zoe Leonard to Manhattan’s Avenue A? Why did William Christenberry keep returning to Hale County? What gives Guido Guidi faith in Cesena? I can’t help sensing in these works, which photographically verify the passing hours or days or years, a quiet gratitude about the simple fact of return.

After a recent spell of travel, I returned home to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where I have lived for the past nine years. I began to take photographs of the park, not for the first time, but for the first time in an attentive way. The naturalist John Muir once wrote, “Most people are on the world, not in it.” I went back to the same sections, day after day, the same leaf-littered stretch of lawn, the same work site, the same stands of trees. I went in different weather conditions, in snow and rain and bright sunshine, and I went at different times of day. Shooting roll after roll, I began to accumulate a highly personal composite image of the park.

The seasons turned. The trees changed radically or not at all. At a time when politics made the flow of time feel hectic, shooting in the park slowed me down, and using film slowed me down further. I was looking at foliage in green and an infinity of browns, as well as the fine shock of dazzling white after a blizzard, the silvery grays after rain. In contrast to my usual approach to photography — selecting single images from shooting done far away from home — the photos from Sunset Park made me more inclined to consider unspectacular images part of the work. That work continues. On any given day, I pick up a camera and a roll or two of film and walk to a small grove in a small park in Brooklyn. The grove is there waiting, and I am always grateful at the reunion.

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